Supporting Struggling Readers

As parent/teacher conferences approach (or in my case later this week), something to keep in mind to think about changing up ideas to support struggling readers while talking with parents and to try as students are brought to an RTI team. Sometimes rethinking the basics is all students need.

  • The teacher's knowledge matters: knowing which skills to teach and when, teaching reading skills in balanced reading programs.
  • Classroom organization matters: access to books and writing materials, classroom routines, community reading, "just right" reading, "on your own" reading.
  • Reading choices matter: levels of difficulty, genre, topics, cultural representation, task difficulty and achievement.
  • Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics matters: effective word study instruction, assessment, building decoding fluency.
  • Explicit and strategic instruction in comprehension matters.
  • Response to reading matters: types, contexts, purposes and assessing reader response.
  • Assessment matters: frequency, context and type.
  • The amount of text that children read matters.
  • Fluency matters: correct words per minute, tone, phrasing.

Fine Motor Skills

If the child has difficulty with handwriting and/or fine motor skills . . .

Handwriting problems are frequently the result of neuro-developmental dysfunctions and their associated information output and integration problems. These occur in children who have: a) fine motor-coordination problems; b) trouble expressing their thoughts on paper; and c) short attention spans with impulsivity. In my experience, I have seen many different reasons for handwriting difficulties: sensitivity to paper due to a neurological side effect of chemotherapy, and vision or eye disorders. If you believe that your student has a "handicapping condition," contact your administrator about a 504 plan for modification of work and support from the school.

The following are some suggestions that may help improve the writing abilities in children with severe problems:
  • Always encourage the child while avoiding public criticism. We adults may need to change our attitudes based on a proper understanding of the reasons for the writing problem.
  • Minimize or modify written work. Such an agreement may remain private (i.e., not known to the child's peers, who will frequently tease the child for problems they do not understand). You may want to assign an Alphasmart keyboard to the child or allow them to do written work on the computer in the classroom. If you have a strong feeling of "community" within the classroom, other children will understand the modification. Contact your student's parent about accepting computer generated homework as well.
  • Increase time allowed for written task completion. By reducing pressure and anxiety, the child frequently responds with better written output.
  • Vary priorities required during writing. On one task, emphasize organization, good ideas, and legibility, while on another, stress only the mechanics of writing (e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization). Many children with developmental dysfunctions can only effectively concentrate on one or two priorities at a time - they may "come unglued" when expected to handle multiple tasks they have not yet mastered.
  • Stage long-term tasks. For example, a book report or research project could be broken down into units, with the child turning in a summary of each chapter, note cards, outline, etc. This will also teach study skills that will be a benefit throughout school.
  • Grade to allow for success. Comments should be positive. The child who thinks he can't tends to give up.
  • As soon as possible, introduce the child to typing and/or word processing. School typing should be allowed to completely replace written work, if needed in severe cases.
  • If an ink pen is difficult or to messy to use, try alternative writing tools such as pencils or felt-tip pens. Graph paper for writing math problems helps with the organization and alignment.
  • Allow printing if cursive writing is too cumbersome and frustrating for the child.
  • Try placing a rubber pencil grip on the pen or pencil. Teacher supply stores have a wide variety of styles, colors and composition (some are softer than others). Find one that works!
  • Reteach the pencil grip. Many children (and adults) have acquired an awkward pencil grip. 

Second Language Learners

I have found that ideas and strategies for Second Language learners work very with special needs students especially those with language based disorders. If the child is a second language learner is they:
  • should hear stories read frequently in small groups in order to hear many different types of stories;
  • observe verbal and nonverbal cueing strategies (pauses, exaggerated intonation, gestures, and so on);
  • hear thought-provoking questions to promote interaction during story reading;
  • be exposed to predictable books and be encouraged to "read along;"
  • hear and read well-illustrated books so that the pictures provide additional clues to meaning;
  • reread favorite stories to reinforce vocabulary, language patterns, and awareness of sequence;
  • do follow-up activities using different formats and materials;
  • use story grammars to analyze story elements;
  • write and illustrate language experience stories that access prior knowledge;
  • participate in dramatizations and have direct experiences with concrete objects and activities;
  • have vicarious experiences (films, filmstrips, puppets, pictures, etc.);
  • develop functional oral language;
  • be exposed to the Language Experience Method of teaching reading;
  • have opportunities and materials for primary language reading practice for those who can read in their primary language;
  • experience realia and apply lessons to real life situations;
  • have teachers who preteach a concept (into);
  • experience fill-in-the-blanks (word substitutions/cloze);
  • use pictures first and then replace with words;
  • have access to technology and videos for building schema in the content areas;
  • and learn to use graphic organizers for summarizing and/or retelling.
Have a great week! 


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Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
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