Listening to those 'Home Readers'

Kirstie Wilson M. Ed (special needs)

published in speld (sa) Autumn 2007 newsletter

Article 3: Trouble shooting common problems

Kirstie Wilson M. Ed has written a series of three articles in answer to one of the most common dilemmas that parents face when it comes to their children learning to read

Over the many years I have worked with children and parents, I have found there to be four common problems that parents face when it comes to ‘Home Reader' time. This article explains what to do if you find yourself in one of these four frustrating situations.

When your child makes a mistake and doesn’t fix it (self-correct)

As mentioned in Part 2 of this series, children need to learn to read for meaning and to read the print. They also need to learn to notice when they make a mistake (because it doesn’t make sense and/or match the actual print) and fix it – all by themselves. This is called self-correcting. To do this, children need to monitor their own reading as they go.

However, sometimes children do not fix their mistakes, particularly when they are just new to the act of reading, if they are experiencing difficulties learning to read, if parents (or others) do all the noticing and fixing for them, or if the text is way too hard. Children often just read on. Perhaps they:

- don’t notice the mistake

- don’t know they need to fix mistakes

- just want to finish the book as fast as humanly possible

- don’t think they can figure out the mistake (so what’s the point), and keep reading in the hope they get enough ‘right’ to make sense of the text by the end despite all the errors.

If a child doesn’t make too many errors, then perhaps it may work for them to ignore mistakes, so long as the mistake was not crucial to accurate comprehension. I am hoping that the pilot flying me to Melbourne does not make many errors when reading the weather & flight conditions or traffic controllers reports!

At times, there may be a trade-off between accuracy (getting all the words correct), fluency (how quickly or slowly one reads the text) and comprehension (understanding the content of what you have read). We may need to strike a balance between the three. There are moments where we might make a deliberate choice to ignore a mistake in the best interests of fluency, comprehension and overall enjoyment. That said, I believe that making a habit of ignoring mistakes can lead to trouble – you may run the risk of your child not learning to look carefully at the print, especially when they are learning to decode.

The trick is to draw your child’s attention to the mistake in a way that actually boosts their confidence and skills. Usually the best way to do this is not in the actual moment, but later – perhaps the end of the sentence, the end of the paragraph, the end of the page. Doing so also maintains the flow and continuity of their reading. I know that I personally prefer to be corrected not in the heat of the moment but later, in private, and in a way that is constructive not destructive. Instant corrections by you also encourage your child to rely on you to do the work/noticing.

So, what can you do if your child makes a mistake and does not fix it?

- You could ignore it. I sometimes do this, especially if I have already pointed out a couple of errors in their reading and I don’t want to overdo it.

- You could wait a little (end of sentence, paragraph, page), and ask your child if what they read made sense.

Did that make sense?

Try that again, and see of you can get it to make sense.Remember, if it doesn’t make sense, then we need to go back and check what we’ve read

- You could repeat what your child actually read while they check the print

That was great reading, but there was one thing your eyes didn’t see. It was on this line here. How about I say what you actually read and you follow the print in the book? You can see if you can spot your mistake

I have a ‘rule’ (except when I am doing a formal assessment) that if a child can spot their mistake then I can’t count it as a mistake anymore!

- You could point out the ‘tricky’ word and give your child another chance to figure it out.

Wow, that was great reading. Have a close look at this word and I’ll give you another chance to figure it out

I actually think you can figure this one out on your own..

I bet you would know this one, would you like another go?

Have a look at this one – remember to use all the things you know. Check the beginning, the middle, and the end of the word
What to do when your child CANNOT figure out a word

There will be times when your child cannot figure out a word, even with support and guidance. Perhaps your child:

- does not yet have the decoding skills required for that particular word.

Maybe the word is bridge and your child has not yet learned that ‘dge’ is group of letters that makes one sound equivalent to the sound the letter ‘j’ usually makes.

- is unfamiliar with a particular word, and it is not part of their vocabulary

- is so overloaded with the task of reading a difficult book that they seem to lose confidence and their skills appear to regress

- is losing track of the story-line

In all of these cases, I just quickly tell the child the word with a minimum of fuss and move on. I want to preserve their dignity and confidence and I wish to convey that it is not a big deal in a very matter of fact way.

