Expert Advice On Supporting Struggling Readers

Reading is a key aspect of all classroom subjects. Students who struggle to read can suffer academically as well as socially when they are unable to keep up with their peers. Thankfully, there are plenty of things teachers can do to support struggling readers.

Helping struggling readers to read grade-level text has many benefits, says Sue Koch, who helped develop the BrightFish Reading system.

“Research has shown that reading fluency improves with increased exposure to connected text,” Koch says. “The trick is making that material accessible to readers who process text at levels below their grade band.”

Group of elementary school pupils

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice makes perfect when it comes to reading a grade-level text, she says.

“A critical component in the development of reading fluency includes repeated practice with connected text—phrases, sentences, and short passages—supported by modeled fluent reading. The goal isn’t necessarily to read quickly, but rather to read a connected unit of text with prosody and understand the meaning of the text.”

And, she notes, reading grade-level text gives struggling students an emotional boost as well.

“Exposure to connected text at grade level gives students the opportunity to read what their peers are reading,” Koch explains. “Nothing is more demotivating than working on easier or different material. If students can work on connected text at grade level and practice with question types that will be tested in high-stakes exams, they can make up a lot of ground.”

Go High-Tech to Support Struggling Readers

Technology can play a big part in helping struggling readers, she says.

“Great teaching is the most critical strategy for helping struggling readers close the gap with their more proficient peers. However, technology can assist in the process by complementing classroom instruction in areas that are difficult for teachers to scale and meet the need of every child,” she states.

Technology makes it possible for teachers to individualize instruction and encourage students to work at their own pace, getting the support and assistance they need along the way.

“Measuring every keystroke and response provides data that teachers can use to zero in on problem areas for remediation,” she explains. “Technology can also take the fear factor out of the process to help struggling readers build confidence while they are building their reading skills. Making mistakes that only a computer can see is much less intimidating than reading and answering questions in front of your peers.”

Programs like BrightFish Reading can provide support for struggling students, Koch says, noting that the research-based program for grades 2 to 10 not only helps readers with on-level text but also helps students master reading standards and increase their confidence.

“Students choose from a wide range of fiction and nonfiction passages Lexiled to their grade level,” she explains. “The text is broken down to word level and the task for students is to ‘construct’ it in a structured sequence, working from words to phrases to paragraphs and finally, the full passage. Along the way, they work on word recognition, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills to improve their reading proficiency while forging a deep understanding of connected text.”

Efficient and fluent readers, she explains, often rely on memory to recognize words, process their meaning, and comprehend what they’re reading.

“If one of those cogs is too slow or out of sync, then the whole process breaks down, becoming very slow and effortful,” Koch says.

Successful readers learn to rapidly recognize words and vocabulary, which helps build fluency and leads to comprehension.

“With BrightFish, once students demonstrate mastery with those activities, they engage in close reading of the text to isolate important facts and details and then move to higher-order comprehension, where they demonstrate an understanding of themes and author’s purpose,” she says.

BrightFish Reading also incorporates a Games Store, providing rewards for readers who collect points for increasingly challenging work as well as response to positive and corrective feedback.

Games and rewards can be part of the overall picture when it comes to helping struggling readers, Koch says, because struggling students need the motivation to practice and improve their reading.

“Engagement is critical for creating optimal learning environments, and this includes incorporating activities that are challenging, relevant, and rewarding, and allow students to feel confident and in control,” she says. “Concepts borrowed from gaming can be used to keep students engaged and motivated, such as moving from easier to harder levels, skill mastery, progress indicators to track results, and points-based rewards.”

More Advice for Helping Struggling Readers

If you have struggling readers in your classroom, consider these tips from Koch:

  • Try a variety of approaches and tools: Not all students respond to the same strategies, so it’s important to have different tools in your toolbox. Provide variety in your reading materials and engage students with multimedia, audio support, and visual reinforcement. Combine self-paced work with small group instructional time to go over concepts and remediate problem areas.
  • Use rewards: Students who struggle with reading find it very difficult and discouraging. The most powerful source of motivation comes from teachers acknowledging the hard work their students are doing to practice and improve their reading.
  • Set achievable goals: Work with your class to set goals for reading time and reward students who consistently hit their targets. Involve parents and provide recognition beyond the classroom.
  • Make time for practice: Struggling readers need more time to practice reading and improve their skills. Use early drop-off and after-school programs to get as much reading time into the school day as possible.
  • Use text that is accessible and age appropriate: Reading is already demotivating for students who are behind their peers. Try to find reading material that is engaging and high-interest for your students rather than using easier material designed for younger students.

How do you support struggling readers? Let us know!

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