Myths run rampant in almost every part of our lives – especially when it comes to parenting and education. Things that have “always been done” may not necessarily be what’s right, and vice versa. It’s important to be able to tell good and true information apart from faulty misconceptions. In regards to reading there are many of these myths. As parents who aren’t “formal” educators, you may not know how to tell whether certain practices are useful or not. So here’s a list of common myths that I’ve come across while working with teachers and parents.

1. Reading happens naturally

I have tried to convey my opinions (based on research and experience) about this one in previous articles. Basically, I agree with the current research that says reading is a complex process that must be taught to children in an explicit and systematic way. According to The National Reading Panel (a panel of reading researchers put together to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read):

Becoming a reader involves the development of important skills, including learning to:

  • use language in conversation
  • listen and respond to stories read aloud
  • recognize and name the letters of the alphabet
  • listen to the sounds of spoken language
  • connect sounds to letters to figure out the “code” of reading
  • read often so that recognizing words becomes easy and automatic
  • learn and use new words
  • understand what is read

Sure, there are some children who appear to learn to read on their own when raised in an environment where a love for reading is fostered. Although these children appear to have enough knowledge to be called readers, they may not have the necessary solid foundation required to move from being simple word callers to readers who possess deeper comprehension and analyzation skills. They may also struggle with knowing how to decode (figure out) unfamiliar words if they have never been taught phonics.

I think some may have reading confused with learning how to speak. Learning language does occur naturally – just being exposed to speech without being taught is usually enough for children to learn. However, this does not translate to reading because speaking is a natural way that humans communicate. Writing and reading are man made forms of communication that do not just happen naturally in our brains – they have to be taught. So simply providing books without instruction will not create natural readers.

2. Reading Programs create readers

While I agree that there are some excellent reading programs out there, I don’t feel that there are any that do it all. Some are definitely better than others, so it is important to spend the time to search for one that will best suit the needs of your child. Yet there always seems to be something missing, which means that all programs have certain strengths and weaknesses. The major weakness with all programs is that they are just that . . . a program. There is no substitute for a person that can model and show a child how to think in order to become a great reader. Programs should just be used as a tool and resource to help a teacher or parent teach a child to read. People create readers, not programs!

3. Children gain phonemic awareness on their own as they learn to read

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in our language. Research has shown that this is a critical component that must be present for children to be successful readers. This basically means that children must learn to put sounds together and break them apart to make words – verbally. This later translates into reading by connecting the sounds they’ve been practicing with to letters and words. It does not make sense to do this as a child learns to read because there is no need for children to have phonemic awareness as a skill by itself. Phonemic awareness acts as a foundation that needs to be laid (by being taught) so that reading can happen – not the other way around.

4. Reading once is enough

I can’t stress enough how important rereading selections is in building your child’s fluency. We tend to think that reading something once is enough because as adults that’s all we do. But it’s important to remember that most of us are accomplished readers who can digest information quickly and store anything relevant and interesting in our heads with one read. Most children are not that skilled yet. Repeated readings of the same selection is one of the easiest ways to improve your child’s fluency and comprehension so that they become better readers. I typically recommend that children read a selection at least two to three times so that they have enough opportunity to fully dive into it and get the practice they need. This is not to say that they need to sit down and read it three times in a row – you’ll quickly lose their interest. It might look more like this (spread over a couple of days to a week):

First read: Might include reading it together and taking turns, or you reading aloud to them as they follow along – your modeling of how to correctly read is huge!

Second read: they might read aloud to you followed by some questions and discussion – might include working on a targeted skill or strategy

Third read: may be independent – aloud or silent

(You can learn more detailed info on how to structure readings of selections here.)

5. Answering questions about a passage is enough to gauge comprehension

You may think that because your child can answer a few questions correctly about the characters or plot of a story that they have full understanding of a story or selection. Be careful of assuming this! Just because a child can spit back names or details of a story does not mean they fully comprehend it. They may have gotten the superficial information, but do they understand it enough to tell you the author’s purpose? Can they draw their own conclusions about the events? Can they make connections between what they’ve read to other books or to their lives? Simply asking questions about a story does not give you this information, mainly because the questions we tend to ask don’t go deep enough. Questions are ok, but discussions are better!

(For more on how to use discussions to gauge and improve comprehension, click here)

6. My child can read fluently, so they must be able to comprehend

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered children who can read well, yet aren’t always able to comprehend what they read. It’s a pretty common phenomenon that seems to happen when children learn how to “break the code”; they can read, but they don’t have the skills or ability to think about what they are reading while they read. These “word-callers” often sound awesome, and it’s easy for them to slide through school without being detected as a problem reader. In fact, I know many adults who suffer from this at their jobs. They sometimes have to read and reread things to understand what they’ve read, and sometimes they still don’t get it. Children who are good word-callers sometimes require thoughtful instruction on how to think while they read.

7. Some words are too hard for young children

Many teachers and parents fall into the trap of thinking that some words are too hard for children to learn, so they tend to stick to easier words when choosing vocabulary words. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Now I’m not suggesting that you try to teach your child to read hard words before they are ready. I am suggesting, however, that you expose your kids to difficult words when you read or speak to them. This is an excellent strategy for adding to your child’s listening and speaking vocabulary! Their listening and speaking vocabulary will then easily transfer into their reading and writing vocabulary. So choosing and teaching vocabulary words to your children should be a very thoughtful process because it will determine how well they comprehend what they read.

(For more on how to choose words that will maximize your child’s learning, click here)

These are just a few of the many myths out there about reading. If you have any questions or are unsure about any methods you are trying, please visit the message boards to post your concerns or experiences. We can all learn from each other!