I sat down to work with three fifth graders the other day, all three being struggling readers. They’ve been placed in my intervention group because they are reading more than three years behind grade level. It’s safe to say they are not big fans of reading. It was our first day meeting together, and I was nervous. I hoped my lesson would capture their attention enough that they’d enjoy coming to read with me in the future. I want so much for these readers. I want their learning to accelerate rapidly, I want them to see themselves as readers, and, in truth, I want them to become fans of reading.
I chose a nonfiction text that I thought might interest them. Being close to Halloween, I thought a book on bats might spark some curiosity, and hopefully hook them on a book. We talked about the book together first, then each child read the book by themselves. They were each reading at their own pace, but they stopped often to talk, wonder or comment on the bat facts the author was telling us. They flipped back and forth in the book as they read and talked about what they read. They shared common experiences and expressed disgust at some of the photos. Before we knew it, our half hour was over. And these fifth graders were begging for more books on bats! They couldn’t wait to take the book home to share with their families, and even wanted me to give them poster board so they could look up their questions on the internet and make bat posters to share with their class.
I was thrilled that this book was able to hook these reluctant readers. It reminds me of how important it is to carefully choose the texts we use with all of our readers – but especially our most struggling. I am also reminded of how important it is to interact with texts alongside our struggling readers. They need to see how books can be exciting, how books can make us wonder, think, question, get grossed out, and pull us in. They need to experience that sense of time passing quickly when you’re totally hooked into a book. As one of my fifth graders said, “no way! We can’t be done yet!!”
In Catching Readers, Pat and I often refer to engaging our readers by choosing high interest books, incorporating LOTS of talk and working in that child’s Zone of Proximal Development so they can feel successful and build upon prior knowledge. Take a minute today to reflect on those kids who are struggling in your classroom. Are you choosing high-interest books for small group work? Are they choosing books that interest them for independent reading? Do they have lots of books available to them that are at a “just-right” level for them? Are they having multiple opportunities to talk about what they are reading? Are they seeing themselves as readers? Are they seeing all that books can offer?
How are you helping your readers become “Big Fans” of reading?
I just wanted to thank you for writing about the importance of interacting with the texts alongside struggling readers. I’m currently working on my dual Masters in Reading and Library Science, and had the opportunity to work with my nephew last year on his reading (Kindergartner then). He was very self-conscious about making mistakes and his comprehension at first and would not read aloud or answer questions. Through interacting with the text by talking about it, making connections (although they were simple like, “doesn’t your dad drive a green car like this one?” or talking about how we celebrated our birthdays differently or the same as the character in the book), and joking around, he started to relax about his reading. At the time, I didn’t really know what I did to help him relax or gain more confidence, because the way we interacted was so natural to me that I didn’t pick up on it; I was supposed to be working with him to assess his reading level and use a few strategies to help him improve. None of the strategies were “interact with the text” – they were all worksheets that I changed into games and hands-on activities. Anyway, that was a year ago, and it’s taken me this long to realize that it was the way we discussed and interacted with the books he read that made the biggest difference; it got him to enjoy reading. Now he gets excited when he makes connections, finds funny moments in the story, and likes to share his reading (most of the time) with us. I’m definitely a newby at all of this and have tons to learn, but I just wanted to share and thank you for posting this!
Thanks for sharing your story, Ms Bellie. We enjoyed reading about you and your nephew!
Pat and Katie