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February 1, 2020
Vol. 77
No. 5

Tell Us About

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Instructional Strategies

Tell us about a strategy that you use to engage struggling readers.

Word Games

Playing games is an effective strategy I use in my role as a principal when working with struggling learners who are not excited about reading. Instead of asking a student to read to me, I start with a game of hide-and-seek with high frequency sight words. Learners hide post-it notes around my office with the words written on them, and then I try to find them. Then we switch roles. We spend plenty of time saying the words, saying the letters in the words, and playing with the words. Another game I like to play is where a student listens to me read and fills in the blank when I pause. When she responds correctly, I let her know what cues were used to "guess" the correct word. The more we play, the more the student who's playing wants to guess, and eventually their confidence reaches a point that they are reading pages of text to me.
Kyle Rhoads, principal, Windham Primary, Windham, Maine

Let's Hear It for the Read-Aloud!

During my first years in education, I stumbled across a book, The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Tyndale House Publishers, 1983). This resource and its tenets have remained with me throughout my years in education. Students, regardless of their age, need and want to hear oral reading fluency, tone, intonation, and rhythm. It was amazing to see my students stop and stare during morning carpet time as I read to them classic books such as the Junie B. Jones series, Frindle, Goosebumps, and more (all personal favorites). Students listened to the pronunciation of my words, felt the passion of the text, and would stop and discuss various components of the book (conflict, theme, plot, climax). I honestly don't believe we ever grow out of wanting to be read aloud to. Being read aloud to has a way of transporting us to another dimension that engages us and incites a sense of curiosity in reading.
Amanda Austin, director, Iberville Parish, Rosedale, Louisiana

Use Their Own Stories

One way I engage struggling readers is by turning their stories into the stories we read in class for comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. When I was in the classroom, our thematic units for literacy centered on our community in our first unit and life science in the second unit. We bridged the transition from one unit to the next by completing a short writing project called "Deserts in our Lives." Each student completed a short writing assignment and provided an illustration to put into a Google Slide. These slides were compiled into a class book, full of their stories about what the desert was like in their community. This easily became the most popular book in our class and the most popular book for my struggling readers. We used the students' stories as a way to build relationships and class community, close-read through their stories, and provide authentic audiences and authorship for writing and reading.
Margaret Carrillo, teacher support specialist, Albuquerque Public Schools, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Investing in Their Lives as Readers

I found that my struggling readers this year did not have a good history with reading. Some of them never quite found books that appealed to them, some of them did not have family support. So I sat down and talked to them. And listened. As I spent time personally with these readers, I got hints about what books they might like based on their interests, no matter how obscure, and picked these out for them. I gently encouraged them to try to read the books and always checked back to see how they were doing. If they liked the book, I asked if they'd like more of the same. If it wasn't working, I'd tell them to not feel bad about dropping it. The investment and attention to their lives as readers is the crucial step to engaging struggling readers.
Prasatt Arumugam, teacher, School of the Arts, Singapore

Awesome Annotations

While annotating never was my thing as a reader, I realized as a teacher that the a-ha moments of the reading process should be noted for comprehension, appreciation, and preservation. Two annotating activities help my struggling readers.
Using a document camera, I invite students to show their annotated pages to the class, identifying the placement of and reason for their marks in the text. Anyone may show the questions, new vocabulary, connections, and insights found. Why should I be the only one telling students what is important? Everyone comes away with a deeper understanding of the reading, what to look for in a passage, and a more intimate look at the various perspectives present in our class.
A second activity allows annotations to occur as interruptions while reading. Students sit in groups around a cluster of break-in cards with which they may stop the flow of reading to comment. What is more important: getting through the passage or promoting thought about the passage? Students do not abuse the invitation to interrupt; they prefer to wait, and when they see something, out comes the card and we slow down to take a closer look. No more struggle!
John Hayward, teacher-librarian, Naperville Central High School, Naperville, Illinois

Just Because

It may sound simple, but an easy strategy to engage reluctant readers is to read one-on-one with them for nothing other than the sake of reading. This works for students from pre-K all the way up through high school. Engagement comes from finding pleasure and purpose in the process. When a student struggles with reading, be it through an issue with decoding or comprehension, the meaning of the text, and the inherent joy and engagement is lost. With my reluctant readers, I find a book in a subject area that is interesting to them and read it to them. No assessment. No fluency check. Just reading. At the end, a simple, "What did you think of that book?" or "That was nice. Would you like to read together again sometime?" is all that's needed. This models what reading for pleasure actually looks like, and gives the child that taste of joy in reading. In my classroom I build in multiple "low-risk" opportunities during the day for different kinds of reading, such as reading with friends, listening to reading, or teacher read-alouds. This ensures everyone has a chance to access and enjoy texts without the stress and stigma of "reading" correctly.
Lucy Bailey, early years teacher, International School of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany

Preview, Predict, Discuss

A strategy I use to engage struggling readers in elementary school is to have them do a preview and discussion with a book that is of high interest. This is especially effective with nonfiction. The students choose a book on a topic of interest to them and look through the book with me. I encourage them to talk about what they are thinking as they look at the pictures and diagrams. They make verbal links with what they already know about the topic. They also verbally generate a list of questions that they would like answered in this book. Finally they predict what they think the book will teach them based on their observations. As they read through the book, they refer back to our preview conversation. They make connections with what they already knew and add the new information they have learned. After finishing the book, students reflect on whether the book answered their questions and think of new questions they still want answered on the topic. They also find at least three vocabulary words that they understand better because of reading the book.
Carol Foutz, student support coordinator, Faith Academy, Manila, Philippines

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