Myth: Learning to read is a natural process.
It has been argued that learning to read, like learning to understand spoken language, is a natural occurrence. It has also been argued that children will learn to read if they are immersed in a literacy-rich environment and allowed to develop literacy skills in their own way. This belief that learning to read is a natural process resulting from rich text experiences is prevalent—despite the fact that learning to read is not only unnatural, it is one of the most unnatural things humans do.
There is a difference between learning to read text and learning to understand a spoken language. Learning to understand speech is a natural process; starting before birth, children tune in to spoken language in their environment, and as soon as they are able, they begin to incorporate a language. Given the opportunity, children will naturally develop the essential comprehension skills for the language to which they are exposed with little structured or formal guidance.
In contrast, reading acquisition is not natural. The ability to understand speech evolved over several thousands of years, while reading has been around for only a few thousand years. It has been only within the past few generations that some cultures have made any serious attempt to make literacy universal among their citizens.
If reading were natural, everybody would be doing it, and we would not have to worry about dealing with a 'literacy gap.' According to the National Institute for Literacy and the Center for Education Statistics, more than 40 million adults in this country are functionally illiterate. The literacy rates among fourth grade students in America are sobering. In a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one out of three students scored "below basic" on the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Reading Test.These numbers provide evidence that reading is a skill that is quite unnatural and difficult to learn.
Myth: Children will eventually learn to read if given enough time
While it is true that children should be taught to read in developmentally appropriate ways, we should not simply wait for children to develop reading skills in their own time. When a child is not developing reading skills along with his or her peers, that situation should be concerning
The gap between children who have well-developed literacy skills and those who do not gets wider and wider. If literacy instruction needs are not met early, then the gap widens—the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer—until it gets so wide that bridging it requires extensive, intensive, expensive, remedial instruction. Research has shown that if a child is not reading grade-appropriate materials by the time he or she is in the fourth grade, the odds of that child ever developing good reading skills is still possible, but it is more difficult, and the child's own motivation becomes the biggest obstacle to success.
Myth: Some people are just genetically "dyslexic"
The belief in an underlying genetic cause for dyslexia ignores the fact that reading has not been around long enough to become part of our genetic makeup. The common myths about dyslexia are that dyslexics read backwards and reverse words and letters. While these characteristics may be part of the problem with some individuals, they are not the most common attributes.
The word dyslexia comes from the Greek language and means poor language. Individuals with dyslexia have trouble with reading and spelling although they have the ability and have had opportunities to learn.
People fail to learn to read for a variety of reasons, and categorizing all non-readers under the dyslexia umbrella contradicts the complexity of reading disorders. Clearly, some people have more difficulty learning to read than others. In very general terms, one common reason is difficulty developing decoding skills.
- Difficulties developing decoding skills
Difficulties developing decoding skills very often arise from difficulties processing sounds in speech (phonological processing skills). Some people seem to have an easier time than others categorizing words on the basis of shared sounds, segmenting words into sounds, or pronouncing parts of words by removing one or more sounds. What these tasks share in common is the emphasis on the phonological structure of the spoken word. To learn to decode words, it is necessary to understand that the letters in text represent the phonemes in speech. For people who have difficulty hearing and manipulating the phonemes in speech (because of poor phonological processing skills), it is unlikely that they will make the connection between letters and phonemes. Even if there are genetic foundations for phonological processing skills, we know we can teach children to be aware of the phonemes in speech regardless of their genetic tendencies.
Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. Sedl.org
Annie E. Casey Foundation. http://www.aecf.org/