Reading – more than just “cracking the code”

This guest post was written by Dr. Danny Ah Hing and Dr. Philippa Fabbri

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

There are many skills that children need to acquire in their journey to becoming an independent adult
who contributes positively to and participates in the development of a well-balanced, harmonious and
democratic society. Children are supported on this journey to adulthood by adults in their immediate
environment, i.e. parents, grandparents and teachers. Through this interaction, children develop competencies which then ultimately result in being an independent and responsible member of society.

A vitally important part of this process, is the acquisition of knowledge and information that is based
on (among other factors) observation of the world around us, life experience and through the process
of reading. Reading is so much more than just “cracking the code.” Yes, it is a mechanical skill that
does not always imply that understanding takes place at the same time. A child may be able to read
well but not know what he has read. As a result, some children do not do well in comprehension
activities, it impacts on story sums and problem-solving in Maths and being able to learn or study.
There is an important relationship that forms between the person and the reading material. In many
cases, the relationship isn’t a positive one.

The building blocks of reading:

Students’ reading abilities depend upon many different factors and influences. For some students,
regrettably, reading can be frustrating and at times, seemingly futile. Reading can be broadly divided
into two academic skills:
● word decoding, or accurate and rapid reading of words, and
● comprehension, or understanding the intended message of a written passage.
Both decoding and comprehension are facilitated by a combination of neurodevelopmental functions.
These students might struggle to learn the individual letter sounds, blends and sight words and so
reading is slow, tedious and they can seldom understand what they are reading about. We say there
is a kind of ‘word blindness’ that develops.

6 Stages of reading development:

There are six stages in the development of reading, which spans from birth to adulthood. These are:

Stage 0: pre-reading (approximately 6 months – 4 years)

Photo: Pixabay

During this stage, children pretend to read. They are generally able to retell stories they have heard by looking at the pictures associated with different parts of the story.
Playing with paper, pencils, crayons, etc. helps to build the child’s awareness of specific symbols representing letters of the alphabet. By the age of six, a child can generally understand thousands of words but can’t read many of them. It is during this stage that adults play a pivotal role in the process of learning to read. Young children enjoy stories that have a strong rhyming element. This stage is developed when stories are read to the child by someone who understands and appreciates that the child has an interest in books and reading. Giving the child crayons, paper, books, etc. encourages the child to participate in the reading process.

Stage 1: Initial reading, writing and decoding (4 – 7 years)

During this stage children learn that there is a relationship between the letters/symbols and sounds; between printed and spoken language. The child is able to read simple stories that include a number of high frequency words, as regular words, i.e. those words that can be read by using common letter sounds. Children are taught to read, write and decode by means of practicing the phonics sounds they have learned. Reading stories that are slightly above the reading ability of the child can help to improve vocabulary and develop language that is more advanced.

Stage 2: Confirmation and fluency (7 – 8 years old)

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At this stage, children can read simple, known stories with increasing fluency. Consolidation is
achieved by basic decoding elements, knowledge of sight word vocabulary, and understanding the
meaning of the story. This in turn promotes reading fluency. This stage is promoted by teaching
advanced decoding skills and encouraging reading of a broader range of reading materials and

Stage 3: Reading to learn the new (9 – 13 years old)

This stage is characterized by using reading to learn and gain new knowledge and to learn about new attitudes that generally stem from one point of view. Reading to acquire new information is done by reading and studying a diversity of reading materials such as, textbooks, newspapers, magazines, reference books, and literature. These sources expose the child to new ways of thinking and a more
advanced level of vocabulary. The child can now discuss the reading material and answer questions in writing or orally based on what was read. The child will gradually move on to reading more complex texts as their reading ability progresses.

Stage 4: Synthesizing information and applying perspective (14 – 17 years old)

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The ability to read widely from a large variety of reading materials is characteristic of this stage. The reading material becomes more complex and the child is able to read and understand the reading
material from different viewpoints. At this stage, the reader can systematically study words and parts of speech. This is the stage where reading covers more difficult reading materials. Topics and areas
of study such as sciences and humanities allow for readers to further enhance existing knowledge.

