4 Ways to Help Your Struggling Readers Catch Up

Do you have struggling readers in your classroom?  Has it been difficult to help them make enough progress to close the gap quickly?  If you read our blog on a regular basis, you probably already know that we work at a school with a very large percentage of struggling readers.  Most of them have two or three things going on that make it hard for them to learn to read.  The most prevalent reason, is that they are learning to speak English at the same time that they are trying to learn to read in English. That’s certainly a challenge for them. After all of these years of studying strategies to help struggling readers, and years of trial and error, we’d like to share with you our top four things that in addition to strategic reading instruction, have been the most effective in closing the gap for our students.

1. Reading “High Success” reading materials for most of the day.  High success reading is defined as texts which the student can read at a minimum of 98% accuracy and at least 80% comprehension. Aim for providing high success reading for all of your students throughout the day, but especially for your struggling readers. Things to think about?  Your math book, your charts, your “shared reading” materials, and everything else you use in your class.  Just think, the students who can already read those, get more practice than those who can’t, but those who can’t are the ones who need it!  Ack!  So take a look around, and make it ALL high success reading for all of your students.

2. 80 minutes of high success reading per day, per year of growth needed.  What?? Yes! Some very smart people who have had huge and quick success closing the achievement gap for their students, have figured out how much high success reading time is needed to close the gap by one year.  In addition to all of your great instruction, students who are one year behind need to read a minimum of 80 minutes per day in high success reading materials.  Good news though?  It’s easier than it sounds! The 80 minutes includes ALL reading done each day.  So, in addition to reading during independent reading time, guided reading time and shared reading time…reading your charts on the wall counts, reading your math problems counts, choral reading a big book counts, reading at home counts….and all other reading that is at the student’s high success level…counts towards the 80 minutes.  For students even farther behind, you need to add minutes in accordance with how far they are behind. At our school, we’ve had to think outside the box and really get creative to provide enough minutes for our students that are more than one year behind, but it is easily do-able.  The good news?  It really works!!

3. Provide specific interventions that the students need.  We often think that we are providing an intervention that the student needs, but are we really?  It is easy to see a student making an error, and jump in with a quick intervention.  It is important though, to think about the developmental continuum of reading and go way back to the very basis of the problem.  For example…have you ever had a student who attempts to sound out a word like this…/c/-/a/-/t/…horse???  We often want to jump in with more practice decoding cvc words. However, this problem most often comes about because the student does not fully understand the alphabetic principle yet and/or has not had enough practice with sounds.  We would better help these students by doing some phonemic awareness work…specifically oral blending and segmenting, and then move back up to visually blending the word.  Another example…students who have an issue with rate while reading.  We often want to jump in with a timed passage approach to encourage the students to read more quickly.  But often this issue is rooted in a lack of mastery of high frequency words, or more often, in a lack of automaticity in blending words. You see, if we very carefully analyze why the student is having a problem and address the problem at the root of it, then the student will have much better success at closing the gap.  I know….they often have more than one problem, but we can address one, then the next, then the next….right?

4. Teach them to LOVE books!  This is something we all enjoy doing, but it sometimes gets pushed to the side with all the demands of our day.  Do take the time though to do this, as it will reap benefits for your students for the rest of their lives, right?  Our favorite way to do this is to show students how much we love the books we are reading to them, and to ham it up when we are reading to our students!  Have you ever seen a video of Mo Willems reading one of his Pigeon Books to kids?  Or B.J. Novak reading “The Book With No Pictures?” What about Debbie Miller reading with her students?  Oh my word…who wouldn’t love reading after having one of these experiences?  Well, we can provide that every single day for our students! Other ways to inspire a love of reading? Put a book out that is covered in sticky notes. Pull one little sticky note off every day, giving them a peek and building suspense as to what the book is about!  Or, bless a book by showing it briefly and telling students you will read it later that week.  Put it on the white board ledge and tell them …”no peeking!”  You know they are going to do everything they can to sneek a peek?  Do we care if they get a peek?  Nope!  That’s what builds that excitement for books, right?

So there you go.  Four of our favorite and most successful ways of helping your students close the gap in reading. We hope it sparked some ideas for you.


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