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"This is so stupid."

"I'll never get this."

"I hate reading!"

"I give up!"

I have heard these statements and countless others throughout my years of teaching. There is a large segment of the student population to whom reading just does not come easily. I call these children challenged readers because learning to read is so challenging for them. But it is not impossible. There is hope.

Challenged readers find reading to be an overwhelming and difficult process.The age of this learning type can be anywhere from 6 to 10 years old. They are exasperated by all of the sight words and vocabulary. They haven't yet mastered their reading strategies. Many language "rules" that seem to make no sense at all, trip them up at every page turn. There is no love of literature by this group; thus reading by choice doesn't ever happen. Complete comprehension feels unreachable.

Reading challenges can occur for several reasons, such as lack of practice, a learning challenge/disability, disenchantment, or if a child's learning style does not match a specific teaching style. Without educational intervention, this group of children loses their self-confidence as learners and they struggle in other academic areas. Learning difficulties compound over time because reading is the main means of acquiring knowledge in all subject areas. The reading roadblocks that challenged readers experience must be addressed head-on and without delay. The importance of parents spending time reading and working with their children at home cannot be overstated. Your additional attention to their needs could be the difference between future success or future frustration.

The kids who struggled while learning to read in my classes and tutoring sessions were the reason I began developing Reading House activities. The traditional "read and respond" teaching methods just didn't work with them. They needed to be more involved, feel better about their abilities, and develop an appreciation of books in order to be successful readers. I utilized the techniques below to reach and teach these students. Parents can use these same ideas at home:

  • Build up their academic self-esteem. Learners who struggle feel terrible about themselves. They compare their abilities to their classmates or siblings and want nothing more than to be like others who read easily. Take time to point out their strengths and progress. Be relaxed and patient when reading together. Explain that you will show them reading strategies, which are are tools they can use to work their way through a story. Most of all, cultivate the mindset that they are becoming readers.
  • Love literature with them. Build an appreciation and level of excitement about stories. Really sell it! Read for pleasure every day. These children will not believe that reading is worth the effort if you do not convince them it is. This is just as true for our uninspired readers.
  • Pattern the classic reader. The characteristics of classic readers (children to whom reading comes easily) should be emulated and taught to all readers. They are behaviors that promote and encourage strong, independent readers.
  • Provide literary experiences. Use Reading House games and activities to actively involve children in their learning. Routines weave reading throughout the day, hands-on assignments deepen understanding, and cooperative learning connects their minds to other ideas.
  • Reading Recovery. The goal of this reading intervention program, developed by educator Marie Clay, is to assist struggling first grade readers. (Many of the program's strategies can be applied to readers of all ages though.) It would be impossible to fully explain all of the fine attributes of Reading Recovery, but the running record technique is an assessment tool I find invaluable. Click here for a complete explanation of running records. To do a very simple running record, I photocopy part of the story my student is reading. As he reads from his book I place a check mark over every word he reads correctly on my photocopied page. When a word is read incorrectly, I write the error over the actual text. I also take note of what he does when trying to read an unfamiliar word. When we are done, I have a helpful record of (a) the words my student knows, (b) the words my student doesn't know, and (c) the strategies my student uses when presented with unfamiliar text. This simple exercise can help parents determine if a book is too easy or hard for their child. It will also show what sight words and vocabulary to review. Lastly, it will give parents information about the strategies their child uses (or doesn't use) when reading.
  • Obtain a tutor, if desired. There is nothing wrong with enlisting the help of a certified reading teacher to provide additional assistance.

I welcome additional comments about your experiences with challenged readers and the techniques you find to be the most successful.


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