Helping Students Become Strong and Capable Readers
Reading is a participation sport! If we want children to become strong and capable readers, they have to actually READ to become a better reader. It is that plain and simple. Think about it. If you wanted to get better at your favorite sport, how would you do it?
First, you would ensure that you had any equipment needed (books and reading materials). Then, you would make sure that you had many opportunities to practice (actually applying your reading skills). Just as with becoming more proficient in a sport, it is logical that the more someone practices reading, the better they become at using their skills (reading.)
If you wanted to get really good at your sport, you would probably also find someone who was good at this sport to keep you company (friends to talk about books with). Finally, you might also hire a coach (a knowledgeable reading teacher) to help you improve your abilities.
Classroom Practices May Not Align with Student Needs
Unfortunately, what seems logical is not always what happens in classrooms across the country. This means that we are not always using what we know to create strong and capable readers in the classroom.
The research (Allington, 2013) indicates that students perceived as “low” or struggling readers in many classrooms actually spent LESS time reading than did their better performing peers. They may be given skill worksheets rather than having the time to apply the skills they are learning.
What’s that all about? The greater the need, the more it stands to reason that those with the greatest need should be doing MORE reading taking place in the classroom – not less.
Focused Practice to Create Strong and Capable Readers
According to reading professor, Dr. Timothy Shanahan, “Effective practice…is purposeful, intentional, or deliberate. It doesn’t include just aimless engagement in an activity. Effective practice focuses on what it is the student is trying to improve.”
In other words, an insightful reading teacher needs to identify the skills that students still need to learn to become more comprehensive and successful readers.
Like the great sports coach, the effective reading teacher assesses what students already know and then designs purposeful reading experiences that help them learn the skills they need to improve their performance.
Take the time to assess how much actual reading goes on in your class and find ways to refine instruction and increase the time students spend deliberately practicing their skills on authentic text.
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