Most of the fundamental reading skills are taught to students between grades 1 and 3. It is essential that the students grasp the concepts and develop strong skills at that time, as beyond grade 3, students don’t learn to read but, instead, read to learn. For students who struggle with reading, teachers find that they often struggle in other academic areas, as well. It is therefore of paramount importance to help these students close academic literacy gaps early, before they are required to tackle more advanced and complex materials.
There are a number of strategies you can use to help close the literacy gap. The first is using adaptive technology. These specialized programs allow students to work at their own pace. They also allow teachers to monitor each student’s progress, inform them about who is struggling, and pinpoint where to start instruction to address the skill gaps.
One such adaptive reading program is AceReader Educational Edition. Pre-course assessment tests let teachers and administrators know where each student in each class stands with their reading skills before they begin instruction. They can then choose the appropriate level from which to start, as well as the specific content the student will work with. Automated, self-adjusting courses allow the student to move easily through tests, drills, and games, each reinforcing specific reading skills in the process. Teachers have real-time monitoring capabilities to assess progress in reading rate, comprehension, and fluency, and they also have the ability to load in any custom content they deem necessary and useful to aid in the learning process.
A second strategy is using systematic and cumulative instruction. Systematic instruction builds upon the student’s prior learning and develops educational strategies, reading skills, and materials from the simple to the complex. Cumulative instruction provides repeated opportunities for the student to practice both previously and newly acquired skills, while at the same time addressing the issues of retention and fluency.
A third strategy is using a multisensory approach to skills building. Multisensory teaching is important and effective for all learners, but it is especially helpful for struggling readers who are weak in one area but strong in another. The three major sensory areas are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, with most people being dominant in one or co-dominant in two. Pre-testing the students to determine their dominant area(s) will help you play to their strengths, while knowing their weaker area(s) will allow you to construct exercises to reinforce material. Allow the students to experience a concept in all areas – for example, listen to a passage (auditory), watch a short movie about the passage’s topic (visual), and write a diagram about the major points (kinesthetic). The more ways the brain receives the information, the more importance it will place on retention of the concept.
A fourth strategy is involving the parents in a struggling child’s education. Instruct them in how they can reinforce reading skills learned in the classroom at home. Some effective methods are reading aloud to their kids, listening to the kids read out loud to them, and using new vocabulary words in everyday conversations. Another great way is to lead by example. If a child sees his parents reading books and newspapers and magazines, he is more likely to view reading favorably and to make a greater effort to succeed on his own.
A fifth strategy is creating reading benchmarks and then celebrating when the students reach them. Struggling students often lack the motivation to tough it out, and, consequently, their engagement levels may drop. To keep them motivated, it is important to positively reinforce their progress and celebrate their successes. This makes them much more willing to put in the work to become better readers.