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How to Help an At-Risk Child

November 6, 2010

Reading Rockets: How to Help an At-Risk Child.

If a child’s history suggests increased risk for reading difficulties, it is critical that he or she receive the following.

  • Prompt, appropriate intervention for any ongoing difficulties, such as language or hearing problems in the preschool years
  • A comprehensive, high-quality program of early reading instruction
  • Close monitoring for any signs of reading difficulties in the early grades so that these difficulties may be addressed as quickly as possible

These practices are helpful for all children but especially for children at risk. Research shows that excellent instruction, couples with ongoing monitoring and assessment of progress, can prevent reading problems in many children.

Comprehensive, high-quality instruction means that instruction addresses all of the basic abilities that are important in learning to read and write – phonemic awareness, knowledge of sounds for letters and letter patterns, word decoding, language comprehension and vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling, and written expressions. And it does so in a manner that is consistent with research-based principles (e.g., that the instruction is explicit and systematic).

Knowledgeable teachers and first-rate pre-service teacher preparation are vital for providing children with this kind of instruction. However, to meet the wide range of children’s needs that exist in any classroom, teaches also require support – the support of involved parents and administrators, adequate instructional resources, adequate allocation of time in the school day, access to specialists, and ongoing professional development opportunities.

Finally, even with excellent instruction and parental support, some children may continue to experience difficulties in reading or writing. For these children, more intensive and sometimes long-term interventions – including, in some cases, special education services – may be needed. But high-quality classroom instruction and short-term early intervention can go a long way toward preventing or at least ameliorating many reading problems.


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