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It Became a Personal Quest!

It Became a Personal Quest!

My son struggled with early literacy - so did I. As a child, I grew up reading words unaware that I could not comprehend. I worked out that I struggled with comprehension when our school bought the infamous “SRA” Reading Box – A box of multicolored reading passages that a student read and self-corrected. Now- even now (I’m in my 60’s) - I still recall the effort of reading and failing – to find the correct responses to those reading passages. I just couldn’t do it. AND, no one, no teacher or parent, helped me. The message I received was, “It is your fault. It is your problem.” I know what it is like to be left behind and considered “just slow,” “not working hard enough,” or “lazy” despite hours of work. Now, as a literacy specialist who has taught students for over twenty-five years, I examine what goes wrong.

What goes wrong with reading instruction?

First and foremost, students fail to read for meaning. Students, just like me, become accustomed to reading words – without searching for meaning. Reading is, in fact, a “search for meaning.”

Teachers tend to accept that if a student has read the words correctly, the meaning automatically follows. I was certainly one of these students. When a student reads without meaning, they rely solely on the letters and sounds (decoding) to read a word. This leads to laborious, stilted, effortful reading. When I listen to a student read, I am listening for accurate reading, self-correcting, and prosody (the ability to phrase a sentence). Why accurate reading, self-correcting, and prosody?

Accurately reading words is more than just the ability to “decode” a word. Has the student added or omitted words in an attempt to make sense of the sentence? When a sentence doesn’t make sense to me, what was my student’s response? Did the student self-correct, or just “read on regardless?” Has the student read the sentence fluently or haltingly – word by word?

Each step of this process adds to my knowledge of what a student is doing or trying to do.

My response to a student reading in such a manner is similar: “Did that sentence make sense to you?”


Learning to read is not about the teacher.

Reading is about helping students make decisions for themselves. It’s about being conscious or becoming conscious of what they are doing as a reader.

By questioning my students, “Did reading that sentence make sense?” I am asking them to do the thinking. I am asking them to be responsible for their learning and what they have read.

And my next question: “Where did we lose the meaning? Where did this sentence stop making sense?”

I’m not telling the student anything. I am asking them to think “to make meaning.”

I ask the student to “Go back to the beginning of the paragraph and read from the beginning.” I continue to question: “Do you have a picture in your mind? So, where did we lose the picture?”

Even with older students, I question, “Where did we lose the picture?”

Working with students is a collaboration to improve comprehension – a discussion, reflection,

Why is the search for meaning critical?

Skilled readers know they are required to read for meaning. Unskilled readers, those who struggle, have been allowed to get into the habit of reading words. Meaning impacts memory, decoding, and vocabulary. The inability to read for meaning limits student growth.

When students read for meaning, they respond differently to a text. They ask questions, they know when they have lost the meaning of the text, and they reread. These students are thinkers and thinking. They laugh, they respond to the text, and they are happy to re-read and find the next book and the next.

Comprehension is a skill that can and must be taught to all children of all ages.

Check out my book Reversed: A Memoir. Grab a copy and find woven throughout this text how I empowered students’ reading comprehension.


Lois Letchford’s dyslexia came to light at the age of 39, when she faced teaching her seven-year-old non-reading son, Nicholas. Examining her reading failure caused her to adapt and change lessons for her son. The results were dramatic. Lois qualified as a reading specialist to use her non-traditional background, multi-continental experience, and passion to assist other failing students. Her teaching and learning have equipped her with a unique skillset and perspective. As a teacher, she considers herself a “literacy problem-solver.”

Reversed:  A Memoir is her first book. In this story, she details her dyslexia and the journey of her son’s dramatic failure in first grade. She tells of the twist and turns that promoted her passion and her son’s dramatic academic turn-a-round - as in 2018, he received his Ph.D.

You may also contact Lois at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule her for speaking or leadership engagements.

Reversed A Memoir


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