Decades later, I can still remember things my teachers said, how they said them, even the intonation of their phrases, and how their words made me feel.
In the scheme of life, it’s hard to say how these fleeting moments of encouragement—or derision—shaped my life, but I do know that words are a powerful tool, one we can use to either build up our students or tear them down.
Since we’re well into National Reading Month, I’d like to share a few tips for talking to your reluctant and struggling readers.
“If you keep this up, you’ll be reading at X level by next month!”
This seems like something we should say to struggling readers, doesn’t it? Not so fast. While you should be realistic about your students’ abilities, avoid hampering their progress by setting an unrealistic—or too-easily attainable—benchmark.
Instead, simply let your students know that you believe in them and that you are certain their hard work will pay off.
Why are we always in such a hurry? Slow down and allow your reluctant readers to set their own pace, even if it means they “fall behind.” They may be slower than their peers, but one thing is sure: pushing them to read faster isn’t going to help build their confidence, their comprehension, or their enthusiasm for reading.
"I understand that you don’t like the book—but that's the assignment."
Sometimes a little tough love is a good thing, but before you take off the kid gloves, ask the student why he or she isn’t enjoying the book.
Asking your students this question may provide insight into their interests and reading abilities. You may, for example, discover that the vocabulary is too challenging in one book, or that some students prefer non-fiction over fiction books. Armed with this information, you can make accommodations and help students select more suitable texts.
If this doesn’t work, show the student this video:
"Everyone else is reading silently—please stop talking.”
It can be frustrating and distracting when students talk during silent or quiet reading time, but instead of immediately scolding students, make sure that you know why they are talking. I’ve often found that the talkers are actually chatting to each other about the books they are reading. That’s a good thing!
If this becomes a distraction, you might allow students to use a stress ball or fidget—or give them the option of listening to an audiobook.
“Stop! Reread that line, please.”
As a general rule, we avoid stopping students if the mistake doesn’t interfere with the meaning of the text. For example, if a student mistakenly swaps out "a" for "an" or "fine" for "fun, we let it go, especially if this is the first time a student is reading the text.