That’s a tricky word that one, it says……

That one doesn’t stick to the rules, it says….

Sometimes I try and read the word just ever so slightly before the child has a go at it (if I know that the word would be beyond them). Why purposefully let a child struggle for nought? I’d much rather choose my teaching moments based on likelihood of success and building skills at the child’s current learning point. We don’t expect a child to run before they can crawl! We need to teach to developmental stage.
What to do when your child finds their ‘Home Reader” too difficult

The ‘readers’ brought home from school should be for practice and consolidation of skills. Teachers send readers home with this intention. However occasionally there may be a mix-up or an oversight. It is extremely important that your child’s reader is at an appropriate level of readability for them.

An easy book (say one that your child makes hardly any errors with), builds confidence and improves fluency as well as provides opportunities to practice and consolidate skills to automaticity. However, it can be argued that really easy books do not provide many new learning/teaching moments.

A really difficult book, on the other hand, destroys confidence. You will know if a book is too hard for your child if they have to work really hard at figuring out the print and lose the meaning. As a rough guide, if your child is averaging more than 1 mistake for every 10 words then the text is too hard. A difficult reader may mean your child will become tired, frustrated, lose track of the meaning, start guessing and even read nonsense. Books that are too difficult can take all the pleasure out of reading. Too many difficult books can lead your child to believe that reading is hard & horrible, or worse – that they are not good at reading.

If your child is finding a ‘home reader’ too difficult, you could:

- put the book aside completely, and find another more appropriate one so the reading time ends on a positive note

Gosh, that book is so hard. How about we get a different one that will be much more fun

- complete the reading of the book yourself

Gosh, this one is a hard one, would you like me to read it and you can follow on with your finger and your eyes

- read the book or each page (paragraph) once yourself, and then ask your child to read it.

How about we do it differently this time? I could read it first, and then you can read it back to me

- read the book yourself but leave some words out along the way for your child to figure out (choose words you know they can read)

This book seems pretty tricky. It might be more fun if I read it, only I’ll leave some of the words out for you to do… You’ll still need to follow on….

Note: If your child is consistently finding their “Readers” too hard, I recommend you let their class teacher know what is going on.

The class teacher can make the best choice of books for your child if you keep them informed of any highs and lows with regard to ‘Home Readers’. Your child will learn more from a reader pitched at the right level for them. Rushing children through reading levels can back fire!
What to do if your child loses interest or becomes tired during ‘Home Reader’ time

Sometimes children can become really tired or just lose interest and this may lead to your child making more mistakes than usual. It can turn what should be a fun, relaxing, easy time into an unpleasant experience for everyone. You may need to make a decision about whether you continue (plough on!) or put the book aside for another time.

You could:


I can see you’re tired, you’ve done so well so far, how about we just finish these last few pages?

Put the book aside for another time

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. Would you mind if we finished this reader after dinner/in the morning?

I can see that you’re tired, how about you finish up at the end of this page?

Take turns reading

You might be getting tired. How about we take turn about? You read one page, and I’ll read the next. Would that be OK?

Read the book yourself but leave some tricky words for your child to figure out

I can see you’re tired. How about I do the reading and give you a break. You follow on, and I’ll leave some of the tricky words out for you to do


Reading is a very valuable skill; one that we would like all our children to master. 'Home Readers' can make a definite contribution to the learning to read process as well as provide opportunities to share precious moments with your child. I hope that this series of articles gives all those who listen to children as they do their 'Home Readers' more confidence and that this in turn leads to greater enjoyment for all.

Kirstie Wislon is a part-time lecturer at the University of Wollongong. She is also an Educational Consultant performing assessments, referrals and providing intensive remediation for children experiencing difficulties learning literacy and/or mathematics. She is a past committee member of SPELD NSW, and is a mother to four sons.

Kirstie has produced a DVD Listening to Home Readers based on this three-part series of articles. It includes footage of real life examples that demonstrate the strategies discussed in her articles. Kirstie's DVD is available for purchase from the SPELD (SA) Shop

Kirstie Wilson M.Ed

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