Students who struggle with foundational reading skills need more than remedial instruction to make them successful students; they need their teachers’ social and emotional support as well.
Many students who read below grade level and have difficulty mastering basic concepts like phonics, vocabulary acquisition, fluency, and prosody feel anxious, frustrated, and even ashamed of their status. As a result, they tend to withdraw from class participation and become removed from the benefits of the educational process.
Sarah Part, a policy analyst with Advocates for Children of New York says that struggling readers are vulnerable; they see other students just like them succeeding, but they can’t seem to make sense of the work. As a result, they internalize their frustration, feeling that they’re not smart, that school’s “not for them,” and that reading isn’t enjoyable.
They also externalize their frustration with a range of behaviors that include:
- Attacking themselves verbally or even physically
- Lashing out at a teacher or classmate who exposes their weakness in reading
- Withdrawing from class participation or refusing to show up
- Deflecting the attention on themselves by exhibiting disruptive behaviors
And sometimes their embarrassment is reinforced by well-meaning teachers who call on them to read out loud in front of the entire class; instead of making them feel more confident, it opens them up to potential judgment from their peers. Teachers may also assign students who lack decoding skills early-reader texts with which to practice, which feel babyish and don’t hold their interest.
Teachers can remedy the problem by adjusting instruction to address social-emotional needs as well as educational goals and giving these students support while not ignoring those who read at or even above grade level.
As a first step, teachers need to create a classroom environment where all students feel comfortable talking about their feelings surrounding reading, asking for help when they need it, and making mistakes in public that don’t earn them rebukes but rather support.
Common strategies such as “popcorn reading,” in which students are randomly called on to read out loud to the class, can provoke anxiety in below-grade-level students and leave them discouraged. Instead, teachers may want to adopt strategies like “choral reading,” where the whole class reads out loud together, or read-alouds where the student reads directly to the teacher. Together, these may be better at building fluency and oral-language skills.
Teachers could also:
- Offer scaffolding so students can access grade-level text even if they read below grade level
- Incorporate students’ strengths and interests into reading instruction
- Refrain from always grouping below-level students together, as this can stigmatize them; a heterogeneous group also allows for students to learn from each other
Teachers: what social-emotional strategies do you think work effectively in the classroom, and are they enough to give struggling readers the boost they need to become reading proficient? Leave your answer in the comments below.
 Will, Madeline. (January 4, 2022). “What Teachers Can Do to Help Struggling Readers Who Feel Ashamed.” Education Week. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/what-teachers-can-do-to-help-struggling-readers-who-feel-ashamed/2022/01.