Stage 5: Critical literacy in work and society (from 18 years)

In the last stage of reading development, reading is used for personal growth on both a personal and
professional level. New knowledge gained from what is read, can be linked to personal prior
knowledge and enables an integration of the old with the new. Synthesis of new knowledge leads to
the creation of new knowledge. This process in reading is quick and effective. During stage 5 of
reading development, readers continue to read more difficult texts, often beyond their own needs and
are able to write essays and other forms of written work. These works are often integrated into a
variety of existing knowledge and can be used as comparisons to existing writing.

Reading is a long-term developmental process. People generally adjust to and adapt what they read
in accordance with their personal and professional needs and different stages in their lives. There are
less opportunities for reading instruction.

The goal of reading:

The ultimate goal of reading is the extraction of information — for meaning, entertainment, wisdom,
etc. As students read for information, their abilities to read actively, to form and compare concepts,
and to use strategies to increase comprehension become paramount. When students are asked to
interpret sentences and passages for meaning and what they have learned, they must depend upon
their abilities of higher order thinking. Kids can grasp the concepts involved in his/her reading and can
compare and contrast ideas while reading. For instance: is this fact or opinion (e.g. social media and fake news)?

Students use active reading strategies to enhance understanding, such as forming inferences, or
rephrasing text into his/her own words. They also need to be able to self-monitor their
comprehension, i.e. be aware of how well they understand what has been read.

Students have to follow along in the textbook or read for information. Studying becomes important,
as well as being able to read longer passages and understand more complex texts.

Students need to have sufficient mental energy to read lengthy passages and they need to be able to
pull out the most important details and concepts. They must be able to self-monitor when reading, and
recognise when they doesn’t understand what’s been read.
A student paces him/herself when reading, e.g., previews a difficult passage before reading or adjusts
his/her reading speed for better comprehension.

Problems associated with reading:

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that reading is like “cracking the code”. Children learn to
speak naturally but children need to be taught to read or at least exposed to words and texts in a
methodical way.
General reading difficulties affects 10 – 20% of primary school children and there are 2 main causes
of reading difficulty:
● A specific intellectual or cognitive processing difficulty affecting phonological coding,
● A failure to learn to read due to a variety of external factors and internal conditions such as
poor instruction and/or inability to concentrate and pay attention (garden variety)


Dyslexia is a neurological condition caused by a different wiring of the brain. There is no cure for
dyslexia and individuals with this condition must learn coping strategies. Research indicates that
dyslexia has no relationship to intelligence. Individuals with dyslexia are neither more nor less
intelligent than the general population.

What causes Dyslexia?

The exact causes of dyslexia are still not completely clear, but brain imagery studies show differences
in the way the brain of a person with dyslexia develops and functions.
Moreover, most people with dyslexia have been found to have difficulty with identifying the separate
speech sounds within a word and/or learning how letters represent those sounds, a key factor in their
reading difficulties. It is important to note that Dyslexia is not a disease.

What are the effects of Dyslexia?

The core difficulty is with reading words and this is related to difficulty with processing and
manipulating sounds. Some individuals with dyslexia manage to learn early reading and spelling
tasks, especially with excellent instruction, but later experience their most challenging problems when
more complex language skills are required, such as grammar, understanding textbook material, and
writing essays.

How common is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties. Dyslexia affects males
and females nearly equally as well as people from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds
nearly equally. 1 in 5 people will have a language-related disability.

What do I do if I suspect my child has dyslexia?

Here are some of the red flags to look out for in lower primary school:
● Difficulty with rhyming, blending sounds, learning the alphabet, linking letters with sounds
● Difficulty learning rules for spelling and/or spelling words the way they sound (e.g., lik for like);
use the letter name to code ”A” sounds (lafunt for elephant)
● Difficulty remembering “little” words – the, of, said – that cannot be sounded out
● Listening comprehension is usually better than reading comprehension.The child may
understand a story when read to him, but struggles when reading the story independently

Red flags in upper primary and high school:
● Reluctant readers
● Slow, word-by-word readers; great difficulty with words in lists, nonsense words and words not
in their listening vocabulary
● Very poor spellers – misspell sounds, leave out sounds, add or leave out letters or whole
● Non-fluent writers – low, poor quality and quantity of the product
● When speaking, they may have a tendency to mispronounce common words (floormat for
format); they have difficulty using or comprehending more complex grammatical structures
● Listening comprehension is usually superior to performance on timed measures of reading
comprehension (may be equivalent when reading comprehension measures are untimed), and
● Weak vocabulary knowledge and usage.

