As EL's summer authors point out, sadly, students in the United States are not all strong readers: According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress results, only one-third of 4th graders performed at or above "proficient" in reading. To get all our learners to that place of strong, independent reading, teachers will need to take measures beyond the traditional at all grade levels.
Find At-Risk Readers from Day One
In this often reprinted EL article from 2011, reading researcher Richard Allington ("What At-Risk Readers Need") maintains that kindergarten teachers can identify which children are at risk for reading difficulties from the very first week of school, by screening for kids who don't yet know their letter names and at least some letter sounds.
- Think of students you've taught who didn't know their letters when they began kindergarten. Did most of them turn into struggling readers? Do you agree with Allington that "We could know on the second day of kindergarten who is at risk of becoming a struggling reader"?
Allington takes a dim view of the core reading programs many schools and teachers rely on. He believes such programs fail at-risk readers because they provide far too little of three essential things: substantial time just reading; self-selected reading; and "high-success reading" (reading with 98 percent or better accuracy because the text is at the right level).
- Observe several sessions of students working within an established core reading program—in your class or a colleagues.' Note how much time students spend in the three kinds of reading Allington mentions. How much sustained, independent reading time is built into the program? (If possible, have different teachers observe different programs and compare what they find.)
Accelerate Growth for Elementary-Age Readers
Consider the model for accelerating the growth of 1st-through 3rd graders' reading skills that Carol and Robert Canady lay out in "Catching Readers Up Before They Fall." The authors maintain that "For [U.S.] students to attain the proficient level by 4th grade, we must double or triple rates of reading growth in kindergarten and 1st grade." They describe a Virginia elementary school that spurred such huge growth by creating "early literacy teams" composed of classroom teachers, ELL teachers, resource teachers, and retired teachers hired on contract. The teams went into all kindergarten and 1st grade classes in the school daily to provide an hour of additional literacy skill development to small groups of kids. The school created less intense interventions for 2nd through 5th graders, and over three years, the number of 3rd graders scoring proficient in reading increased.
- Read the description of how this school schedules the literacy teams' work in its kindergarten classes. With the creation of these teams, all kindergartners in this school received at least an hour of small-group, intensive reading and writing assistance daily. How does this compare to the amount of focused, small-group reading instruction kindergartners or 1st graders get in your school?
- Could you try any of the teaming approaches or "push-in" reading help that this school has used in your school?
Engage Middle Schoolers
Twyla Miranda, Kary Johnson, and Dara Rossi-Williams ("E-Readers: Powering Up for Engagement") discovered that the chance to read fiction on e-readers led to more enthusiasm and more time spent reading among middle school students who were previously loathe to pick up books. Note the advantages these authors say e-readers bring—such as applications for annotating a common text, voice-to-text features, and access to a lot of books in one device.
Take a moment to imagine: How would middle school teaching be different if e-readers largely replaced traditional books (you might check out this
on a private school in Massachusetts that eliminated books from its library)?
- What might be the implications in terms of student choice in reading if e-readers became commonplace in classrooms?
- Have you tried giving students e-readers to read on in free reading time in school—or letting them use their own Kindles or Nooks? Do they read more?
Help High School Students with Complex Texts
Speaking of technology, Kim Gutchewsky and Joanne Curran ("Supporting Older Students' Reading") believe that because of teens' tendency to communicate and read in fragmented ways on digital devices, English teachers must now "show students how to approach and comprehend substantive books" in addition to getting them to sample the classics.
If you've taught high school for a while, do you find students comprehend substantive texts and interpret complex ideas less well than they did in past years?
Sharing their ideas helped the teachers in Gutchewsky's high school strengthen students' skills at reading in the content areas. Within your group, have everyone share one strategy or tried-and-true activity they've used to help weak readers improve their comprehension. Consider pooling these ideas into a list and sharing it with content area teachers in your school.
Work Vocabulary Instruction Harder
As Nancy Padak, Karen Bromely, Tim Rasinksi, and Evangeline Newton ("Vocabulary: Five Common Misconceptions") make clear, increasing students' vocabulary strengthens reading skills at any age—but only if we go beyond traditional methods to more effective ones. For instance, they recommend familiarizing students—including elementary students—with Greek and Latin word roots that can illuminate the meaning and spelling of most academic words.
- Plan how you'll incorporate exploration of Greek and Latin roots into language arts time. Share with the group a text your class will soon be reading and highlight words within the text that contain the word roots in the list Padak and colleagues provide. Consider how you might teach students these roots in a fun way, such as developing word root hunts or a Jeopardy game.
- These authors recommend using word games liberally in vocabulary study. Check out the websites for word games and puzzles they provide, try one of the activities you find there with your students, and report back to the group on how it went.