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What Struggling Readers Wish School Administrators Knew

Categories: Education & Teaching, Educators, In the news, Learning Disabilities, Webinars

In September, Learning Ally hosted an edWebinar, titled, “What Struggling Readers Wish Administrators Knew.” Terrie Noland, V.P. of Educator Leadership & Learning led the session. Here is an excerpt.

Through the Eyes of John 

From the very start, John knew he was not reading like other children. He was confused because he was a smart child. His parents said so and he believed it. That is until reading assignments came along, and a thirty-minute assignment took two or more hours for John. Every night he struggled. His learning journey became a daily frustration ending in self-doubt, isolation, and dread when asked to read. John’s angst mounted and began to impede his health.

Sadly, John’s school wasn’t prepared to support him. Administrators lacked the time to develop a system to identify early-literacy reading deficits. Teachers lacked essential training on reading instruction and what the research says about it today. By the fourth grade, John’s parents hired a tutor, and paid for a battery of tests to discover he has dyslexia. They placed him in another school. By middle school, John was on track academically. He received the right strategies and reading accommodation and now is able to read just below grade-level. He is thrilled to be on the honor roll. His outlook soared. But, what about the millions of struggling learners who are largely trapped in a spiral of poor reading skills or are not diagnosed with a learning disability?

Addressing the Reading Crisis in America 

A national conversation is taking place across the U.S. about the lack of understanding and training on the science of reading. Droves of educators, administrators, researchers, parents, and the media are discussing the growing literacy crisis and how to stop it. Yes, there is so much going on in schools. The challenges for administrators and educators are endless. Yet, common goals remain: improve test scores and skill performance, support students who demonstrate ill-behavior and prevent chronic absenteeism.

Low reading ability affects a person’s health and well-being. Without explicit reading instruction, motivation and accommodation, students face tremendous hardship and stereotyping. Often, struggling readers hear, “he’s stubborn or just lazy,” “she will eventually catch up,” “he will never be a good student,” “she’s too young to test,” and “boys learn slower.”

Sadly, many teachers, administrators, and parents still use these terms. Students may find it easier to act like a class clown and arrive in the principal’s office every day, rather than look stupid reading. The humiliation of “popcorn reading,” i.e. reading aloud in class, is too hard to bear. Bad behavior is a common coping mechanism among struggling learners. These learners truly may not know why they act out, but in all probability, it’s because of poor reading skills.

Not Being Able to Read is "NOT" Good 

In 2018, Dr. Kenneth Pugh at the Syracuse University on Neuroscience Research Day, said, “We largely know how to fix this problem, and it is criminal if we do not.” Current research on brain-based imaging insists on “early testing for reading deficits,” even as early as kindergarten. 

Students who struggle to read, like those with dyslexia, are often intellectually bright but give up because of lack of interest in school. They do not know that they are missing fundamental skills in decoding and phonics-based instruction. Their assignments are dummied down, thus they are never exposed to grade-level vocabulary. Their school does not have a systematic, structured intervention process, and thus teachers do not scaffold instruction. 

Additionally, and unfortunately for the student, teachers assign “leveled books," thus they will never enjoy literature on their cognitive or grade level.

Reading Fluency and Phonological Awareness 

Two important fallacies are the belief that reading fluency means the rate in which someone reads. This is not accurate. Reading fluency is about rate, but also prosody, automaticity, and full comprehension of information.

How phonics-based instruction is taught is also of great concern. Discrete understanding of phonemic sounds is extremely important for reading success.

Tier of evidence based instruction

In this section we share points expressed by students on what they wished their administrators and teachers knew.

These small step suggestions have been embraced by school leaders and literacy experts.

  • Empathize with the learner. 
  • Evaluate ineffective school and classroom practices by grounding ourselves in evidence-based research and information.
  • Implement an early literacy solution that includes identification of how, where and when struggling readers should receive intensive evidence-based, structured reading instruction.
  • Place students into an RTI/MTSS program for more individualized learning, and begin evidence-based instruction in Tier I. If you wait until Tier II, your student's learning gap may never close.
  • Provide consistent access for students to receive a proven reading accommodation and accessible books. Equitable access will ensure that a student who is reading below grade level has every opportunity to read literature and textbooks on their grade-level. 
  • While your students receive intensive core instruction, provide them with access to grade level text. This supplement can build your students' skills in higher order thinking, comprehension, vocabulary and boost their social and emotional learning confidence. 

Learning Ally mobile app bookshelf capture

You can also explore Learning Ally’s mobile app, an integrated learning tool with a built in dictionary and annotation features.

A teacher or student can easily build a personalized digital bookshelf holding titles that will keep a struggling reader engaged and reading independently, while improving fundamental skills.

Administrators can encourage pre-service and ongoing teacher training. They can share research on topics like dyslexia, the science of reading in the 21st century, and books by literacy experts. Here is a short list.

Motivate and Accommodate 

John says, “Dyslexia is not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just me.” He wants us to learn from his struggle. He wants us to identify children with reading deficits as early as possible and to rid ourselves of outdated mindsets, like learning through audiobooks is somehow cheating.

Regrettably, many schools do not budget for assistive technology. Administrators and teachers are unaware that this resource can support all students who struggle to read, not just those with a 504 plan or IEP in special education.

All students have the right to an equitable and fair education. Changing the trajectory of struggling learners will have an enormous impact on your school goals and empower teachers to revive instruction. You will also receive the appreciation of parents and your local community who are desperate for their child who struggles to read to succeed.

Thank you for sharing this blog. You can watch this edWebinar in full to gain education certifications. These edWebinars are no cost to help you stay abreast of research, learn best practices, connect with like-minded colleagues and to participate in events, like our “Spotlight on Dyslexia” virtual conference.

We invite you to sign up for Learning Ally’s “Empowering Struggling Readers” online community, and join education leaders across the U.S. who are transforming struggling readers into academic achievers.


Support Your Students with Reading Deficits with the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution

The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is a multi-sensory reading accommodation that levels the playing field for students who struggle to read due to a reading deficit, providing them the opportunity achieve in school and in life. Gaining access to the books they want to read—and the books they need to read—in an easy-to-absorb format can be a game changer. Sign up for a demo or get more information today to experience the satisfaction of seeing students who have never before experienced reading success blossom, with improved grades, higher test scores and increased confidence and self-esteem.