TeacherIf you were tasked with creating a program to help struggling readers, what would your program include? That’s a question that two researchers (Crystal Kelly, a teacher practitioner, and Linda Campbell, a university professor) set out to answer by comparing several struggling reading programs and interviewing teachers and reading specialists. They found that these sources agreed significantly on both the reasons why some students struggle with reading and the components an effective reading program must have. (Click here for the full article.)

Why Some Students Struggle with Reading

Kelly and Campbell settled on the following as the most common reasons why students underachieve in reading. (See the published article for a detailed explanation of each problem.)

1. Lack of effective role models and relevant life experience

2. Lack of phonics and reading comprehension skills

3. Vision problems

4. Learning disabilities

Essential components of a program for struggling readers

The six reading programs, six experienced teachers, and four reading specialists consulted by the researchers all cited the following components as essential for an effective struggling reading program. (By the way, Imagine Learning English is a great tool for teaching phonemic awareness, listening comprehension, and reading comprehension.)

1. Explicit phonics instruction

All ten educators agreed that the lack of phonic skills is the number-one problem among struggling readers. Also, the six reading programs devoted the majority of their instruction time to word recognition and fluency through explicit phonics instruction.

Phonics instruction should include a study of phonemes (the smallest sound units in words), blending sounds, and word patterns. Students should also be taught decoding skills for learning new words. These skills include recognizing small words contained in bigger words, building compound words, and memorizing sight words using flash cards and matching games.

2. Listening comprehension instruction

Methods for teaching listening comprehension include reading stories aloud, modeling self-questioning, discussing what was read, and connecting the text to other selections the students have read or heard.

3. Reading comprehension instruction

Try modeling comprehension strategies, providing students with relevant experiences, or repeatedly exposing students to the same story and giving immediate feedback on their comprehension.

4. Tutoring

Individualized help on a regular basis (20 minutes per day or 20 minutes three times per week) can make a huge difference in a student’s progress.

5. Extending reading from the classroom to the home

Send reading materials home with students and encourage them to read for 20 minutes at least three times per week.

I believe that the power to solve a problem lies in the ability to identify its causes and develop and use tools to counteract those causes. I also believe that there is no single solution that works for every individual. But we can, as Kelly and Campbell did, look for common issues and use time-tested tools as a way to start helping those struggling readers within the reach of our influence.

What do you think? Have you had experience helping struggling readers? Are there components you feel are missing from the list above?