It’s unfortunate, but we’ve seen struggling readers who have flown under the radar for years. But for students who try to avoid being noticed, sitting silently in the back becomes less possible when we design specific reading strategies that encourage them not only to make mistakes, but also reimagine the way they view them.
Most of us have used reading groups in our own classes—or at least experienced them as students: The class was divided into groups of four or five students (most often based on reading ability) and the teacher would make his or her rounds, working with each group on specific reading strategies custom-tailored to fit that group’s needs.
In our experience, strategic reading groups are effective, but can be exhausting for the teacher who not only has to plan specific reading strategies for each group, but has to simultaneously keep the rest of the class on task. That’s why we’d like to help you simplify the whole affair with a few of these simple group reading strategies for struggling readers:
4 Reading Strategies for Struggling Readers
1. Capitalize on students’ comfort with routine
Students benefit from having a set routine, particularly when they are engaging in challenging practices. If you are going to work with several groups during a class period, you want to spend your time reading—not on explaining the activity. Make sure that each student understands his or her role before the activity begins. In addition to this:
- Remind students of the purpose of the activity and explain that they should expect the text to be challenging, so there’s no need to be discouraged when they “mess up”
- Before you call each group, refresh the entire class on the reading strategies that might apply to this specific text
- Once you call your group of 5 students, circulate between each student. Listen to each read until he or she miscues; then coach the student through the appropriate reading strategy
- Make sure that you are only spending two minutes working with each student
- Once the ten minutes are up, have your students close their books; then briefly reinforce the reading strategy with your students for five minutes
- Call together the next group and repeat
Although you can probably foreshadow some of the missteps your students will make during each activity, you never really know…so be prepared to deviate from the script you’ve written in your head and roll with the punches. Being able to improvise is going to save you a lot of time and energy.
3. Texts should be difficult—but not impenetrable
Most of us are familiar with independent, instructional and frustration-level texts. Remember, you are trying to create recurring “teachable moments,” so choosing a text that is either too simple (independent) or one that is well beyond their reading level (frustration-level) won’t work. Instead, choose an instructional text, one that requires frequent teacher intervention, but is not so difficult that it is impenetrable.
To keep students from feeling self-conscious or getting frustrated, you should remind them that that the purpose of this strategic reading group is for them to make mistakes. If you notice that a student is not struggling, it might be time for him or her to move to a different group.
4. It’s OK if the text lacks an overt connection to other texts
It might run counter to your instinct, but there’s really no need to spend your evenings or weekends searching for the perfect instructional text, one that connects to the rest of your reading curriculum. Most of the time, content is important, but in this case, “teachability” takes precedent over “entertainability.”
Console yourself with the fact that there are plenty of times where you can offer the entire class books, magazine articles, or comic-based resources which are slightly below their average reading level, but “easy” texts have a time and place—this doesn’t happen to be one of them.