Sunday, October 20, 2013

Advice needed: How do I help my struggling readers?

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I've been ruminating a lot over the last couple of years about the way my district provides academic support services to our youngest readers.  With all we know about how students learn to read and what struggling readers really need, it just doesn't make sense.  But I'm pretty sure my district does it the same way thousands of other districts do it across the country.  Here's how it goes.  Sammy, a struggling reader in first or second grade leaves his classroom for 30 minutes a day to meet in a small group (6-7 students) with our reading specialist.  They focus on phonics skills using a program called Fundations, along with guided reading.  Now here's my concern.  We tell ourselves (and parents) Sammy is getting "extra" help in reading.  But how is this "extra" help, when Sammy is missing important instruction in his classroom everyday for 30 minutes.  Let's be honest here.  We are making a choice.  Sammy needs all classroom instruction and extra reading time.  He is getting neither in my opinion.  But I don't know exactly how to fix this way of doing things.  We have one reading specialist serving our 17 K - 2 classrooms, and with our dwindling budgets and growing class size, staffing is not going to get better.  But I'm not here to complain.  I actually want input.  How does your school support  your struggling readers?

I have this idea that my struggling readers need to practice reading even more than their on-grade level peers.  And I'm pretty sure that's what the research suggests also.  But we know these struggling readers don't have as much stamina, so while the rest of my class is able to read for 30 minutes they aren't.  Another waste of their valuable reading time!  So I try to make sure I meet with my struggling readers daily to listen to them read, introduce a new book or just give them a boost during read to self time.  That is my goal, but it hasn't happened - yet.  I believe that we often talk to our students way too much about "how" to read instead of providing time to practice the reading skills we have just taught - especially with our struggling readers. I am guilty of this myself, and am looking for ways to change this!

So today, as I write my lesson plans for the week, I also try to meet the scheduling challenge as well, because I don't want students that are pulled out daily to miss math, writing or reading every day.  How will I meet the needs of my most needy students daily?  How will I use their classroom time wisely?  How do I make sure they don't lose small group or individual reading time, but gain it?

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