Helping Struggling Students Meet Reading Standards

Using Scaffolding to Help Struggling Students

Teachers ask how to help struggling students meet rigorous reading standards when they lack the foundational skills in reading.

Trying to learn when you have gaps that prevent you from doing what other students can do is frustrating for many students.

You can reduce frustration and help your students learn the skills you need them to have by using scaffolds and learning supports during your instruction.

What are scaffolds?

Scaffolds are supportive practices that you use to help students close the gap between where they currently perform and where you need them to perform.

Smiling teen girl reading a book while sitting outside.
Scaffolds Help Students be more Successful Readers

You might provide a tool or strategy to help students organize their learning. For example, one tool that could be used is a graphic organizer to outline the steps or process to be used during learning.

A strategy that might be helpful is to break learning into more manageable chunks for the student.

By organizing learning into smaller bites, the student is able to see success and stair-step his or her way to accomplish the task. This helps reduce the overwhelm that some students feel when faced with a complex or multi-part assignment.

Using Scaffolding Ideas to Bridge Learning Gaps

When the going gets tough for your students, here are a examples of scaffolds that you might use to help your students meet the standard that you are working on:

  1. Create and provide a flow chart to help the student identify next steps in a process such as multiplying fractions or editing something they have written. Use models or exemplars and show students what the finished product should look like.
  2. Provide a concrete manipulative that students can use to see relationships or connections. For example, have them create a strong paragraph by putting each sentence on a strip of paper and then moving them around and using transition words to build meaning.
  3. Graphic organizers of all types help struggling students plan and think through a problem. Graphic organizers can identify foundational thought processes  such as making connections or seeing cause and effect relationships. This helps students understand the concept you want them to learn more easily. 
  4. Proving pictures and charts can also help scaffold learning for students.
  5. Providing time for students to talk and share their thoughts and ideas is also a powerful scaffold. Blend some structured talking time into your lessons. Use techniques like: turn and talk, think-pair-share to discuss topics or concepts being presented. Use partner sharing time to help focus student thoughts and understandings.

Scaffolds are a good way to help struggling students improve their likelihood of reaching the grade level target. 

Think about what your students struggle with in the classroom. Then put into place scaffolds to might support your students in reaching the goals you want them to accomplish.

Helping Struggling Students With Alternative Assignments

Another way to help students improve their mastery of state standards is by providing learning choices or alternative assignment choices to students.

Often there are several ways that students might be able to demonstrate mastery of a concept. This might include creating an info-graphic, making a detailed drawing, created a narrated PowerPoint or writing a report.

Giving students some choice in how they demonstrate their learning is motivational and fun.

Choice Adds Interest and Increases Motivation

Bored struggling reader female with book in front of a chalkboard with math symbols.
Choice Strengthens Motivation

 For example, you have an ELA standard requiring students to demonstrate narrative technique such as using dialogue and a solid plot line.

You find that some students have trouble meeting this standard.

Instead of developing a written story as some students might do, allow students to have a choice of the product they will work on to show their mastery.

For example, some choices might be to develop a cartoon or a short, written radio script to show their mastery of these standards.

Another option might be to create a short, graphic novel using internet tools that are free and easily available showing characters using dialog in an appropriate manner. 

As the student develops proficiency with the required skills, their ability to demonstrate the required standard will continue to improve.

When children are more motivated to do the work and strive to learn, their levels of competency also increases and moves them toward being able to demonstrate the skills they need to be successful with your grade level standards.

Learn more about helping struggling students learn to read in my ASCD book, Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading.

You May Also Like:

How to Enhance Student Reading with Audio Books

Why Students Struggle and What to Do About It

How to Help Struggling Readers Understand Difficult Text

The Threads of Reading – Karen Tankersley

On my blog, you will find many new reading strategies, ideas and suggestions for becoming a masterful “weaver” of the threads of reading in your own classroom.

Nothing is more important for a teacher than to know how to use good reading strategies and practices. Making a difference with our students is why we all became educators. Becoming strong and proficient readers and writers is critical for our students.

