Current Literacy Practices and Struggling Readers
This subject of changing curriculum for students that are struggling readers is one that is close to my heart. I see this as not only a middle school and high school concern, but with NCLB and all the students being held back, an elementary school concern. As you know I teach 4th grade and though the average age of most of the students are 9 or 10, I also have a growing population of 11, 12, and 13 year olds in my class. These students are struggling readers and their maturity levels are much more developed than my students that are of younger ages. It??™s is a constant juggle to find independent reading material for all of the students. I??™m a firm believer that interest is the number one motivator for all readers. If the students don??™t have a personal interest in a piece of text, whether it is a book, magazine, or manual, they won??™t read it; and more importantly they won??™t comprehend it.
???Struggling readers seldom experience how great it feels to finish a book. Or how helpful it is to read and understand a chapter in a textbook. They don??™t know how much fun it can be to escape day-to-say life by jumping into a good read. By ninth grade (and in lower grades), many students have been defeated by test scores, letter grades, and special groupings.??? (Tovani, 2000) As I re-read this statement by Tovani, it brings a great sadness to me and an even stronger conviction to get my students to enjoy reading.
Ivey (Ivey G. &., 2005) discusses the strategies that don??™t work for these struggling readers, yet as I read these I realize how many of these strategies are in play in schools and classrooms across the nation. Along with each ???don??™t??? I??™ve included a bit of a personal thought or two.
1. Don??™t let students read. Obviously they haven??™t mastered the basics, so let??™s continue to skill and drill them??¦.because it??™s worked so well the years prior!! This brings to mind the saying, ???if you keep doing what you??™ve always done, you??™ll continue to get what you??™ve always gotten.??? It is apparent in all that we have read and in current research, that in order to become a better reader, the students need to practice reading. The trick is using specific strategies to help these struggling readers; strategies that include motivation and a variety of learning styles. In order to become better at anything, you have to practice in an authentic mode.
2. Make students read what they don??™t know about or care about. If you think about what it is that we read as adults, how often do you read something you??™re not curious about Or something that you have to read in order to accomplish a task. I believe that one of the most powerful messages I got out of Cris Tovani??™s I Read It, But I Don??™t Get It (Tovani, 2000) was the importance of setting a purpose for reading. If students, struggling readers and strong readers alike, don??™t see or sense a purpose for reading they simply won??™t do it. As an educator it is my job to show them and teach them WHY they should read. I need to help them understand the purpose.
This is where the idea of every student reading the same text at the same time is an obviously not the answer. A variety of interest levels must be available to all learners.
3.Read difficult texts: Well, we know these readers are reading below grade level, but what can we do as the teacher, other than make them read the same books that everyone else is reading; text that is clearly too difficult for them. Have you ever opened up a doctoral level math or chemical equation book For me this would be overwhelming and not something I would want to even consider reading. Now, as Beers stresses in Ch. 13 (Beers, 2003), it is important to keep expectations high for these students. As a teacher that works with this population of struggling readers, I keep my expectations high for my students. Our class motto is ???We Choose to Challenge Ourselves!??? We discuss the importance of taking on challenges and if we want something bad enough, if we WORK hard enough, we can accomplish amazing things. It takes a lot of work as an educator to get the students excited about text that initially seems to difficult or uninteresting for them, but I work hard on finding ways to connect my students to the text, connect them to real world events that are discussed in our literature, and/or connect them to other texts they may have shown great interest in. Also, I spend a lot of time working with the students in a variety of learning modalities. I use a lot of visual cues to help the students gain a stronger sense of purpose. Everything from movies, computer simulations, outside speakers coming in to speak with the students, are just a few examples. All of these strategies take time, so I??™ve learned to slow down and teach with depth as opposed to skimming. These students need an in-depth learning experience and if I keep my expectation high and expect my students to work with rigor and take risks, then they will accomplish their goals. If we as educators don??™t believe in these learners, how do we expect them to believe in themselves
4. Interrogate students about what they??™ve read. Surely, this can??™t be referring to all of the paper pencil assessments we have in classes to ensure our students are ???getting it.??? Why would a struggling reader be excited about finishing up a great book knowing that at the end of the journey was a 5 page test with long and short responses on it Isn??™t that what we do as adults when we finish a book we loved I know I can??™t wait to sit down and take a test on it!
Why can??™t a discussion with a peer, their class, their parents, and their teacher count as an authentic assessment of understanding Why can??™t the students have a variety of ways to show how much they enjoyed their book; create a poster, create a technology project explaining the theme of the story, create a play or puppet show, creating a poem that shows how the reader connected to the story There are a variety of exciting, motivating ways to check for understanding. Again, it is time consuming and more work for the educator, but after all aren??™t we all doing what is best for the learner
5. Buy a computer program and let it do all the work. Sure, isn??™t this what those monitors and computers are for??¦.to do my job If so, then why am I in the room I think that the technology revolution has and is creating a variety of new challenges in our profession. There is so much information out there about educational technology, but we as a profession are behind on crucial staff development opportunities for all educators. Just as these struggling readers are afraid to read out loud, many educators are afraid of the unknown territory of technology and without a little scaffolding, won??™t challenge themselves to learn how to truly integrate technology in a meaningful way, not to be used as time filler.
So much of what these struggling readers respond to incorporates some sort of visual stimulation. Technology allows us to offer this visual stimulation in a meaningful and connecting way in the classroom. We??™re only just beginning to understand the power technology possesses for us in education.
Working with this population of learners can be exhausting and very difficult. It obviously takes much more time and patience to work with this group of students. But on the other side, the rewards are 10 fold. When you see the light bulb go on and a student in your class has made a personal connection with a great piece of literature and they can??™t wait to speak with you about it??¦.it??™s all worth it.
My room is lively and constantly flowing. We are louder than the other classes, but we are on task and discussing topics and situations that are important to us. We create a community of safety therefore we aren??™t afraid to take risks and stretch ourselves. There is no downtime and every minute of ???chaos??? is planned and organized to help these struggling readers gain confidence in their skills as readers, but more importantly as a very important part of our classroom community and the community itself. There??™s not another profession like ours!

Works Cited

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Beers, K. (2003). When kids cant read: what teachers can do. Portsmouth, NH: Heinman.
Ivey, G. &. (2005). Learning from what doesnt work. Educational leadership , 63 (2), 8-14.
Tovani, C. (2000). I read it, but i dont get it. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

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