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Q

My son graduated Kitah Alef (Grade 1) and he still can’t read. What is the cause? Whom can I turn to for help?

A

Answered by

Benzion Kiwak, MSEd, SBL Encore Reading Specialist

First of all, I commend you for reaching out and looking for help for your son who is struggling with kriah. Now is the right time to seek help and provide him with remediation, as he will be going to Kitah Bais next year, where he will start learning Chumash. Kriah deficits can interfere with his academic achievement especially with Chumash and later on with other subjects.

Before we begin, we must first determine in which areas your son is struggling with kriah. How is your son’s foundation in the early literacy readiness areas? Is he able to recognize and name all אותיות and נקודות? Is he able to identify the sounds of all אותיות and נקודות? Does he have the skills to blend the sounds to create syllables and words? Is he able to read words but omits or reverses parts of the words?

Some common issues with children who have deficits in reading/kriah may include:

Slow reading speed

Omission of words while reading

Reversal of words or letters while reading

Difficulty decoding syllables or single words and associating them with specific sounds

Limited sight words (automaticity)

There are many bright and intelligent children who struggle to read.  The exact root of the problem of why your son is struggling to read may be difficult to isolate, and may be different in various children. There are many possible causes as to why a child might struggle with reading/kriah. Learning to read is a complex task. It requires concentration, coordination of the eye muscles to follow a line of print, spatial orientation to interpret letters and words, visual memory, sequencing ability, and the ability to categorize and analyze. In addition, the brain must integrate visual cues with memory and associate them with specific sounds. The sounds must then be blended to make words.

Children who struggle to read might have language, vision or memory deficits. There are also children who have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or conduct disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which affect their focus and reading.

In addition, there is also the issue of how your son was taught to read in school. Many schools teach Kitah Alef students in the traditional (מסורה) method by teaching students to read by rote/memorization. The students are taught to memorize syllables and then connect syllables together to create words. (For example, the students are taught that the symbol of the alef and kumatz together (אָ) represent the sound of /oo/. It is not explained to the children why this symbol stands for /oo/.) This is the most preferred method as this helps with automaticity and fluency and helps children automatically recognize words (sight words). Children who learn to read using this method are able to look at a word and then automatically recognize the syllable and can quickly recognize the words. They don’t have to laboriously put together each sound of אות and נקודה. However, there are some children who do not successfully learn to read using this method. There may be many reasons why. One of the reasons is that in order to master reading using this method, a child must memorize approximately 300 different syllable types (i.e. that kumatz alef : אָ is /oo/ and pasach gimmel: גַ is /gah/ etc.). Another reason, especially common with bright and intelligent children, is that there are some children who feel very lost with rote/memorization because they have the need to understand what they are learning.

Such children might benefit from one of the many other kriah methods. Some methods, for example a method developed by my esteemed uncle and mentor Rabbi Yaakov Kiwak, teach a more broken-down strategy. Instead of having the child memorize a multitude of syllables, the syllables are broken down and and the child is taught to put together the sound of an אות and the sound of a נקודה and then blend them together to create a syllable. (For example, the students are taught to blend the sound of ז /z/ and the sound of pasach /ah/ to create the syllable of /zah/.) There are various methods and strategies on how to teach children to put together the sounds. Other methods, such as methods based on the Lindamood-Bell program, teach the child how to blend sounds using mouth pictures. Yet other methods, instead of having the child laboriously blend each and every sound, teach syllables and words using word families.  In addition, there are many methods and strategies how to reinforce the basic skills such as using multi-modalities and visual aids that help with cognition, memory and focus. Not all methods are right for all children. It is therefore important to consult with an expert that has a full “tool box” and is knowledgeable and trained in various methods and strategies. A trained professional will also be able to direct you to proper medical professionals to help diagnose if there are any possible medical conditions.

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    Each week, Ami Magazine features a “Let's Talk” post, with a question or inquiry commonly posed by Encore parents.

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