Struggling Readers Need Encouragement

Struggling readers, especially those in the upper grades, tend to carry with them a low reading esteem.  They are aware that they just can’t do it and many times, they lack the motivation to read altogether.  It may even sound like: “I hate to read” or “Reading is boring”.  I know I’ve heard these phrases uttered by some of the upper elementary grade students I’ve tutored.

When I would type up the initial assessment report for the parents, the last thing I wanted to do was focus all my attention on their child’s reading weaknesses.  I always included a section on his/her reading strengths…and that was the part I liked to share with the student. 🙂

When looking through my reports, here are some of the actual comments I used for strengths (feel free to use these if they apply to your child or a child in your classroom):

  • She is skilled in word recognition and decoding (this applied to a 4th grader who could decode on a 6th grade level, but was only comprehending at a 2nd grade level)
  • He has mastered beginning and ending consonants and most short vowel words.
  • When given more than one second, he was able to figure out 4 more words on the word list (10 words long).
  • She went back and self-corrected her errors most of the time while reading the passage.
  • She was able to answer all of the explicit questions correctly on the passage.
  • He went back and re-read when something didn’t make sense in the passage; a sign that he understands that reading is supposed to make sense.

When I’m reading with students or doing word study, I tell students what I like about their reading or spelling.  Here are some things I say to them:

  • You made a very smart mistake because the word you said looks a whole lot like the word in the text.  (This happened just the other day with the words thought and though.)
  • I thought it was really cool how you went back and corrected your mistake when you realized it didn’t make sense.  I do that all the time!
  • You spelled the word exactly how it sounds.  Way to use your ear!
  • I like how you erased that part of the word and spelled it again.  It looked like you were trying to picture the word in your head.  And it paid off, because you spelled it correctly the second time.

By focusing on students’ strengths, it helps them to see specifically how they are growing as readers (aren’t we all??).  It also builds their motivation and reading esteem.  I firmly believe, through my experiences as a teacher, tutor and reading mama, that motivating kids is half the battle.  If a child believes he can’t, he won’t.  Oh, but the power of positive thinking.  If we can instill that into our young readers by being explicit about their reading strengths, then by all means, let’s spread some reading encouragement! 🙂

New Series on Struggling Readers

I just got information that it will take 7 days for my blog to switch over.  In the meantime, I’m going to keep my posts coming…:)

For the next few weeks, I’d like to use my Tuesday’s teaching tip posts to focus on struggling readers.  Struggling readers are a passion of mine.  I’ve tutored several of them, from K through 5th grades, and have seen them become confident and capable readers (who actually enjoy reading).

Part of why I love working with them is that I used to be one.  I can remember being in the lowest reading group, mispronouncing words while other students giggled, and hating (and I mean HATING) to read out loud; even in high school!  The sweaty palms, my heart beating out of my chest, the butterflies raging war in my stomach, serious doubts in my head…the emotional scars of a struggling reader.  I can so relate to the students I’ve tutored.

Where do I start with a struggling reader?

When a child is struggling to read, the first thing I do as a tutor is try to pinpoint the root of the reading problem.  Is he struggling with basic phonemic & phonological awareness, phonics skills, decoding, word recognition, fluency, or comprehension?  Perhaps the student is even dealing with other issues such as ADD, difficulty processing, difficult circumstances at home, lack of motivation or self-esteem.  These other issues can have a negative impact on reading as well.

As a reading tutor, I gather as much information as I can through a series of assessments and surveys.  These include:

  1. parent survey
  2. teacher survey
  3. student reading questionnaire
  4. reading attitude questionnaire
  5. Primary or Elementary Spelling Inventory (from Words Their Way)
  6. phonological or phonemic awareness assessment (for younger students)
  7. various leveled fiction and non-fiction texts read aloud by the student, followed by comprehension questions
  8. a listening comprehension assessment done on the student’s actual grade level

It’s quite an extensive assessment…I’d venture to say more extensive than most schools have time to do for individual students.  The report I type up and show the parents is usually 12-14 pages long!  Needless to say, it was (I am not doing these currently with 3 young ones at home!) very time consuming.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was similar to putting a puzzle together without knowing exactly what the picture would look like.

It would take me many, long hours to explain how to do all those assessments, surveys, and questionnaires; so I won’t.  I’d probably bore you anyway!  If you’d like the “cliff notes”, Reading Rockets has several great articles about struggling readers.  I hope you’ll check them out.

What I’d like to zero in on are the teaching practices in regards to reading that are almost universal for all struggling readers.  I hope you’ll join this reading mama tomorrow and for the next few weeks as we explore some ideas for struggling readers each Tuesday.

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