Helping Students Who Struggle Meet State Standards

Many teachers ask me how to help struggling or disabled students meet state standards when they are not yet proficient in the prerequisite skills for the standard.  There are a couple of ways to handle this to support your students in reaching rigorous expectations.  The first is to provide scaffolds for the student so that s/he can accomplish the task.  Here are a couple of examples of scaffolds that might help your students meet the standard that you are working on.  One scaffold might be providing a flow chart to help the student identify next steps in a process such as multiplying fractions.  Various graphic organizers might be given to help the student think through a problem or identify foundational thought processes that are needed for more more advanced work. There are any number of scaffolds that might help your students improve their likelihood of reaching the grade level target so reflect on which scaffolds might support your students in reaching the level of performance that is eventually needed to demonstrate mastery.

Another way to help students work toward mastery of state standards is by providing alternative choices of product that will be produced by the student.  For example, with an ELA standard requiring students to demonstrate narrative technique such as using dialogue and a solid plot line, instead of developing a written story, the student might be able to develop a cartoon or develop a short, graphic novel using internet tools that are free and easily available.  As the student develops proficiency with the skills, their products will continue to improve and move toward grade level competency.

Threads of Reading

Welcome to Karen Tankersley’s Threads of Reading website!  At this site you will find tips, tricks and strategies to build strong and effective readers in your classroom.  Enjoy and please visit often.

Helping Students Identify Fake News from Authentic News

We all know that people do not know how to differentiate between fake news and authentic news sites.  Students (as well as their teachers) need help understanding how to identify information that is credible from information that is purely made up.  The News Literacy project is great site for teachers to learn about this important issues facing our society in this era of “fake news” and the deliberate distribution of misinformation.

Promoting Student Writing

I recently learned about an interesting website called This site is a community of writers for students from all over the world.  Here teachers will find writing prompt ideas, competitions, join writing groups and participate in other great activities where students can feather their writing and improve thorough feedback and support.  Teachers will find a range of tools and resources to help create a lively writing community in your classroom. As an author, I love this site and would have loved to have been part of a great community like this when I was in school.  Be sure to check it out and see if it might benefit your students and enhance their writing skills!

Enhancing Student’s Listening Skills

School is out but we all know that if your students don’t “use it” they will “lose it” – their reading skills – that is.  As parents, we also are familiar with those “I don’t know what to do with myself” summer blues.  Listening to audio books may just be the answer.  If you student is looking for a relaxing way to spend some time this summer, have him or her check out  This website holds a multitude of books  for students and families to listen to in audio mode.  This is great for the student who needs to enhance their vocabulary, English skills or who just want to build their background knowledge of classic books to better prepare themselves for College.  During the summer months from May 5th to August 17th, SYNC will be giving away 2 audiobook downloads a week based on weekly themes.  There is also a section for teachers with additional resources on the site.  This is a great way to help students enjoy reading, learn new vocabulary and keep those reading and comprehension skills razor sharp.

Interested in Learning More About How to Teach Reading?

Several people have asked me about where they can learn more about effective reading practices.  I highly recommend enrolling in the courses provided by my friends at TKL – Teach ‘N Kids Learn. TKL has courses open for everyone in every state however, it also has partnerships with several state school districts in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, California, New York and Ohio to name just a few.  To name just a few, you can find courses here such as:  Building Academic Vocabulary and Deep Comprehension, Challenging Gifted Students in the Regular Classroom, and Helping the Struggling reader to name just a few of the ELA courses offered here for a very reasonable fee.  You can also find high quality courses that will help you improve your skills in writing, math instruction, and creating classrooms that meet the needs of 21st Century learners.  To learn more go to:

Getting High School Students Interested in Reading

While most high school students can tell you all about the latest movies they have seen, most of our students cannot tell you about great books that they have read recently.  Since kids like to spend time on social networking sites, capitalize on this love by introducing your students to some online reading social networking sites.  One of these is  At this site, readers can find out what their friends are reading and read reviews of popular books for adolescent readers.  At by Amazon, students can create a shelf of books to show what they are reading and what you have finished reading. You can also recommend books for other readers.  At, readers can track books when they leave them for strangers to pick up in cafes, train stations and parks.  As people find your book, you will get comments from the readers who have “found” your book as it travels all around the world.  Another site to check out  is  This site is a type of lending library where you can lend your own books and receive books in the mail from others who participate in the site.  The only cost is the postage to send your books on to someone who requests your book.  Sharing books with others is a great way to get adolescents interested in reading and sharing books with not only their friends but the world.

