Science of Reading/Struggling Readers:

When there are tried and true methods of teaching good reading skills it is baffling that many modern students that should develop into fluent English readers end up struggling and falling behind in the process and often giving up entirely on developing the skill. This can most often be linked to teachers in the earliest grades of school not having thorough training in how to teach reading in order to ensure the development of their classes’ reading abilities.

Most teachers know the basics of teaching literacy to their students but the material they are taught in educator training is often not thorough enough to establish the tried and true methods for them to effectively apply the knowledge into their classroom instruction. It is vital that the education system ensures that teachers have proper training in order to guarantee they have the necessary skills to lead to student success in reading. This is the responsibility of higher education institutes and school districts to manage and provide to future teachers and teachers. It is not at all the fault of new teachers who were never given the proper training and often misled to focus on narrow applications of reading instruction.

Quote from one of CLOI’s students that had been a teacher for 9 years, “Why did we not learn this in our teacher training? This is the information we need to teach our students to be strong readers. Thank you CLOI for helping me learn strategies to teach my students.”

This importance is reinforced by the statistics that as many as forty percent of special education students being placed in special education is due to being struggling readers. When tested, almost a third of fourth-grade students tested below national standards for reading fluency. Fourth grade is also often the cut off that students need to find some skill in reading or risk losing all interest in developing the skill altogether. 

In a previous post, we discussed five areas of focus that need to be developed as students rise through both spoken and written English. These areas are phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Teachers can help struggling readers address or minimize these weaknesses through a handful of easy-to-implement approaches. 

Phonemic Awareness: Conduct simple phoneme exercises to develop the students’ understanding of the pronunciation of certain sounds and combination sounds. While focusing on phonemic awareness, spend time to make sure students are improving their ability to mimic the individual sounds used throughout English. One such activity to help with sound awareness in words is using a word frame or better known as Elkonin Boxes. A student has a sheet of paper in front of them with blank boxes connected together and several different colored tiles or cubes. The teacher says a word and the students move colored tiles or blocks down into a word frame. Each tile represents a sound in the word spoken by the teacher. After the students slide their finger under the word frame with the colored tiles or cubes and says the word.

Phonics: Students having a difficult time with phonics will require additional time helping them connect letters with phonemes. Luckily, phonetic-teaching exercises can be fun and easily done with the whole class – even if that just means pointing at letters on an alphabet line and having the children make the sounds associated with those letters or saying the name of the letter. Even if a struggling student can’t supply the answer his or herself, they still pick up the skill by learning with peers. Another activity is to have students write letters or words in sand or shaving cream while saying the letter name or sound. For example, the teacher says write the word, ‘dog’ in the sand. The student says: /d//ŏ/ /g/, while writing the letters and then after scoops under the word saying ‘dog’. Another activity is having students tap out the sounds with his or her fingers while looking at a word. Both of these activities help increase student learning of one-to-one correspondence of sound to letter, to whole words, and on to sentences. 

Fluency: This can become a struggle for students with weak phonics and can be worked on by having students read passages out loud. These guided, repeated oral readings work on developing the speed at which students decode their words through phonics and helps them become better at quickly recognizing words as whole objects rather than a series of sounds. Recording a student reading a list of words or a text out loud is an excellent way to assess a student and monitor progress. Having the student reread a text and compare the recording from one time to another is highly motivating for students when they are able to listen to their improvement over time.

Vocabulary: Vocabulary beyond sight words is best developed by having students read through progressively more complex and verbose texts while looking up and writing the definitions of new words they encounter. This method proves often far more effective at imprinting long-lasting vocabulary than offering word lists for students to define.

Reading Comprehension: This is often easiest to achieve when the text is related to previous knowledge or interests possessed by students. When this is the case, the interest or previous knowledge can be used as a starting point to work their way through reading and comprehending complicated texts. This can be exercised and developed in a variety of ways that test a student’s ability to be able to summarize, paraphrase, and recall pertinent facts and ideas from reading.

All of these above are just baseline points for working with young readers to develop their skills, and often the best methods for teaching these will vary from student to student and will often have to be personalized in order to aid with the maximum growth of the student.

Kim Pavuna

Author Kim Pavuna

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