The goal of my website is to help you create strong and effective readers in your classroom. I have gathered hundreds of tips, tricks, and reading strategies that will help you meet the literacy needs of your students.

Many of these ideas featured here come from my own work as a reading specialist, literacy coach and professional developer.

Other tips and reading strategies are from the successful instructional strategies of great reading teachers I have known over the years.  Other ideas are from important research being done in the field that translates into effective instruction.

I will also pass along good ideas from other literacy experts in the field that you might find helpful for your own classroom instruction.

Share Your Own Effective Reading Strategies and Tips

Feel free to leave suggestions on great reading tips you use with your own students as you read. Also, feel free to ask questions or comment on the ideas and suggestions found here.

Please be an active participant when you visit here.  Return again and again for ideas, teaching strategies, and inspiration. 

Teaching students to read well is not an easy job. The more we share great ideas and identify what works to improve student proficiency, the better readers our students become.

Thank you for the work that you do every day!  You are valued and appreciated!

Karen’s Books on Teaching Reading

In addition to the information presented here, you may enjoy reading some of my books on teaching reading and working with struggling readers:

The Threads of Reading: Strategies for Literacy Development

Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12:  Reinforcing the Threads of Reading

Tests that Teach: Using Standardized Tests to Improve Instruction

How to Help Your Child Become a Great Reader: Easy Literacy Games and Activities to Do at Home

Instructional Coaching Impacts Teacher Performance

My Book on Literacy Coaching for Reading Effectiveness

If you are a relatively new Instructional Coach or Reading coach in your school, then you may also enjoy reading my book on literacy coaching:

Coaching the Threads of Reading: Helping Teachers Build Reading Success

You may also enjoy these posts on Literacy coaching on my blog:

Coaching the Threads of Reading for Literacy Coaches

Instructional Coaching That Gets Results

New Class for Literacy Coaches

Check out my new Literacy Coaching course, Coaching Heroes and Champions.

In this course, you will be able to improve your ability to inspire and coach the teachers in your school. You will be able to:

1: cultivate success as a literacy coach who facilitates adult learning that changes practice.

2: understand how to build trusting and caring coaching relationships that enable teacher success.

3: use coaching strategies to increase student academic performance and facilitate student-centered practices that instill joy in the classroom.

4: use data to hone instructional performance and improve student engagement and mastery of state standards.

Here is a list of what you will learn in Bringing Out the Heroes and Champions in Teachers: Instructional Coaching that Gets Results

Module 1: Clarifying the Coaching Role, Purpose and Vision for Success

Module 2: How to Differentiate Support to Meet Individual Teacher Needs

Module 3: Adult Learning, Mental Models and Teacher Career Stages

Module 4: Using Formative and Summative Assessment to Maximize Student Achievement

Module 5: Planning and Teaching for Maximizing Achievement

Module 6: Powerful Communications

I would love to hear your feedback on what you like and how the course might be improved for future students!

Fake News – Analyzing Online Information

Letters spelling out fake news on scrabble tiles.

Identifying Fake News and Online Hoaxes

Are your students able to identify fake news or online hoaxes when they see them online? 

The internet is filled with altered images, hoax sites and fake news articles.  This makes it hard for all of us – students and teachers alike – to know if what we are reading is true. Researching information is an important skill for students for college and career. 

You can help your students think like professional “fact checkers” by teaching them to think critically about what they find on the internet.

Students need to know how to tell credible information from what is purely made up. Social media often contains false, biased or altered pictures and information that students accept as true information.

Learning how to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable information is an essential skill.

One way to help students check the reliability of what they find online is by reading laterally. To read laterally, students read other articles about the source before deciding whether the source can be trusted or not.

How to Read Laterally

To read laterally, first open multiple browsers and check what others are saying about the same topic. 

If students find discrepancies during lateral reading, then students should investigate further to avoid falling for fake news or organizations with narrow agendas.

A great resource you might consider is the website Stanford History Education Group. This site  has lots of information on how to help students improve their media literacy skills.

