How Teachers can Identify and Support Struggling Readers

Between lesson prep, teaching, grading and extracurricular activities, teachers must also be able to identify when their students are struggling, and then help them. This is especially crucial when it comes to reading skills, because these support and influence the rest of a child’s education.

Here’s what to do when you think that a student might be struggling with reading.

Helping Students with Reading Struggles

Knowing what to look for is the first step towards being able to identify a struggling student. Speech pathologist Vickie Leung suggests keeping tabs on whether students can read at their age level. If they’re struggling to get through texts that their peers aren’t having trouble with, this is an important sign that the student may need help.

Another way to identify students who are struggling is to set aside time for routine student interviews. Talking with students one-on-one on a regular basis can establish a more trusted student-teacher relationship. In turn, this might make it easier for a student to open up to you when you take them aside to ask about how things are going.

Executive coach and author of The Listening Leader, Shane Safir, says that when you do so, you might try asking students where they’re struggling, what you can do to support them, and how they learn best.

Provide Supplemental Reading via Audiobooks

Many students become discouraged when they’re at a lower reading level compared to their peers. However, this can be overcome by exposing struggling readers to audiobooks. We Are Teachers editor Kimberley Moran says that audiobooks help engage students in the story their peers are reading, allowing them to do the required work and ensuring they don’t get left behind.

Additionally, audiobooks expose students to new vocabulary and make certain words and pronunciations more familiar. “By taking away the mechanics of reading and allowing students to work at their ability, stress is lowered allowing them to succeed,” Moran writes.

Supply Resources for Parents

When students are struggling with reading, it might be difficult to support their needs while ensuring equal time for the rest of the class.

Lexia Learning suggests supplying parents with tips and at-home resources and tips. Since helping their child with reading might feel intimidating, giving them a few ideas can make the task less daunting.

If you’re not sure where to start, at-home reading resource Reading Horizons offers a few ideas. The first is to get the child to focus on their other strengths, such as creating a piece of art or putting a puzzle together, before they practice reading. This can help them go into the reading task with their confidence boosted and pride intact.

Another idea is to practice vowel sounds before tackling new words. Since vowel sounds ensure that a word is sounded out correctly, a quick review can help a child succeed at sounding out new words.

school library

Practice Dictation

Teaching students how to visualize and summarize what a text says while reading is a great way to improve reading comprehension, according to psychologist John Monro. Generating questions based on these visualizations and summaries can reinforce understandings of words, phonics and their meanings.

This method is often referred to as dictation, which is a simple, yet effective way to support students in their reading goals. Sarah Young at Reading Horizons explains that dictation is effective because it is a multi-sensory practice that engages all types of learners. To implement dictation in your classroom, start by having students listen to a word.

Then, ask them to repeat the word out loud, write it down, and then read it out loud again. Combining auditory, visual, kinesthetic and tactile senses makes this a great equal learning activity.

Unite Reading and Writing

One of the reasons why dictation is so successful is because it combines reading with writing. Therefore, making writing a normal part of reading comprehension can help reinforce ideas in your students’ minds.

A simple way to unite reading and writing is to provide students with strategic sentence starters. Education Northwest says that, in the case of helping students understand what an author is doing, these might look like “The most important message is…” or “I’m getting a different picture here because…”. In addition to improving reading and writing skills, these exercises help children boost their confidence as both readers and writers.

Boost Personal Engagement

As you look to create more engaging lessons and texts, consider how giving students choice around what they read might inspire them to work harder at overcoming their struggles. Specifically, encouraging students to find content they’re interested in may spark an increased personal desire to read better and more frequently.

Shauna Hanna at Text Help has a list of 10 free reading resources that help students practice their reading across a variety of topics. From news and government to science and history, these resources allow students to explore their personal interests while working on their reading skills.

Setting aside daily reading time ensures that everyone gets an equal opportunity to practice and improve their reading skills.

reading with parents

Improving Reading Comprehension

Students might also struggle with reading comprehension, meaning that they have trouble understanding the meanings and lessons outlined in a text.

If it seems like students don’t understand their assigned reading when asked questions about it, technology educator MJ Linane has a few suggestions. For instance, Linane says that students might benefit from rephrasing those questions together. Also, asking questions before and throughout the text can help add context to what’s being read.

Set Goals

Additionally, teachers can help students improve reading comprehension by establishing specific personal and professional goals around the text.

Reading resource organization AdLit.org suggests prompting students to set their own goals regarding reading and related thinking processes. Students who set their own goals, rather than following those set by teachers, are more likely to both reach and exceed them.

Practice Scaffolding

Scaffolding is one of the best ways to help students move up a reading level.

Natalie Saaris, Ph.D. at Actively Learn explains that scaffolding essentially involves giving students a great deal of context before presenting them with the text. While reading a short excerpt, students are asked to circle new words, write down questions, and record thoughts for discussions with others. By setting the stage for the story and encouraging deep thinking about it, teachers can help students make deep reading comprehension more of a long-term habit.

Communicate Better

Stronger communication between students and teachers can boost the value of reading for students.

School engagement and accreditation resource AdvancED explains that subject-area literacy plays a core role in helping students become better at reading. Having thoughtful conversations about a text — and engaging students in writing, thinking and speaking about a reading topic —  can make it easier for students to ask questions, express confusion, and be open about their comprehension struggles.

Images by: Kaboom Pics, Matthew Henry, Samantha Hurley  

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