Phonics for teens who struggle to read: a proven approach to building confidence

Why do some teens need phonics?

The simple answer to this is that some teenagers still can’t read efficiently at high school and beyond. There is strong evidence of the value of phonics for teens in this situation, in particular dyslexic teenage learners.

What underlying causes can result in teenagers not being able to read?

It is often said that there are many reasons for low literacy levels and this is not an untrue statement. For example, students with significant dyslexia, ADHD, ASD and other specific learning difficulties can often become teenagers with very low reading levels.

The underlying causes of poor reading skills in this demographic are undoubtably neurological in origin. Among other deficits, poor phonological awareness, working memory and RAN (rapid automatic naming) abilities certainly make reading for these students very challenging and can lead to anxiety or learned helplessness that further compound the situation.

Can a severely dyslexic teenage student learn to read?

There are teens in high school who cannot access the curriculum efficiently because they cannot yet read. For 10-15% of the population, the underlying causes of reading difficulties can often be as a result of the neurological differences that characterise dyslexia. One might ask whether this demographic is able to learn to read? The answer, without doubt, is yes!

Research supports phonics

A seven year longitudinal study conducted byย Rhona Johnston and Joyce Watson that was published in 2005 demonstrates that the most effective way of teaching students to read is with systematic and cumulative phonics. Often teenage learners with significantly low literacy levels have not been exposed to the explicit teaching of synthetic phonics. When a student of any age is given the phonic keys to opening, or decoding, the language system, they are then able to access reading. Therefore, it is essential that all readers, but in particular those with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia, learn to read using fully decodable texts that introduce phonic progression systematically.

How can TAP novels help a dyslexic teenager?

TAP novels are designed to build upon solidly understood prior phonic knowledge. Systematic and cumulative phonic progression is built into the different phonics levels of books and they can be used by teachers, parents and students to navigate reading in the English language. For a severely dyslexic student, this can still be an effortful journey. However, where one combines

  • constant reinforcement
  • practice of known or new phonic sounds to gain automaticity and
  • explicit instruction

TAP book apps can be used to help a dyslexic teenager become a confident emergent reader.

Of course, it is also preferable that reading materials to support the teaching of phonics for teens and adults contain age-appropriate themes and illustrations or images.ย  An older reader will respond better to a book or eBook that does not appear to be aimed at young children.ย  This is one of the key features of the Teen and Adult Phonics series we highlight on our home page.