Struggling Readers Learn to Read

Reading Support for Struggling Readers in Reading

Although learning to read with proficiency is a fundamental skill that is essential for success in many areas of life, some older students struggle with reading. This makes it difficult for them to succeed in school and beyond.

While the pandemic was certainly a disrupter for academic success in many content areas student skills in reading proficiency have been less than stellar even before the pandemic.

Average reading scores on the 2022 NAEP test of reading performance fell for both 4th and 8th grade students by 3 points as compared to NAEP scores for 2019.

This has resulted in widening gaps between readers who can read fluently and those who struggle with reading performance.

Decoding Problems for Struggling Readers

Many reading specialists have wondered how best to help these struggling readers. Should they be taught to decode by using phonics programs developed for primary children?

We all know that when students have to spend too much mental energy on decoding, there is little mental energy left for making sense of what has been read. For this reason, comprehension suffers. While students may be able to read simple, one syllable words, they may struggle with multi syllabic words.

As a result, it is vital that older struggling readers learn to read more fluently so that they can spend their mental energy on understanding what they are reading rather than decoding the words they see on the page.

Does Phonics Still Apply for Older Struggling Readers?

Phonics instruction teaches the sounds that letters make and how these sounds combine to form words.

While phonics programs are vital for young readers, there has been much controversy over whether or not these programs are the best way to help older, struggling readers.

Most phonics programs are designed for K-2 students. Since the programs are designed for beginning readers, the emphasis is mostly on decoding basic one syllable words.

The materials may also be more geared to lower elementary students. Older readers may resist this work as”baby work”

Frustrated student saying "to heck with it" in front of a book

Strategies to Help Struggling Readers Learn to Read

Researchers have found that adults use patterning extensively when they read. For example, if you know the word “beak,” you can easily identify the pattern words “leak,” “teak,” and “peak.”

Wylie and Durrell (1970) identified 37 common rime patterns that make up over 500 common words. By teaching struggling readers these patterns, they can use this knowledge to decode new words they encounter while reading.

Additionally, helping older students break words into known word parts can also be a helpful strategy for older readers. Using a knowledge of morphology, or word parts such as prefix, root words and suffixes to decode unknown words is the most common strategy that adult readers use to decode new words while reading.

By teaching struggling readers to break words into parts, they can better understand the structure of words and how they are formed. When students understand root words and the meanings of prefixes and suffixes, they skip fewer words while reading.

These effective practices include:

1: building vocabulary,

2: increasing comprehension through repeated readings of interesting passages

3: paraphrasing what they have understood from the passage

4: constructing and deconstructing word stems, prefixes and suffixes to identify word meaning.

As a result of these findings, some experts argue that phonics instruction is not necessary for older struggling readers. They suggest that struggling readers should instead focus on four key reading skills that include vocabulary expansion, repeated readings, paraphrasing to clarify comprehension, and using morphology to break words into comprehensible parts.

If you liked this article, you may also like: Teaching Word Families and Rime Patterns or Why Students Struggle and What to Do About It