Reading Difficulties: Daniel's face scrunched into a twisting series of pain and effort as he attempted to decode unfamiliar words from an age appropriate book. The boy's voice halted when confronted with words that contained extended code spellings, which confused and confounded him. He forged ahead, grimacing, and bravely attempted to decode each grapheme in each word but was finally defeated by the series of unfamiliar spellings.
Daniel (name changed) is an 8 year old boy in his third year of school who cannot make sense of words that are not simple CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. As such, much of the text Daniel reads in grade 2 is unfamiliar and way too complex.
Daniel does not have an oral language difficulty. He is a bright and popular boy who loves math and has many friends. Yet he cannot independently read text much beyond a prep/kindergarten level and his writing is atrocious with many reversals, spelling errors and poorly formed letters.
Daniel's writing and reading difficulties have a disastrous effect on his sense of self as a learner and his self-esteem overall. Daniel often refers to himself as dumb and the change in his personality when asked to read from a text is profound. Gone is the wide smile and confident student. Instead Daniel's buoyant expression is rapidly supplanted by a frown and a look of almost pure misery when a book is placed before him.
As a school based speech-language clinician, I assess and work with children like Daniel regularly. Daniel and many students with a similar education profile to Daniel have to endure the anguish and torture of attempting to read difficult text each and every school day. In the past I may have diagnosed Daniel as having a reading disorder or dyslexia. These days I'm not as hasty to diagnose. Too often in too many schools students have simply not been taught to read well.
That may seem a controversial thing to state, but it is depressingly true. There are not enough schools in Australia and other places in the western world that explicitly teach young children the alphabetic codes and the vitally important sound/letter link. Instead, and incredibly, literacy instruction is often left to chance by classroom teachers who tend to fall back on a mish-mash of unsound teaching principles that includes a combination of balanced literacy, whole language teaching principles and analytic phonics.
But there is hope. The evidence for the efficacy of evidence based reading programs like systematic synthetic phonics is now so overwhelming that there is no longer any excuse for schools to not adopt this powerful and successful reading method.