Teaching Reading after Elementary School: Helping Those Who Struggle
by Leigh Hall
During my third year as a sixth grade teacher I noticed something about the makeup of my class. Each year that I taught I always had a variety of students. Some spoke English as a second language and others had different learning disabilities. While these students certainly met many challenges throughout the year, it is not them to whom this article is addressed. This article takes a closer look at the many students who came through my door each of those three years but who had no label on them. These students were native English speakers, had no identifiable learning disabilities, and yet they struggled when it came time to read.
As a teacher, you most likely have students who fit this description in your classroom. If you teach reading or language arts then you are probably familiar with various ways to help these children. However, as students advance into middle school and high school they are faced with several teachers per day. If you are a teacher at such a level, you may find yourself faced with students in your history class or science class who cannot read or comprehend the text they have been given. You may feel that you do not have time to stop teaching your content in order to give a reading lesson and yet if you don't help these students in some way how will they learn? It can be a vicious circle.
There are three simple things that you can do over the course of the school year that can help students who are in such a position.
- Teach comprehension strategies to students as a large group, small group or individually when the need arises. Use this link to help you become more familiar with these strategies: http://muskingum.edu/~cal/database/reading.html
- As you show students how to use comprehension strategies emphasize the value of using them. Research suggests that if students understand how using a strategy will be able to help them then they are more likely to apply it again in the future.
- When teaching a strategy be explicit about it. Tell students how, when, why, and where they would apply it. Students who struggle to read may not understand when to apply these strategies after the initial lesson.
As a teacher, you have a lot to do. The key to these ideas is to keep it simple and do it in context, as it is necessary over the course of the school year. Taking fifteen minutes out of a lesson to teach a strategy can have big payoffs over the course of the year. You may find that once your students apply these strategies they begin to understand their readings better and that in turn helps both them and you. Of course this won't happen overnight and students who struggle with reading will most likely not begin applying strategies you have taught immediately. Be persistent in reminding them what they can do and be patient. Hopefully by the end of the year you will be seeing great improvement!
The following links may prove to be useful in helping you think about how to incorporate comprehension lessons in your classroom. Some of these links are geared towards fiction, but can easily be adapted when using non-fiction text.
- Reading Comprehension: http://www.coedu.usf.edu/~morris/redcomp.html
- Story Wheels: http://www.teachers.net/lessons/posts/27.html
- How to Improve Reading Comprehension: http://www.marin.cc.ca.us/~don/Study/7read.html