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Can you help a third grader who is struggling with reading?

Dear Let's Go Learn, My 8 yr. old daughter is beginning 3rd grade work this year. She continues to have difficulty with reading and reading comprehension. She frequently misreads words, guessing based on the first few letters rather than reading a complete word. She will occasionally read words backwards such as reading, "saw" as "was". Her abilities vary from day today. One day she will be reading solidly at grade level and the next day she will have trouble with basic phonics. Reading for her is a chore and she becomes easily frustrated when I ask her to re-read a word or sentence. Can you tell that I am a bit frustrated too? I would appreciate any suggestions that would help me to help her. Thank you.

 Hello, Thanks for your email. Here are my thoughts about your daughter:

1) I feel terrible saying this but if your daughter is having these kinds of problems in 2nd grade, she will almost certainly have a harder time in 3rd grade. In the United States, 3rd grade is where a student is required to begin reading large quantities of material independently. I talk to droves of parents who tell me that their son or daughter was doing "OK" in 1st and 2nd grade but really went down hill in 3rd grade.
2) "She frequently misreads words, guessing based on the first few letters rather than reading a complete word." This is very common for kids who have weak phonemic awareness. I have seen kids who even sound out each of the letters then say something totally different when they say the word as a whole. They sound out: "/s/-/t/-/ar/-/t/" and then they state the whole word, "straight." It may seem to you that what she sees on the page is not what is coming out of her mouth. It may seem like she can't match the two things up. This is a very common symptom of phonemic awareness weakness.
3) "Her abilities vary from day today. One day she will be reading solidly at grade level and the next day she will have trouble with basic phonics." This too is common for phonemic awareness weakness. Another factor may be what some people call "Symbol Imagery." This is ability to hold on to letters and words in your mind. You might see that she will learn a word like "whose" and she might know it all day, but the next day it's like the word is brand new to her again.
4) "Reading for her is a chore and she becomes easily frustrated when I ask her to re-read a word or sentence." I am sure that this is very hard for her. I had one parent who described her daughter as having similar difficulties as your daughter. Her daughter was a little bit older and had to write a book report. Just reading the book for the report was very hard on both of them, writing the report was very difficult and took all weekend. On Sunday afternoon when they had finished the rough draft of the report, she said to her daughter, "And now for the easy part! Just copy this onto a clean sheet of paper." Her daughter began to scream and cry. I told that mother to imagine what it would be like if I gave her an entire page of Japanese text and asked her to copy it onto a clean sheet of paper, that is similar to what it is like for her daughter to copy a page of text.
5) "Can you tell that I am a bit frustrated too? I would appreciate any suggestions that would help me to help her." Well, it sounds like your daughter is weak in some of the processing abilities necessary for reading. I am sure this situation is very frustrating for you and your daughter. I have known master teachers who had been working with beginning readers for years who wanted to pull their hair out because of this kind of difficulty. Twenty years ago, most people thought that phonemic awareness could not be increased. Thankfully, that is not the case anymore. The first step is to get your daughter tested with a full reading assessment. Let's Go Learn, Inc. offers an on-line reading assessment.  Make sure any assessment you choose measures all parts of reading; sounding-out words, memorizing words, spelling, reading in context and vocabulary.

I hope these things are helpful to you, please feel free to email me with more questions.

Tags: struggling reader, third grade reading, phonemic awareness

  1. Deb
    Reply 08/03/18

    Please have your child see an eye doctor that is certified in eye therapy. My son had many issues as your daughter. Turned out he could see 20/20, but his weak eye muscles caused him to recognize the same word only part of the time. Every word was new to his brain. He has reversals of words, numbers, and letters. Tiredness and headaches when reading. His writing was 2years below. Then some days he read great. Two hours later, back to nothing. He hates reading. It was like ADH D but not.  It was like he didn’t want to, but was trying so hard. 
    His eye muscles caused dyslexia. It also made his body retain reflexes and motor skills that he should’ve gotten rid of as a toddler.  Please, check it out.  After 25 sessions my son raised his reading level up a year and a half and is still gaining.  His reflexes are working much better too.  We are still working on writing, spelling and learning blends and vowel teams.

