The Urgency of Teaching Reading

Christine Nasserghodsi
3 min readMar 21, 2020

As schools around the world ponder a longer shutdown, we need to ask critical questions about the impact of our distance learning measures. Schools and communities were in various stages of readiness for distance learning. Affluent school districts and top-tier private and international schools had learning management systems and communication tools in place. In many of these districts and schools, teachers have engaged in flipped and blended learning for years. In addition, museums, ed-tech companies, theatre troupes (everyone!) is offering free online learning resources.

This is great, of course. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are alight with pictures of children learning at home, teachers collaborating on digital resources, and principals sharing their school’s digital strategies. It feels like a new social compact — parents color-coding schedules with their children, ed-tech providers offering everything a teacher could hope for, and teachers supporting one another with new modalities of learning.

If we project forward six months, it will be mid-September. Our students and our schools will be different. Teachers will be more confident teaching in digital environments. Students will certainly be more independent. Yet, it is likely that the existing inequities in education will grow exponentially.

This is most concerning when it comes to children learning to read.

Reading is a complex process. For many people, it is something of a black box. Teachers work hard to create phonemic awareness, letter-sound knowledge, and syllabification skills to help children prepare to read. They provide text-rich environments, labeling furniture and other items with their names in print. Many children experience letter-sounds through the lens of the letters in their names.

Early childhood teachers are hyper-aware of the role of the environment and cuing systems in learning to read. As children progress, they learn to blend words; they memorize “high-frequency words”; they start to read words with morphemes (letters that together make one sound) and words that break phonetic patterns. All the while, they build the motivation to read. Their teachers and parents read high-interest stories aloud to them, modeling the reading process.

Teaching a child to read is a beautiful experience. And most children become fluent readers when exposed to the strategies I detailed.

But some children struggle. Some have reading difficulties. Others simply need more targeted intervention. Parents are not trained for this work — and teachers will struggle to support individual students in reading from afar. Some apps help. I have my favorites. I am sure you do too.

Below are several suggestions for helping your child learn to read at home:

1) First, relax. Try not to put too much pressure on your child or on yourself. Try to imagine that you are the teacher; you have done this before and you know it will take time.

2) Provide a quiet family reading time on a daily basis. Give your child a basket of books including picture books and easy-to-read texts to read or look through while you read yourself. Read a book, by the way. Reading messages on your phone does not count.

3) Provide you child with a structured reading lesson every other day. This should take about 15 minutes and includes a focus on phonics, blending words, and reviewing sight words. Your child’s teacher may be able to provide this or you may wish to purchase Orton Gillingham resources for home use.

4) On the alternate days, complete a multi-sensory reading activity with your child. Pinterest is full of ideas.

5) Allow your child 10 to 15 minutes per day on a reading app.

6) Check in with your child’s teacher periodically. Ask for support and resources. They care greatly about your child’s progress too.

We are pleased to offer parents free online courses on structured literacy and multi-sensory approaches to reading, as well as a live webinar on teaching reading at home. Please email for access to our online courses or register for our webinar on