Education Services has developed a dyslexia checklist available here for primary and high school
students. It can be completed by teachers, parents or the child.
Dyslexia Checklist Primary School Child
Dyslexia Checklist High School Child and Adult

Where can I take my child to be assessed?

If you are additionally doing an IQ assessment, you will need to visit a counselling, clinical or
educational psychologist who has tests for diagnosing dyslexia. However if you don’t need an IQ test,
a remedial therapist can assist by assessing the following:
● oral language word recognition,
● decoding,
● spelling,
● fluency,
● reading comprehension,
● phonological processing and
● vocabulary knowledge

It is important to note that a tutor will likely not use standardized tests to assess reading, spelling and
comprehension. They may follow a specific programme starting at lesson 1 and progressing through
set lessons, in order to practice skills, but the identification of the barriers or problems causing weak
reading skills, such as auditory awareness or visual sequential memory, is not necessarily

My child has been diagnosed with dyslexia, what now?

With proper diagnosis, appropriate instruction, hard work, and support from family, teachers, friends,
and others, individuals who have dyslexia can succeed in school and later as working adults.
Most schools are obligated to provide accommodations for children with learning barriers. It is
expected that the necessary resources are put in place and often, additional training and guidance is
provided by organisations such as Education Services.

Teachers can apply to their department of education in order to get concession permissions which will
allow the child the following:
● Scribe – this is indicated if the child’s handwriting is untidy or too slow and he is being
disadvantaged by having to write his/her own exams. The scribe becomes the child’s hand. A
scribe is assigned for each exam.
● Reader – this is indicated if the child’s reading is at least 2 years below their chronological age
(usually dyslexia is diagnosed). The reader is the child’s eyes and is assigned for each exam.
● Extra time – this is indicated when the child has a specific learning barrier such as ADHD,
processing disorder or anxiety and they are provided an additional 10 or 15 minutes per hour
of the exam.

If the child is granted a concession in Gr11, this remains in place until they have completed their
schooling. There are a multitude of forums, teachers, specialists and educational consultants who can
assist you and your child navigate this new territory.

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Exposing a child to books and reading material at a young age cannot be emphasized enough. Some
of these advantages are that reading:
● Creates a special bond – develops a sense of closeness, and well-being and being loved in
your child,
● Contributes to the creation of a positive attitude towards reading which can be expanded as
the child grows up,
● Has a calming effect on a child: effective when a child is restless or anxious and helps to ‘wind
down’ busy minds before bedtime,
● Helps to improve communication skills between a parent and child,
● Improves attention span – a vital skill for concentration,
● Develops effective listening skills and promotes imagination,
● Builds vocabulary and language where pre-schoolers who are exposed to language by hearing
words that are read in stories and in hearing conversation generally do well in school,
● Teaches the basic elements of a book, i.e. it is made up of words that represent sounds and
ideas, words are read from left to right, and stories carry on when you turn the page,
● Teaches concepts such as colours, shapes, numbers and letters,
● Teaches thinking skills so when a child hears a story, he learns to understand cause and effect,
he learns to use logic, think in abstract terms (linked to Maths), he learns the consequences of
actions, and the basics of what is right and wrong.

An older child will discover that their knowledge increases and that many things are linked, e.g. cars
are means of transportation; child will eventually be able to classify and order different modes of
transport: air – jet, helicopter road: truck, car, bike sea: ship, yacht, canoe. This will lead the child to
discover travel in outer space: rockets and the planets. This in turn will link up with science and

Books give information about relationships, situations, characteristics, what is good and what is bad
in his life world. Fantasy books stimulate imagination and free play. Fairy tales help a child to
distinguish between what is and isn’t real.