  2. Nicole
    Reply 06/21/17

    I too am in the same boat with my 8yo.  Noticing that this was posted a few years ago I would like to know how things are going?  I am debating on moving my child to 3rd grade. She has all of the traits the parents have posted above.  What have you found that works for them, have they improved?  They have given my child an IEP and put her in special reading and math classes but she still struggles to remember things week to week day to day.  She cannot write (SPELL) a complete sentence and her reading is below her grade level.  Our Dr. put her on meds for ADHD and we have tried them but she still doesn’t retain what she has learned with phonetics.  I don’t think the medicine is the answer…

  3. Richard Capone
    Reply 11/28/16

    Laura, in reading there are actually multiple skills being used when reading and comprehending.  I would suggest that you have your son tested with our DORA assessment. The cost is minimal when considering what a specialist costs and it will give you an insight into your son’s abilities across 6 or 7 subskills in reading.

  4. Laura Platt
    Reply 11/12/16

    Hi, My son reads very well, he is fluent and pronounces the words correctly.  He also gets a 100% on most spelling tests.  I believe he is very smart and had him tested for Gifted studies at school.  He scored a 93% (you need a 90%) to qualify for further testing.  The problem is when he is asked multiple choice questions on what he has read he has trouble answering correctly.  I am at a loss as to what is going on.  Please give me your insights and suggestions. Thank you very much.

  5. Richard Capone
    Reply 10/15/15

    Sarah, I think you need to have him diagnosed in phonemic awareness.  Some people’s brains are not able to pull out sounds within words.  So if I asked you what sound is in the middle of the word “CAT”, you would not be able to pull this sounds out.  If this is happening with your son it could explain his difficulty in dealing with unknown words.  In these cases, individuals can still learn to read but they need to become sight readers.  So next step is to verify what is going on.  Fortunately, we have a stand alone Phonemic Awareness assessment.  It is actually not very well known because it is a very specialized assessment that isn’t necessary that often.  It costs $20.  Here is the link:
    I would suggest you give your son the assessment and then bring the report to your school if it shows he does have an auditory processing issue.  This will give you some justification for a follow up evaluation.

  6. Sarah
    Reply 10/15/15

    I have same situation with my 3rd grader except…..he loves to read and always has his hands on books, graphic novels,cartoons, magazines.  He can never seem to pass to the next level of reading bc he skips or omits words when he has to read aloud, replaces words with similar meaning word, and doesn’t add pauses.  On top of this b/c he loves to read, but he can’t “pass” the leveling test, he becomes extremely frustrated and upset that he can’t read the higher level books.  Instead he watches his peers move ahead but still he manages to stay right at grade level requirement.  We tested in 2nd grade and found extreme phonemic awareness weakness, his writing- while you can read the letters- he and his peers has no idea what he had written.  School says no learning disability.  What is this?

  7. Richard Capone
    Reply 06/01/15

    Hello Ms. Grimes, I would advise you to seek help from a friend.  Maybe a friend who is a teacher. And perhaps this friend can talk to your son’t teacher with you.  If your son is having troubles reading at the third grade, it will be very difficult for him to advance to the fourth grade.  However, if he does repeat the third grade, you will want to know that a plan is in place to allow him to succeed.  This is a very complicated situation.  I advise you to find someone who can help you fight for your son’s education.

    Reply 05/29/15


  9. Richard Capone
    Reply 09/29/14

    Hello Alexa, this original post is very old so at this point I don’t believe the original parent is available for response.  However, I think our response at the time indicates that you are not alone in experiencing this issue with your child. We current have two assessments that may help get you more information:  DORA and DORA Phonemic Awareness.
    Once you have some diagnostic data this may help you figure out your next steps.

  10. Alexa
    Reply 09/29/14

    This article described my child completely.  Is there any updates on how your child is doing.  I read your question and its was as if I wrote it.

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