Tricky Ways to Reach the Reluctant Reader
By Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS
In my resource rooms, I’ve had my share of kids who just don’t want to read. Their learning challenges have made reading a chore and they’re tired of being embarrassed when asked to read out loud in front of other children. Over time, I’ve come up with some unique ways to pull them out of their discontent.
One way, is to have a movie a week celebration. Mine were on Fridays after lunch. Here’s the key, stream a good movie to your white board and turn on closed captioning. I’m convinced that subtitles provide an important subtext clue system to reinforce the movie sound track as it progresses. As words are spoken, they appear on the screen. I learned about this when I was researching reading instruction for a paper in grad school. I was looking up reading levels worldwide, and I saw that Finland was right at the top – their students were achieving reading scores above the rest. I emailed the Commissioner of Education for Finland to ask her if she had any idea why. She said there were two reasons, a homogeneous population and subtitles in English and Finnish on TV and movies. It was a “duhhhh” moment but has borne fruit since. Here, we could benefit from Spanish (or other language) subtitles too in ELL classes. For added effect, show it twice and turn off the sound the second time. Or do this the other way around.
Other ways to entice the reluctant reader include the old language lab concept. Study carrels and headphones with read out loud websites and other software programs provide the privacy that some kids need as they struggle with reading skills. If you build in a reward system of some kind, like “free time” at the end of the week for reading tasks completed during the week, you have another way to see some success. Marry it with writing; have the students write an essay in a Word document, and then have them listen to it played back with Word’s built-in read out loud capabilities. When the kids hear their own writing, they can self-correct.
There are hundreds of articles online about the reluctant reader; mine is just my own experience. I understand reluctant readers. My learning reluctance was in math. In the early elementary years, I loved school in general; it’s probably why I became a teacher. But, as the math became more challenging, and after I was absent for a long time with a bout of pneumonia, I became wary of math. Math is a very sequential set of skills and the gap in my training was responsible for a shattering series of Fs on math tests. In a similar way, otherwise bright kids with a learning disability find that they are falling behind in their ability to read with fluency and understanding. It can reach epic proportions (the reluctance) and will cause behavior problems in kids who would otherwise thrive in the classroom.
We all know about “high interest, low vocabulary” books for reluctance readers. I was a librarian after I was a SPED teacher and I often sacrificed my entire book budget for hi-los for boys, our biggest customers. They were heavy on superhero stories, sports and bravery. One of the hallmarks of the reluctant reader though, is the degree to which carrying a book around in their backpack is anathema. Enter, social media. Get kids excited about Facebook and especially Twitter. Twitter makes a perfect practice portal for short communications. The short nature of the message is the key; kids need to write in bursts, perfect for a short attention span.
So there are ways to leverage technology and existing resources, without spending millions of dollars on new programs. One thing I’ve always cautioned is not to jump on every technology bandwagon and spend millions on the new thing (tablet computers?). There will be something else to replace them shortly, trust me. But, to reach the reluctant reader, you probably already have access to what you need, right now.
Use quick reading level measures like the San Diego Quick Assessment to find out what grade levels your kids are achieving as they progress through the year. Work with your Library Media Specialist to find books that are appropriate for your readers; don’t let your kids loose in the library to fend for themselves right away, there’s nothing worse than having kids try to read things that are too hard, it will turn them off even more.
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Grant Name: Special Education Research Grants
Funded By: The Institute of Education Sciences
Description: The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the nation's engine for research that can be used to improve teaching, learning, and student outcomes. One of the major ways that IES fulfills its missions is through grants that can be used to identify and study educational challenges, develop and test innovative solutions, and prepare the next generation of education researchers. The Special Education Research Grants program seeks to expand the knowledge base and understanding of infants, toddlers, children, and youth with or at risk for disabilities. Due to funding limitations, NCSER's FY 2017 research grants will focus on teachers and other instructional personnel who serve students with or at risk for disabilities.
Program Areas: Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, Technology
Eligibility: Public School
Proposal Deadline: 5/19/2016
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Website: The Institute of Education Sciences
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