My eight-year-old daughter is in her third year of primary school and my husband and I are worried about her reading ability. She is a native English speaker, yet several children in her class with English as their second or third language are way ahead of her in both their reading and writing. She enjoys school but receives daily learning support because she is behind. She loves being read to aloud by us at home. She also loves listening to stories on CD and she can learn a script for a show in no time but she refuses to try reading a book on her own. We've bought her lots of her favourite books but she won't sit down with one on her own.
Teacher Adam Conway answers:
You are clearly anxious, with reason, but there are several positives contained within your outline of the issue here. Firstly, your daughter loves going to school and she is receiving daily support - probably for literacy - which she is clearly accepting and enjoying. The foundations are already in place for her to make significant progress and become a more confident, willing, independent reader.
I suggest your first move should be to contact her teacher soon (if you haven't already done so) and ask if you could go into school to discuss your anxieties. This conversation will probably reassure you and your husband, as well as giving your daughter's teacher a fuller picture of her learning outside school.
It is also important to realise that your daughter already is a keen, regular reader: she just isn't yet reading whole books independently, and she is still young. She will be gaining so much from the times you and your husband read aloud to her: it is a wonderful routine. So many older children, even adults, treasure their memories of those times when a story first comes alive in their imagination through a parent's voice. The audio books are also a great idea and are another sign of your daughter's strong reading habit.
Does your daughter bring home a short reading book daily, as part of a structured reading scheme? These books will have been carefully pitched at her level. Does your daughter read these with you? If she does, she is actually reading 20 books a month! They can become the first steps towards independent reading of longer 'chapter' books.
Most parents would be worried and surprised that second language learners in the same class might be more confident or more capable than their own child. However, there are lots of very bright and hard-working students in Hong Kong's schools, many of whom are talented in their second language; others have been intensely tutored since an early age. Also, students develop at very different speeds. Your daughter may well have an excellent vocabulary, strong close reading comprehension and good oral ability. The fact that she can learn a script for performance so quickly suggests impressive literacy skills.
You mention your daughter's refusal to sit down and read alone. Is it possible that this issue has become a bit of a battle between you and her? Or is she maybe too tired, after a long day at school, to concentrate on a full page of text? Many parents I know would say that you are lucky to have a child who is so positive and enthusiastic about work, and it certainly is true that a tired or unwilling child will not learn to enjoy private reading if it becomes a chore. Do you and your husband find time to sit and read books regularly? This will really encourage your daughter to do the same, but if you are too busy to make a regular slot for your own reading, is it possible she is as well?
I'm sure you have tried a range of books with your daughter, but the Central Library in Causeway Bay has an entire floor of children's books and there are a few specialist children's bookstores in Hong Kong: the school should be able to help with advice. Have you tried non-fiction books?
If your daughter is interested in her family background, there will be books about what ordinary life was like in her grandparents' home country and historical time period. Your daughter is still in the early stages of her education and if you think back to the level of her work back in her first term two years ago, you will see what huge progress she has made. With your continued encouragement and the support of her teachers, you may well soon find yourselves far less anxious about her reading level.