By Brian Inglesby, M.A., L.E.P.
Inspiring kids who struggle with reading is the primary challenge many teachers put at the top of their daily "To Do" list. Teaching kids to read and instilling a love of reading is a unique combination of talent, skill, and determination.
We talked with a group of general and special education teachers and support staff about how they reach struggling readers. Here are just a few of the ways they inspire kids to learn to read and learn to love reading.
Several teachers commented that when they began teaching they relied on classroom readers, but the kids just didn't get hooked. Now they incorporate classics, from Dr. Seuss to Harry Potter, and the children just seem to gobble them up. Developing and inspiring a child's interest in reading is just as important a component of learning as systematic, explicit reading instruction. For students and teachers, one can't exist without the other.
Kids who struggle with reading need intervention as early as possible. Reading intervention may not mean special education services. Many schools provide kindergarten and first grade academic reading screenings to help identify kids who may be at risk for reading difficulty or reading failure. There's nothing more inspiring than getting kids the help they need to prevent reading failure - and seeing those interventions work.
Primary grade educators teach their students to honor all kinds of print - books, magazines, comic books, newspapers - and keep a trophy case of different reading activities. Kids need constant reminders to celebrate and recognize their literary accomplishments - similar to how we recognize milestones in sports. Many schools use reading contracts or read-a-thons, but they may be short-lived. Kids need to live and sleep among their reading achievements.
In some schools, a "sacred reading time" has taken on a life of its own. Onsite before- and after-school childcare has now incorporated reading with the kids into their daily activity schedule. Volunteers come to school regularly to share excitement and knowledge by reading aloud to students. Listening to audio taped books is another way the richness of literature can be passed along . When kids see members of their community caught up in books and literature, they have a much easier time embracing reading themselves.
Every year, a handful of middle school students already have turned the reading switch to "off." These are the kids who are really struggling - not only with the mechanics of reading but also with the emotions related to reading. Middle school students often need to act tough, and the last thing they want is to be identified with a reading disability. But these kids still have great promise. Help them keep a positive, "open" attitude by reassuring them that they can change their lives for good - by working with teachers who show patience and support, and use explicit reading instruction.
In recent years, the use of technology (including Assistive Technology) has helped many kids become better readers. Yet, in many ways, technology has only made the jobs of teachers even more important and essential. Kids can only be taught to read by humans who give useful, caring, emotional, and interactive instruction. Technology has now become second nature for many of us, but it's the teachers in schools who translate that nature into real meaning for kids - especially kids who struggle.
All teachers need ongoing professional development to stay informed of current research and instructional methodologies. Many experienced teachers use a variety of reading methods to reach their students. They also promise themselves to learn, master, and incorporate at least one "new" technique every school year. With this type of commitment, they're able to really understand what works and what doesn't - in their own reading research labs - their classrooms.