Teaching students how to read well and for meaning is simply a hard task. There is so much more to it than one would expect. It goes way beyond knowing your letter names and sounds, blending them together and poof—a word with meaning.
For those of our students who have difficulty with learning how to read, this process is even more difficult. The multiple authors of Teaching Struggling and At-Risk Readers A Direct Instructional Approach have looked closely at what works and is needed to support these students to become successful readers.
The authors begin with laying the foundation of who these students are and what literacy and language skills they are lacking to become proficient readers. With the abundance of literacy programs available claiming to remedy reading proficiency, this often becomes the reading teacher’s biggest challenge. Which program to use?
The “essential features of effective reading programs” (p. 11) are clearly identified. More importantly, the authors distinguish the specific steps needed to adapt their current reading program with lessons that make instruction “explicit and systematic” (p.17) for the struggling reader. With dwindling funding a reality in schools across the country, using what works isn’t always an option. Making what you have work is more of the current alternative.
Instructional presentation techniques that are consistent and clear for students are critical key components of direct instruction. These techniques require reading teachers to be purposeful in their signaling when they want all students to respond. The pace must be quick enough to be engaging, but slow enough for think time. The teacher must monitor student responses closely, routinely correct errors, and provide individual turns to ensure mastery.
Each of these techniques is revisited through the five big ideas in reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. What it looks like and feels like in a kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom is discussed in the author’s final chapters. Creating a schoolwide reading program for students who are below grade level also includes developing a system for routine and on-going assessments, consistent time for small and whole group instruction, instructional focused groups, and selecting material to create the program needed for catch up growth. Not an easy task, but one that is clearly laid out in Teaching Struggling and At-Risk Readers.
“The majority of children who enter kindergarten and elementary school at-risk for reading failure can learn to read at average or above levels, but only if they are identified early and provided with systematic, explicit, and intensive instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension strategies . . . early identification of children at-risk for reading failure coupled with the provision of comprehensive early reading interventions can reduce the percentage of children reading below the basic level in the fourth grade (e.g., 38percent) to six percent or less” (G.R. Lyon, 2001).