When a child reaches a new stage in his development, or experiences a new and unknown situation,
reading a story relevant to his new experience can ease anxiety and help the child to cope. For
example, if a child is afraid of the dentist, find a story about a child who has a positive experience at
the dentist so that the child can relate to it.

According to a study published in Pediatrics, children who had been exposed to home reading
showed significantly greater activation of a brain area that is “all about multisensory integration,
integrating sound and then visual stimulation,” according to Dr. John S. Hutton, the lead author and a
clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “Reading to your child builds
brain networks that will serve him long-term when he transitions from verbal to reading.”

The child learns from an early age that reading can be fun and exciting and can take them to places
far away, sometimes providing a necessary escape from reality.

10 Tips to Create Enthusiastic Readers (for parents)

Not everyone develops a love for reading, for some, reading becomes a chore or a task to avoid at all
costs. There are some ways to encourage and nurture this relationship:
● While reading make stories interactive, stimulating, exciting, and educational: let your child
take part in the reading of the story – if they can’t yet read, ask him/her to tell you what they
can see in the picture(s) if there are any,
● Use age appropriate stories that will interest your child that are filled with colourful and
thought-provoking pictures,
● Be an example – if your child sees you reading, they might imitate your behaviour and see
reading as a part of life,
● Make an effort to read to your child daily at a time when you are both relaxed,
● If your child has a favourite story and wants to read it all the time, let him, or read it to him,
NEVER discourage reading,
● Expose your child to a variety of fiction and non-fiction books,
● Teach your child to treasure books, look after them and treat them with respect – keeping them
clean and in good condition (discourage writing in books),
● Always have books available and keep books within easy reach of your child so that he can
take a book and look through it by himself,
● Encourage your child to write his own story and illustrate it if he wants to, and then let him read
his story to you and ask you questions about it…..make sure you listen 😊

Tips for teachers:

● Encourage students to perceive chunks of letters within a word when reading, i.e., several
letters together at once, rather than one letter at a time, for example, seeing the letters ‘th’ as a
unit, or the syllable ‘ing’ as a unit, when reading the word thing.
● Give students opportunities to build their vocabularies, e.g., do pre-reading activities in which
students share what they know about a topic, thus activating their vocabulary related to the
topic. Immerse students in reading materials to expose them to as much text as possible
(Read, Read, Read!).
● Provide opportunities for students to develop reading fluency, the ability to read at a smooth
and rapid pace. Encourage students to reread books they’ve read previously that are “easy” for
them; have students read along with a book-on-tape or read along with you, etc. This helps to
build their reading confidence.
● Focus on building students’ ability to recognize sight words, words that are taught as whole
units because they are quite common, have unusual spellings, or cannot be sounded out, e.g.
have, said, the, of, etc.
● Provide reinforcement by having students practice sight words in isolation (e.g., using flash
card drills), and in context (circling sight words in their reading).

Concluding remarks:

No child should be excluded or disadvantaged in any way, because they struggle to learn in the
conventional way and might need a different approach. Our objective as Education Services, is to
ensure that no child should be prevented from achieving their true potential because of the way they

Additional resources:


Literacy-Development-Milestones-new-logo1.pdf (
Chall’s Stages of Reading Development.docx (
Parlindungan, Firman. (2019). Understanding Children Development from Literacy Perspective:
Critique of Competing Theories. ResearchGate Conference paper.
Stages of Literacy Development — The Literacy Bug
Stages of Reading Development (


Dr. Danny Ah Hing and Dr. Philippa Fabbr

About Philippa:

My name is Philippa Fabbri, I’m a qualified teacher with a Doctorate in Inclusive Education and a special interest in assisting children, and their parents, who struggle to learn in the conventional way. I co-founded a school in 2005 called Elsen Academy and for the past 16 years, we’ve created an environment where children can be “seen” and “heard”. No child should ever be excluded from school because of the way they learn. We need to foster a culture of acceptance and compassion where we celebrate differences and nurture uniqueness by giving every child their own shape to fill instead of banging them into the round holes that society expects them to fill.
Most recently, I’ve established Education Services, a helpline for parents who have a learning or school-related concern and are looking for solutions. We are their first port of call.

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