Help and Advicestory books and fluency for children with learning difficulties

The Importance of Books For Children With Learning Difficulties

Books have an important role to play in the acquisition of fluent reading.  Fluency is the ability to read connected text rapidly, smoothly and automatically with little conscious effort devoted to the mechanics of reading such as decoding.  However, fluency can be difficult to remediate in struggling readers.

One reason is that students who have difficulties with acquiring reading skills spend less overall time reading.  This can be compared to skilled readers who read three times as many words weekly as their less-skilled peers.  These differences begin in the early years and become exacerbated over time.

The lack of reading practice results in limitations in the number of words that students with reading difficulties can recognise automatically and of which they know the meaning.  This leads to frustration amongst these students.  This, in turn, further affects learning engagement.

When students are engaged, they are more receptive to learning through the language and about the language.  Along with having smaller sight word vocabularies, students with reading difficulties recognise words more slowly than their normally achieving peers.  They can then spiral into a negative feedback loop by developing an aversion to reading.  As a result, they may do little in the way of reading and may even avoid reading which results in a smaller word bank and a decrease in their overall rate of accurate reading.

Choice of Books Is Important

This leads to the question of which story books to use?  One approach is to use repetitive texts and to model for struggling readers how the reading process works.  These type of stories contain repetitive words or phrases which include high-frequency words.  Students who are having difficulty decoding words and reading sentences fluency benefit from these type of stories.  They may also have repetitive phrases which can help students with learning difficulties follow the story more easily and understand the sequence of the story.  It also helps keep them more engaged.

Many of these stories have wonderful story patterns which allow the reader to develop fluency and rhythm. An example of this is ‘Jack & the Flumflum Tree’ by Julia Donaldson.  Not only is the story engaging, it also contains a lot of repetitive phrases and words.  Due to the sequence of events in the story, it allows for discussion, inference and imaginative questions to be posed upon completion.  Taking turns when reading this story, the listener can hear the rhythm of fluent reading and the repetitive words can also simply the decoding process when it comes to their turn to read again.

It’s worth noting that when teaching fluency,  the choice of story should be dependent on which particular sound or phoneme the individual student needs to work on.  For example, when teaching the long ‘i’ sound, a useful story would be ‘Good Night Sleep Tight’ by Mem Fox as the text highlights this sound.  The trigraph ‘igh’ also occurs throughout the story.  Therefore, students are learning the letter-sound relationship in context which is crucial part of the learning process.   Also in detecting rhyme, students can also discover how there are different spellings for the same sound.

Reading Will Become Easier

By engaging more in the reading process, students with learning difficulties can create positive learning experiences for themselves which can help to overcome their aversion to reading.  Adequate exposure to print can lead to successful encounters and can help to break the negative feedback loop they may be experiencing.

To help students build their confidence in applying phonics, it is beneficial to use books that have been deliberately written to contain a high percentage of regular and decodable words, along with repetitive words or phrases.  As their understanding grows, they will find reading more entertaining and more enjoyable.