“Before I knew I was dyslexic, I thought I was stupid,” said the boy who graduated high school with honors and is headed to Yale in the fall. The truth is, many kids who struggle with reading initially believe they’re stupid. Living with a reading disability that hasn’t been identified can be scary and discouraging. In fact, it’s not uncommon for struggling readers to be exceptionally bright kids—they just learn differently. When we as teachers can uncover strategies that really work for these atypical learners, like using audiobooks and teaching with visual images, big things can happen.
Think of an activity that does not come at all easily to you—an activity you can honestly say you have never looked forward to in your life. Maybe it’s skiing or sewing or house painting that you dislike. Now, imagine part of every single workday must now be completely devoted to your most challenging activity and, even worse, you are expected to love it! That is what reading time is like for your struggling readers.
It doesn’t have to be this way. By expanding the way you think and talk about the nature of reading in your classroom, you can make an amazing difference for your struggling readers. Reading doesn’t just have to be a quiet, page-turning activity. There are so many different ways to engage with text, some of which are more approachable for students with reading disabilities. As your struggling readers begin to have new and more positive experiences with text, they will gain skills and confidence. Here are seven ways to get started:
1. Make Audiobooks an Everyday Part of Your Classroom
Let your students know that everyone reads in different ways. Some people like to savor books. Others gobble them in one sitting. Eye reading is one kind of reading; ear reading is another. Listening to human-read audio texts (ear reading) can be a powerful way to improve students’ reading comprehension. Audiobooks give students a model of how fluent readers experience text. The reader’s voice cues help students identify important moments in the text and teach them to use context to decipher unfamiliar words. By teaching your students to use bookmarking and other navigation features, they can gain even more from the audiobook experience. (Want a learn more about audiobooks? Check out our infographic, Why Audiobooks Work!)
2. Make Library Dates
Some of your struggling readers might really benefit from having a personal-shopper experience at the library. Make an occasional appointment with each student to go to the library for one-on-one shopping for books and/or audiobooks. They will love it! When students read or listen to just-right books, it’s a first step toward building a positive relationship with reading.
3. Read One Story Through Many Media
Novels can be intimidating for struggling readers. Reduce the anxiety by teaching the same novel using multiple media (a graphic novel, audiobook, movie or drama script). For example, listen to the first chapter on audio, then read the next chapter, then watch a section of the film. Talk about this process as a class. How did the experience of reading the story change with each medium?
4. Pre-Teach Concepts & Vocabulary
Unfamiliar words, academic vocabulary and understanding key concepts can add another layer of difficulty for your already struggling readers. Anticipate this by pre-teaching words that will be new and activating background knowledge on key concepts. You can use a book analysis, like this analysis of The Lightning Thief for more pre-teaching ideas.
5. Give Students More Free Choice
Consider replacing some or even all of your whole-class novel units with free-choice reading. Instead of telling students what they will be reading, you ask them: “What book will you be reading next?” Reading autonomy is a great motivator. With this model, you work with each student in an individual conference to set goals for the number of books to be read, new genres to try, and how he or she will demonstrate understanding. Students can recommend books to their peers with a suggestion board and short book talks. For reluctant readers, you may want to have a Great Start list ready to go like this one.
6. Start a Book Club Just for Your Struggling Readers
Let’s face it: most book clubs are not appealing to students who struggle with reading. For them, reading is tedious, time-consuming and sometimes a physical struggle. Consider creating a book club just for your struggling readers—a safe space in which everyone struggles, and that’s OK. Allow the students to read in whatever way works best for them and assess the group through discussion and oral presentation.
7. Use Picture Cues and Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers help students arrange their thinking and create a record of their reading. For example, a graphic organizer like this one about making predictions helps students focus their reading at the start of the novel, and helps them remember what they thought was important as the plot develops.
More from Learning Ally:For more information on how audiobooks help struggling readers, check out our infographic, Why Audiobooks Work!