My student struggles to read- why?

As a dyslexia assessor and tutor I often assess or teach children (and adults) who appear to read relatively well and  I can see why many students would ‘go under the radar’ when being considered for assessment or intervention.  Other students struggle to read and here we’ll discuss why.

First of all let’s review ‘What is reading?’.  Ultimately we read to comprehend and understand.  To do this we need language skills and reading skills.  Some students may well have accurate single word reading skills and can also read text.  However their language skills may well affect their comprehension.  Additionally a student may have accurate reading skills but their flow of reading and speed of processing may be poor and again this can impact upon comprehension. A student’s accuracy when reading may be poor due to visual processing. We’ve already chatted about this in our other articles but you may see letters transposed, ‘saw/saw’ or letters reversed ‘lobby/loddy’ or inverted ‘saw/sam’.   You may also identify that students don’t track lines, miss words or sentences.

Miscue analysis is a very important part of identifying reading skills Goodman (1969) coined this term and considered there to be 3 aspects:

  • Grapho/phonic – the relationship of letters to sound system:
  • Syntactic – the syntax/grammar system
  • Semantic – the meaning system

Goodman was anxious to get away from the notion that every departure from the words
of the text is necessarily bad. The pattern of miscues can suggest a reader’s strengths as
well as their weaknesses. If we put together the miscues with what the learner can tell
us about how they were made, then we can begin to understand what is really going
on when a text is read.

You can download your FREE copy of Miscue Analysis here Miscue Analysis

Grapho Phonic Errors

Grapho Phonic Errors

Students are often taught to read with  whole word recognition.  That is to say they see a word, know what it looks like and know the verbal response to that word. Think about a pre-reader, they may know the McDonald’s sign and say the word but they can’t read the word.

McDonalds's sign

McDonalds’s sign

When we read with a student, using shared or guided reading, we will often correct a student when they mis-read a word or pause and try to work it out.  As a result they learn what that word looks like.  There is nothing wrong with using this method.  However, we often then notice that students may not recall the word  on the following pages or the next day or week. We may also notice that a student is searching for pictures to give clues to the word or guessing within the context of the sentence.  Here is when we can employ decoding skills.

Shared Reading

Shared Reading

Some argue that decoding takes away the pleasure of reading. Quite rightly it will, however if a student can’t read in the first instance there is also no pleasure in guessing at words in context and with with clues of what words look like. The Rose Report clearly suggests the need for a mixture of approaches with a student who is struggling to read.



Decoding means to learn to chunk words into sounds and syllables, learn where to divide words into syllables, to enable the student to then blend sounds/syllables together, rather than guess based on initial letters and words within their vocabulary. Simultaneously a student needs to learn the sounds each letter or letters make and their relationships with other letters.  For example ‘c’ say /k/ as in ‘cat’ but when ‘c’ is followed by vowels ‘i,e,y’ it will change to a /s/ as in ‘cinema’.  This needs to be introduced systematically with ample opportunity to work on one sound, working on words with the same sounds and those with sounds which have already been introduced.  This system quickly enables students to build a very wide word bank and quickly decode unfamiliar words using the knowledge they have developed, rather than relying on what words look like.  Very quickly students can learn that ‘ai’ says /a/ as in ‘rain’ and transfer the sound and knowledge to ‘complain’.  This enables earners to become more independent readers. These are just some of the strategies we use at CodeBreakers®


Quite often I see students who have learned to read with whole word recognition, begin to struggle when words are beyond their comfort zone and word bank.  Words become difficult to read once they are multi-syllabic (have lots of chunks of sounds/syllables).  This is often seen in subject words such as sciences, particularity once students make the transition into secondary school and GCSE studies, we start to see an increased struggle in reading.  As an assessor we can quickly evaluate if whole word recognition skills are present if we ask students to ‘decode’ non-words or nonsense words.   This enables an assessor to establish if a student is reliant on whole word recognition and words within their vocabulary.

In my next article I’ll chat about how learning to read through whole word recognition can have an impact upon spelling.