The Emotional Aspect of Reading

After my second back surgery, I had to be placed on potent medications to ease the nerve pains in my leg. Unfortunately, these medications made my head foggy, and they affected my memory in a negative way.

Knowing the brain needs exercise to stay fit, I found a word game on my iPad in an effort to keep my memory sharp. I don’t know if it helped, but I’m still playing it even though I no longer take those horrible medications.

The game is called Wordscapes. It’s similar to a crossword puzzle. At the bottom of the puzzle is a circle of letters and you have to choose letter combinations to make the words fit into the puzzle.

Fortunately, it starts easy with three letter words. You build up to longer words. Right now, I’m on seven letter words. As I was playing this game the other day, I came across a long word, and a moment of panic set in.

Reading can present a host of scary emotions to a struggling reader. Don’t let that happen!

Although I’ve always been an avid reader, I felt unsure of myself. I thought I’d never figure out this seven letter word. It felt like too big of a mountain to climb.

Here’s the weird thing. I’m naturally better at the long words than the shorter ones. I stumble on simple, four letter words and cruise through the six and seven letter words. Even so, I had a negative emotional experience from this multi-syllable word. I moved through it, of course, but it made me think about kids who struggle to read.

It feels like I’ve listened to a million kids read and through this process, I’ve picked up on strategies that work and strategies that don’t. Since struggling readers are usually lacking confidence, I’ve found that positive reinforcement works better than anything else.

Most teachers just point out a child’s reading mistakes. Their motives are pure, of course, but it’s a strategy that needs built upon. Sure, kids can’t just read the same word incorrectly over and over. But they also need to know about all the words they read correctly.

Reading is a difficult process. Sometimes, I wonder how any of us read at all. So much goes on at one time that I’m astounded at the brain’s ability to keep up with it. Enter negative feelings and emotions about reading, and it only makes it worse.

Through over thirty years of being an educator, I’ve found the most powerful component to helping poor readers is boosting their reading confidence. Of course, they need to be taught decoding strategies and a host of other skills. But they need, they crave, a kind word or two.

“You sounded those vowel blends perfectly.”

“The last time I heard you read, you read forty-eight words in one minute. Today you read fifty-six. That’s awesome.”

“You’re a reading professional these days! How much are you getting paid to sound out those words?”

Here’s my favorite, the one that seems to work the best. As I listen to the child read, I simply chime in with “mmm hmmmm,” “yes,” “correct,” “that’s right,” “perfect,” etc. every so often when the student reads a word correctly.

I was listening to a boy read the other day. A year ago, he didn’t even know his letter sounds and was a behavior problem. Even though he couldn’t read, he was smart. He was aware of every one of his reading failures glaring at him.

On this day, he was sounding out multi-syllable words at a third grade level. He had a confidence I’d never heard before, and my heart leaped with joy. I waited until his break and asked to speak to him in private.

“I heard you reading,” I said. “I remember when you first came, and you couldn’t read at all.”

He beamed, a real sunshine smile. I’ll never forget it.

“I’m so proud of you,” I continued. “You read words like answered and pretended with ease. Those are hard words.”

His grin was infectious.

“I still don’t like to read,” he murmured, a hint of mischief in his eyes.

“You don’t have to like it,” I said, giving him an out. “But you’re doing it. And I’m so proud of you.”

It only takes a few minutes to turn the negative emotional pangs of reading into positive emotions. The same amount of time it takes to crush a developing reader with negative comments.

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