Reading Ability and Self-Esteem

The concept of self is formed in the early years, and reading ability is highly correlated with self-esteem.  Learning to read can be a souself-esteem-microscope-2rce of pride for a young child as well as a source of embarrassment.  Struggling readers feel as though everyone in the class is staring and laughing at their mispronunciations of words, even if this isn’t happening.  They become so self-conscious and sensitive that school quickly becomes an unhappy place.  If this sounds like your child, it is important to be aware of what is happening and take steps to intervene.

Reading aloud can be a devastating experience for struggling readers.  Some teachers ask children to participate in what is called round-robin reading, or taking turns reading aloud.  Round robin is not effective for anyone; the struggling reader spends time trying to anticipate the moment he or she will be called on and misses the meaning of what is being read.  If the struggling reader is asked to read, the other children quickly become impatient, some raising their hands while the child is reading, others roll their eyes and sigh, and some do snicker.  Parents should question this practice and speak to the teacher about the negative consequences.  Although teachers do need to listen to children read aloud for progress monitoring, error correction, and assessment, reading aloud can be accomplished during small group work or an independent reading conference.

Parents should try to create an inviting environment for reading at home.  Books should be connected to warm, upbeat experiences, and children should be encouraged to explore their interests through books and other reading materials.  Struggling readers become disenchanted with reading and will avoid books at all costs, so high interest books will give them a reason to keep reading, even when motivation is low.  Since such children already have negative feelings attached to books and reading, reading should not be used as a punishment.  I know some parents will add extra time or extra pages as a way to discipline children, but reading should never be used for this purpose.

Reminding children that reading is not tied to being “bad” or “good,” is an important message.  We must be very careful with our words, and children should not be labeled with language that lowers expectations.  Negative words may become self-fulfilling prophecies, as many people tend to believe what they hear when it is said often enough.  When I was taking an online course, we were asked to read a book called Courageous Learners, a book about children struggling with learning challenges.  I loved this title and the thought that went into choosing language that positively depicts a challenge.  Imagine if all struggling students saw themselves as courageous?  This is much different from telling children they are wonderful, amazing, and smart.  Many children feeling badly about themselves will not believe this and think these words are untruthful.  A better way of complimenting children is to compliment the effort and be specific about what improved.  “You really put a lot of effort into this book report and gave great details about the main character,” is an example that specifies what the child did rather than what you think of the child. If we want to build self-esteem, we must realize that words are powerful and children will respond according to how we speak to them.

Faith Borkowsky, Owner and Lead Educational Consultant of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching, is Orton-Gillingham trained and Wilson Certified, and has extensive training and experience in a number of other research-based, peer-reviewed programs that have produced positive gains for students with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, and a host of learning difficulties.

High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching is located in Plainview, Long Island.  Read about what we can offer you and your child: http://highfiveliteracy.com.

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