Let’s face it. Most of the research and discussion on reading intervention focuses on the early elementary grades. Unfortunately, research also shows that reading difficulty increases around the fourth grade. Even more, the strategies that work in early interventions don’t seem to work with struggling high school readers.
Yes, as teachers, we do want to intervene as early as possible.
That’s why there’s so much focus on early intervention. Yet, we have to face the fact that sometimes early intervention either hasn’t taken place or hasn’t been effective.
Ultimately, you have to approach your students from where they’re at and help them progress. That’s your job as a teacher.
If early reading interventions don’t work with older students, then what can you do?
Common Reading Problems
Reading is a linguistic activity: readers work with words.
For whatever reason, a struggling reader suffers from a breakdown in the language process. This breakdown leads to inaccurate and slow word recognition.
The struggling reader can’t read the text because he or she doesn’t recognize the words in the text.
Around 4th grade, the complexity of texts that students have to read increases.
Students that were already struggling with reading will fall even further behind. So, they begin to hate reading and read less.
This causes their vocabulary development to stall, which further aggravates the situation.
This becomes a never-ending cycle that causes catastrophic problems by the time the student reaches high school.
A hatred for reading leads to lack of student performance, failing grades, and even discipline problems. Therefore, something must be done to help these students, and it’s not an intensive phonemic awareness program.
Why Phonemic Awareness Isn’t the Solution
The process of reading can really be broken down into two main components: language comprehension and word recognition.
Word recognition includes phonemic awareness, decoding, and sight recognition. This is the basis of the reading process. It becomes automatic as a student progresses through practice with it.
As for language comprehension, this includes such factors as background knowledge, vocabulary development, understanding language structure, reasoning skills, and literacy knowledge.
These skills require higher order thinking.
Studies show that, as students get older, they begin to think more abstractly and need to be challenged to think in this manner.
So, a program that focuses on phonemic awareness will not help struggling high school readers because it doesn’t take consider how a high school student thinks.
The Most Effective Teaching Strategies
Therefore, any reading intervention for high school students will instead focus on language comprehension skills.
To help your struggling high school readers, you need to include:
- Direct vocabulary instruction
- Variety within texts read (helps develop background knowledge)
- Embedded language structure instruction
- Explicit instruction in comprehension strategies
- Opportunities to read text aloud and to hear text being read aloud
All of these strategies need to be a part of ongoing, regular reading teaching.
More importantly, these strategies work best in a one-on-one or small group situation.
As to texts being used, consider student interest and individual reading levels. You don’t want to make the situation worse by using texts that are above their comfort zone.
Of these, having the student read aloud for at least 15 minutes daily will be of the greatest advantage.
Reading fluency can’t increase without reading practice.
As the teacher, you have to encourage struggling readers to persevere.
You have to convince them that it will be worthwhile.
Don’t Forget the Key Ingredient- You
That’s why your role is so important.
As the teacher, you are the key ingredient to your student’s success with reading.
In addition to using the strategies I stated earlier, you have to provided consistent motivation for your struggling readers. You could make this interesting for your students by providing an incentive for making progress.
Work together with your student to set a reading goal and reward them when he or she reaches it.
Secondly, you need to provide corrective feedback when a student makes an error when reading. Doing so isn’t meant to simply point out the error.
Actually, it’s to provide the student with the proper way to read a word or sentence.
Make your feedback positive and encouraging.
Also, your students need to hear you read consistently.
Teacher modeling of effective reading provides the struggling high school reader with an example of good language comprehension.
Yet, simple Read Alouds are not enough.
You also need to Think Aloud with them, too.
Students Need to Know What to Think When Reading
Students need to hear how you think through a text as you read. By doing so, your students can see what takes place in the mind of a good reader when they read. They need to recognize what takes place in their mind when they read and learn how to make adjustments when necessary.
For example, when questions arise in your mind when you’re reading you can stop and share those with your students.
You could say something like, “I wonder why writer said that?” Then, discuss how you would answer your own question.
Encourage your students to do the same when they read.
Finally, your students need an opportunity to think through what they’ve read. This goes beyond simple multiple choice surface questions.
A great way to accomplish this is to use open-ended response questions.
These give room for individual thought.
Just be sure that these questions require higher order thinking.
As you can see, struggling high school readers suffer from a major problem. This problem affects not only the English classroom, but affects every class this student takes.
More to the point, it affects the students life.
Such a big problem requires a carefully planned intervention.
Using the same strategies that lower elementary intervention uses will not help your student. Instead, it could make the situation worse.
Fortunately, studies have shown that if you use my suggestions, you will see increased performance as your struggling high school readers tackle common reading problems.
Most of all, you will see your students reading successfully and comprehending what they read. And as you and I both know, there’s no greater feeling for a teacher than when they see success on the faces of their students.
I hope you found this post helpful. If so, drop me a comment and let me know.
Please feel free to discuss the post in the comments section, too. I appreciate any further insights that you offer. We can all learn more and grow together. Or, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.