Teaching Listening

As we move into the application of the Common Core literacy listening standards, our students must be able to listen to oral presentations, take notes and and then use that information to construct logical informational and argumentative writing pieces. For example, on one of the Smarter Balanced listening assessment items, students are asked to listen to an oral presentation and then identify the “central idea” of the passage.  Many teachers have asked me how to find high quality videos and audios for supporting text-based units for their students.  Some great sources of high quality video and audio can be found on the following websites:



National Geographic

Gilder Lehman



If you know of other outstanding resources for locating high quality video and audio resources, please be sure to let us all know.

Text Complexity and Close Reading for Common Core

I recently did a guest webinar on text complexity and close reading that you may be interested in checking out for my friends at Teach N’Kids Learn, Inc. The webinar was recorded and can be accessed by clicking this link: Karen Tankersley on Text Complexity and Close Reading for Common Core. You will need to register to view the archived video but there is no charge to watch so I hope you will take advantage of this 30 minute video Presentation.

Why Students Struggle and What You Can Do About It

While our brains are hard-wired for language, they were never designed for reading or writing. Those are behaviors that we have added to the tasks that we ask the human brain to do in our society. As a result, there are many reasons one child make not make as much progress in learning to read as another child may make.

Learning to read begins at birth or according to some experts, even while the child is still in the womb. The background knowledge that a child brings to the schoolhouse door does make a difference  and has a direct correlation to how successful that child will be in school. Researchers say that the two strongest predictors of school success are a child’s proficiency in phonemic awareness and the size of the child’s vocabulary. We know that the gap between good readers and struggling readers develops as early as by the end of first grade. Without effective and timely intervention, this gap will continue to grow until there may be a gap of 4-5 years or more by the child’s high school years. Without help, struggling readers will most likely never catch up and they will either “tune out” or “act out” in classrooms all across the country.

All young readers must have a solid grasp of phonemic awareness to understand the “lilt” of the language and the sounds that various letters and letter combinations make. Secondly, they must be able to decode the words they encounter by understanding how to apply the English phonetic system to words. Beginning readers commonly learn to identify initial sounds first, final sounds second and then learn to distinguish how medial sounds change the meaning of the word. For example, the medial sounds in “book,” “back” and “beak” change the entire meaning of the word. Children must quickly recognize the meaning of the word and then be able to make sense of the context in which the word appears. Reading is about meaning out of the symbols on the page. If a child gets no meaning from the words, then reading has not taken place.

Much like math skills and understandings build, so too does reading skill. A child who has poor phonemic awareness skills will struggle with developing strong phonics skills. A child who has poor decoding skills, will find it difficult to become a fluent reader with good comprehension skills. The threads of reading must be solidly woven under each child if they are to become capable readers. Teachers must use good assessment techniques to find the “holes” in a reader’s tapestry and then work to fill those holes with appropriate and targeted instruction. Until the holes preventing the student from mastering the level where they are “stuck” are filled, little progress will be made moving to the next level of reading mastery.

Reading is a participation sport! Like the tennis player or the golfer, students only become better readers when they practice reading. We must take the time to model reading by reading orally to our students. We must find what interests our students and help them find text that is at the appropriate level of difficulty and motivating to read. Without meaning and joy in reading, students will continue to struggle and fight attempts to help them become better readers. We must help our students develop strong vocabularies and good background knowledge so they can relate to the material they read.

Reading must also be a social activity. As adult readers, we talk to our friends about books we have read or articles in our favorite magazines to reflect upon ideas or clarify meaning for ourselves. Our students must be given opportunities to talk about, think about and ask questions about the meaning of the text they read. Only when we act the ways I have outlined in this article will we succeed in helping our students become strong and informed readers who are ready for tomorrow.