I remember as a young teacher having to take on the daunting task of working with students who were two or more grades behind their peers and attempting to “catch them up.” In the many weeks of working with students, modeling strategies, and supporting the resource teachers with whom I collaborated to assist the children, there were times where the frustration of getting them as close to their grade level as possible became overwhelming. The following tips I am sharing with you come from the lessons learned through experience as well as through research of best practices.
1. Teach them the basics. Students in reading need the skills, strategies, and concepts to be effective readers. Memorizing sight words and letter-sound associations are skills necessary to begin reading well. To build a greater understanding of the content that is read, strategies such as questioning, KWL charts, and decoding unfamiliar words as some strategies effective readers use or understand well. When students have background knowledge to draw from, you can then build on the concepts and ideas taught in each lesson. Accessing background information takes time mostly, as that comes through engaging students in conversation about their learning and the other teaching tools used .
2. Make reading content relevant to student’s experiences and interests. Sometimes, especially for struggling readers, the difference between successful and struggling students is the meaningfulness of the text (or not). Get into your student’s world and see what they like to discuss, then you can bring in some books–such as Big Universe’s ebooks–to help you decide as a team.
3. Use a variety of teaching strategies to get students learning. When teaching struggling learners how to read, direct instruction can be very effective. Instead of exploring the answers on their own in a way that can negatively affect their confidence in learning how to read, teachers model and practice the skills with students, then monitor them for feedback. The goal is to get students to master the content being taught to the degree that they can then teach someone else –another learning strategy that could be employed in certain situations with students in the reading classroom. Scaffolding students, graphic organizing and planning ideas for writing are other ways teachers can get students to learn. Games work well for those vocabulary words, and any proper card game you can change to accommodate your spelling words.
4. Practice, practice, practice. Students must not only be taught various strategies and skills to help them digest and express their learning but also be given multiple opportunities to observe strong modeling and practice the skills over a course of time. As I hear my daughter create her own questions and connect the stories we have in our home to a situation or to her sister, I smile because we’ve practiced these skills for many years now and she is a pro at this part of the marathon.
5. Monitor progress and provide meaningful feedback . Whether you are scaffolding students, guiding them in small groups, assessing their work, or observing their responses in classroom presentations or discussions, this is key to helping students that need it over the hump. Particularly in my experience, when students understand and see the progress they make, it gets them excited and motivates them to want to do more. There was one student of mine in particular who was reading two years below grade level and struggled with many foundational components associated with reading. Sight words, decoding skills, comprehension, and more were challenging for this student. Through hard work, frequent monitoring, and conferencing with the student to show progress in learning, the child was able to make up for two years and was just a few months behind his peers at the end of the year. The student left the class determined to work hard to become a better reader because information empowers and gives students a sense of ownership over their own learning.
By using these strategies and tips, I hope that your student’s days struggling with reading are numbered. Share what strategies work best for you?