Another excellent website that contains a vast amount of information on media literacy is the News Literacy Project.

Check out the New Literacy Project’s Checkology lesson to help students understand how and why conspiracy theories develop and why they are compelling for people.

You can use the information found on these sites to teach your students the skills they need to ask questions and protect themselves against “fake news” and unreliable information.

Reliability of Sources

Students should look carefully at who is providing the information.  Is this a reliable and trustworthy source? Is the organization reputable and well known in the content area? If not, they may be looking at fake news.

What is the website url?  Having an unusual website address that includes “.com” with additional letters after can often provide a clue that the website is may be biased or contain misinformation. . 

Even using this suggestion cannot identify sites that are less than reputable. Sources that have “org” or “edu” or “gov”  in their url may be more credible but even this is not always a fool-proof way to determine ithe reliability of the information posted there.

Asking the Right Questions

There is a better way to fact check the credibility of information found online. If only one site provides a specific piece of information, then students must research further to determine whether the information is factual.

Is the author an expert in his or her field? How do you know? What is his or her background? What kind of an organization do they work for?

Does the author have expertise in this topic? Students should check the “about us” page to learn about the company or the author’s background and credentials. Who created the website? What are their possible biases?

Students should do more research about the organization and the author to see if the information gives any more clues on their reliability as an expert on the topic.

Can the author be contacted if the reader has questions about the information in the article? In fake news stories, there is often no way to contact the author or organization to ask questions or verify facts.

Is the information on an anonymous social media post from someone claiming to be an authority? Is there any evidence provided that can be verified with other sources?

When students understand how to verify information, they are less likely to fall victim to fake news, conspiracy theories or misinformation.

Validity of Claims and Arguments

Does the writer make bold claims but fail to cite sources or provide documentation to back up any claims?

By searching multiple sources students will be able to spot problems with the information being provided. When was the article written? Has the article been updated? Are there charts, pictures, videos or other forms of data to back up the key points the author is making?  Is the information merely the author’s opinions? Does the article list references that can be searched to support the facts?

Are there several other websites that provide conflicting information when compared to the information found on this website? When a student searches for the author of the website, are there negative reviews that come up?If so, verify the information with other sites.

Fact Checking Tools

Suggest that students check fact check websites such as:,,  or to see if the information has been verified or debunked by one of these fact checking websites.

Google provides it’s own tool called Fact Check Explorer. Students can use this tool to fact check information from the web about a topic or a person. You can access this tool at:

Students can even read about recent fact checking reports by clicking on the “Recent Fact Checks” tab on the page.

To see if images may have been altered, students can conduct a reverse image search on Google. Another option is to use a website such as  to find similar images online. 

Your students can also download a Fake Image Detector for Chrome or Firefox browsers.

2 newspapers on a table with a cup of coffee
Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories and “Fake” News is a Growing Problem on the Internet

Conclusion for Fake News

It is vital that students understand how to do effective research when they are online.

Students need to know how to determine whether what they are reading is true and verifiable. At some of the websites that provide resources for teachers, such as the  News Literacy project, you can learn even more about how fake news, misinformation and disinformation is eroding truth and reliability in our society.

Another helpful website for excellent information on fake news is This organization provides classes for teachers on identifying fake news. This organization maintains an excellent YouTube channel with student-friendly videos. You can use these tools t to help students understand misinformation and fake news.

While online media may flag some sources of misinformation or disinformation, it does not catch everything.

Fake news, online hoaxes, conspiracy theories and the deliberate distribution of misinformation abounds.

Unfortunately, unreliable information and “fake news” are not going away anytime soon. For this reason, it is important to help students develop a critical eye when reading online.

We must train our students to think like fact checkers so that they do not fall victim to misinformation, lies, conspiracy theories and downright false information when they surf the web.

You May Also Like:

How to Meet the Needs of the Gen Z Student

Understanding Text Complexity – Qualitative Measures

How to Get High School Students Interested in Reading