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  • Writer's pictureKelly Dharamshi

How Long Does It Take To Learn How To Read?

How Long Dies It Take to Learn to Read: A discussion of the different levels of support different learners require.
It may not be as much time as you think!

When your child is struggling to learn how to read it can be challenging to get the help they need. Where do you even start? How do you make the decisions that are going to help your child learn how to read and develop a lifelong love of reading? Why is it so complicated to learn how to read, anyway? Every child has the right to read so the help should be easily accessible and the information should be simple so that parents can make the best decisions. In a perfect world reading would be easy and if it isn't, getting help would be easy! In reality, reading is not always easy, and getting help is even more complicated! This article will explore how you can make the best decisions to get your child the reading help they need so that they can learn how to read, build confidence in their ability to read, and develop a lifelong love of reading.

How long does it take to become a proficient reader?

Research by Nancy Young, Ed. D. beautifully explains the differences in learning how to read as a ladder (see infographic below, used here with Nancy Young’s permission).

The Ladder of Reading and writing show how different learners need different reading instruction to learn how to read proficiently
The Ladder of Reading and Writing (Nancy Young, Ed. D.)

Approximately 40-50% of our children will learn to read with some basic instruction and little effort. For most of these children, the instruction provided at school will be enough. The rest of our children will require “code-based and explicit instruction” to learn how to read (Nancy Young, Ed. D.

Unfortunately, schools can not often provide this level of instruction, although there have been significant improvements in the awareness of how to provide remedial reading instruction in Ontario schools in recent years. If children can not get the instruction they need at school, parents have a choice of providing it themselves or hiring a tutor. 

Resources to help your child learn how to read

If you are planning to support your child on your own, learning about the most effective, research-backed teaching strategies will be an essential part of this process. The good news is that there is a lot of information on the science of reading and how to provide reading instruction rooted in brain-based, well-researched teaching strategies. Here is a short list of resources to get you started:

Reading Rockets Website:

Spencer Russel of Toddlers Can Read (it’s not just for toddlers, his strategies work for all ages):

Jake Dagget, a Grade 1 Teacher who has made science of reading strategies so fun that he's become a celebrity in the teaching world!

Heidi Jane, another amazing (celebrity) Grade 1 Teacher who shares great science of reading-based teaching resources:

Finding the best tutor

If you decide to hire a tutor to help your child learn how to read, there are a few important considerations. First, you want to make sure the tutor will be effective. 

Wait, aren’t all tutors effective?

Isn’t that the point? 

No, all reading tutors are not effective. Here’s why. For many years we taught reading in schools based on very ineffective but popular teaching strategies known as whole language or balanced literacy. The Reading Recovery program was based on these strategies and there are many tutors who still teach based on this program and/or these strategies. If your child is already a struggling reader, they will not improve substantially, or continue improving over time if a tutor is using whole language or balanced literacy strategies. 

In recent years, we have acknowledged that there are much more effective teaching strategies and we are implementing these strategies in schools in Ontario. These strategies are based on over fifty years of scientific research on how our brains learn to read. Why haven’t we been using these strategies for the past fifty years? The answer is more bizarre and complicated than I can explain here. If you listen to the podcast, Sold a Story by Emily Hanford, you will see what I mean. 

Effective teaching strategies are largely (not completely) about using phonics. As the pendulum swings in education from one way of teaching to another, it often swings too far. Phonics comes under criticism because schools (and even tutors) adopt very rigid programs that require all students to move through exactly the same sequence of lessons whether they need to or not. This can make reading seem dull and boring for many kids. There are many great curriculums and phonics does need to be taught in a scope and sequence, but putting curriculums before individual learners is problematic. Everyone learns differently and we need to use our knowledge of the science of reading to deliver the best lessons to each individual learner. A tutor needs to value teaching your child as an individual, not teaching a pre-made program to your child. The learner needs to come before the curriculum or the curriculum is not going to be effective. 

How much support does your child need?

Now that you know how to find an effective tutor, how much tutoring will your child need to learn how to read? According to Nancy Young, Ed. D. 40-45% of children will need explicit instruction in reading and 10-15% will need explicit, intensive, and frequent instruction. 

There has been an increase in the popularity of the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching reading. This method was intended for children with dyslexia who fall into the 10-15% of learners who require intense and frequent reading instruction. Orton-Gillingham tutors work with students one-to-one twice a week for 40-60 minutes each class. That is a huge time commitment and if your child doesn’t need this much instruction to learn how to read, is this the best option?

When I was searching for a reading tutor for my own child, intensive programs like Orton-Gillingham, and ineffective programs like those offered at most big learning centres, were the only option. The fact is that most kids can learn how to read with very little time spent on instruction if that time is used effectively. Most kids don’t even need to do anything between lessons to make huge gains with short, effective instruction. That’s right, you don’t have to sit for what feels like an eternity doing tortuous phonics worksheets at the kitchen table (I actually cried, more than once). 

If short, effective lessons are what you are looking for, contact me at Kelly’s Reading and Math Club. I would give you a list of other tutors but I honestly don’t know anyone else who offers this service. That’s why I started to offer it myself. Short, super effective lessons so that your child can learn to read quickly - it’s all many kids need. 

Time required for effective tutoring programs

Here’s the breakdown compared to other effective tutoring programs (I’m not even going to talk about the ineffective ones because… well… they’re not effective).

Orton-Gillingham: 2 lessons per week on non-consecutive days for 40-60 minutes.

Barton: 2 hours or more of tutoring each week. 

Direct Instruction: Minimum of 2 one-hour lessons each week. 

All of these are one-to-one lessons, which is not the best fit for each learner. That’s a topic for another day. 

I offer 30 or 60 minutes a week and I see amazing and very fast results even with one 30-minute class per week. Why? Because that’s all most kids need. When it comes to teaching, less can be more. Kids need time to rest and play. That’s when their brains can process learning. 

What’s the next step?

If your child struggles with reading, speak to their teacher to find out exactly how far behind they are and where they are specifically struggling. From there, you may get some information on how much support your child needs. Use your parenting spidey sense as well. If you feel that your child is really struggling and may have a learning disability, dyslexia, or another learning difference that could affect their ability to learn how to read, like ADHD, consult with your pediatrician. 

If you feel that your child is just not getting the instruction they need (this is especially true for French immersion students as I explain in this post) then check out the resources I’ve listed in this blog and make reading instruction a part of your daily routine. It literally only takes about ten minutes a day of effective instruction to make a huge impact. If you need help, contact me! I’m very happy to say that I have been able to make reading support much easier and more manageable for parents than it was for me. I would be very happy to help you and your child, too. Happy reading! 

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