Helping a child to read, particularly when there are reading struggles, can seem like a daunting task. Reading is a process that is internal, and where the problems lie can seem difficult to pinpoint. Happily, though, for many young readers, once they get focused help working through stuck points, their progress seems to skyrocket. Here are a few tips to draw on when helping a youngster learn to read, or learn to read better:
Give efficient, effective diagnostics, and study the results carefully. There are many sources of data to draw upon when trying to diagnose a reader’s struggles. An important one, of course, is a running record. What’s crucial when conducing a running record assessment is to continue assessing past a reader's independent level, and even past instructional level, and only to stop assessing when you’ve determined frustration level, around 89% or below. Doing this accomplishes two things. First, you’ll have determined the optimal instructional level for the student, that is, the highest level that she can tackle with a teacher’s help. Second, because you will have pushed the child to a text where she makes more miscues, you’ll have more miscues to study, and will be more able to determine patterns in her process.
Running records aren’t the only diagnostic tools that give valuable information, of course. If a reader is not yet decoding, early assessment tools such as letter-sound identification and concepts about print are helpful. If a reader is more advanced, a teacher might collect and study the writing he does about reading, or the teacher might give a unit-based assessment such as the ones available in the Units of Study for Grades 3-5.
Choose a through-line of work that will be high leverage for the reader based on your assessment, and follow up on this work. Often readers who are learning, particularly those who find it challenging to read at grade level, benefit from clear instruction toward a singular goal. If, based on a student’s running record, she tends to skip over hard words, she needs a series of individual or small group lessons on strategies for tackling hard words, such as breaking the word into smaller parts, looking all the way across the word, and finding smaller words or parts she knows inside of words she does not know. Or, you might see from his running record that a different student struggles with words that do not have phonetic spellings. It might help to build up this student's bank of sight words, and to help him to see patterns in irregularly spelled words.
Don’t hesitate to call on experts when readers aren’t making progress. There are times when readers who struggle aren’t making progress, and it isn’t clear why. It may be time to call on experts who can diagnose issues such as processing or visual problems. Lean on these experts as well to recommend modifications and classroom supports based on the diagnosis.
TCRWP Staff Developer Arlène Casimir-Siar and Research and Data Manager Janet Steinberg will lead this week's Twitter chat on the topic of ways to help anyone read. If you are a teacher or reading specialist of grades K-8, join this chat for a wealth of information on how to help all readers you work with achieve their full potential.
Each Wednesday night at 7:30pm eastern, The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @acasimirsiar & @eriuqse695 to chat about ways to help all students read tomorrow evening.
Not on Twitter? Take Heinemann’s free Twitter for Educators course here.
Anna Cockerille, Heinemann Editor and Coauthor of Bringing History to Life (Grade 4) in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing Series, was a teacher and a literacy coach in New York City and in Sydney, Australia, and later became a Staff Developer and Writer at TCRWP. She also served as an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College. Anna has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (Heinemann 2012), and the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3–5 series (Heinemann 2010). Anna is currently serving as an editor on the forthcoming Phonics Units of Study series for grades K-2, and previously served as an editor for the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, K–5 series.
Follow her on Twitter @annagcockerille