Struggling Readers – Does Phonics Still Apply?

Reading specialists have long wondered how best to help older students who struggle with reading. 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, that there is none left for comprehension. 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. While phonics programs are vital for young readers, there has been much controversy over whether or not these programs actually are the best way to help older, struggling readers. Researchers believe that adults use patterning extensively when they read. For example, if you know the word “beak” then 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. Helping older students break words into known word parts can also be a helpful strategy for older readers. It is also the most common strategy that adult readers use to decode new words they encounter while reading.

Publishing Student Writing and Generating Reading Excitement

Research shows that writing reinforces and builds reading skills so the more we get students writing, the more improvements they make in their reading. A great way to get students excited about writing is to get their works published on the internet. Reading Rockets and AdLit.org has recently established a monthly challenge that gives students writing prompts that they can address. The prompts are inspired by the Exquisite Corpse Adventure serial saga being presented on the Library of Congress website. Each month, there is a new prompt for students in grades K-12 that correlates with the ongoing Adventure saga. Be sure to check out the prompts and the Adventure. The ongoing adventure is fun and will get students excited and thinking! Your kids will love the writing challenge and may just get their best writing published! There is also a great literacy resource “treasure chest” at the Library of Congress site for both parents and teachers. Be sure to check both of these great resources out!

Building Critical Thinking Skills with Questions

Want to get your kids thinking more about what they are reading and processing that text at deeper levels? Then a technique called Facts, Questions and Responses created by Harvey and Goudvis (2000) might be just the strategy you need. Kids of all ages can use this technique to think about and process the text they are reading. Students begin by reading a selected nonfiction text and then generating the facts they have identified in their reading. They write these facts on a 3-column chart with the headings “facts” “questions” and “responses” as labels for the columns. After writing down the facts learned, ask students to list some questions that they have about this fact or things that they wonder about. These questions are listed in the center column. In the third column, students write about their responses or reactions to the facts that they have learned. This strategy can not only help students think about what is important in a selection, but it can also help them process the information and think about related questions that they might still have about the information in the text. While older students can process this information on their own or with partners, younger children can also use this strategy when guided by the teacher as a whole class activity.