The Roadblocked Reader


Today, I’m thinking of a dilemma I’ve faced as a teacher of special education. First, though, let me backtrack.

I taught general ed fifth grade for two years. In those two years I had a decent number of students reading above grade level. They were voracious readers, ripping through Narnia and Harry Potter books like they were nothing. I also had a fair amount reading nearly two years below grade level. Their books were not nearly as riveting to them as the higher readers’ were. At ten years old, they were already of the opinion that reading simply wasn’t for them. They hit a roadblock, pulled over to the side of the road, and decided they wouldn’t go any further.

Now, back to special ed. The dilemma is this: I have students (in third grade) reading at an early kindergarten level. For a variety of reasons, some kids are stuck no matter what I’ve tried. Now, I’m not giving up on them, but I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before they start to give up on themselves.

In special ed, I’m yet to have anyone reading on grade level (although this year, one student is right on the cusp). Of yet, none of my students have said anything to me about this. Maybe they don’t realize. They’ll figure it out soon enough, though. When they do, what happens? Do they continue to push on in their formulaic books that they’ve read 100 times? Or do they become frustrated and decide, “Reading just isn’t for me.” Worse, do they arrive at the conclusion, “I’m too dumb to do this”?

It doesn’t help that the books on the level they’re currently reading are without much depth. “Little kittens run/Little kittens jump” may be fine for an 8-year old, but a ten-year old is going to have some serious misgivings about reading books like that. There’s definitely a major stigma attached to reading ability.

When students run into that roadblock, I’d like to think they’ll figure out a route around it. Most do go for it. I wonder, though, for how many more months or years they will. How long until they hit a roadblock that causes them to pull over, park the car, and say, “There’s no other way”?

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5 responses to “The Roadblocked Reader

  1. I’m a huge fan of bookshare.org for just this reason. Students can listen and read enjoyable, age-appropriate content. The words are highlighted as they are read so fluency is being addressed, and most students listening comprehension is higher than their reading comprehension. We still have to teach reading skills to promote more independence but until they are there, bookshare keeps students driving down the literacy road. If you don’t have book share in your classroom, you need it. It is free!

  2. Our school has profited from a team of reading experts, they really know how to take the most struggling readers and bring them forward with a multidimensional research-based approach. Children who struggle the most with reading need this kind of intervention–it has been amazing for me to watch.

  3. I have no experience with teaching but I wonder if Dr. Seuss books would be an interesting to keep them engaged. The great thing about Dr. Seuss, is the story is about wonderful things that are not real or what you find in normal life, but that might make it more frustrating for students.

  4. Two thoughts…
    1. There are lots of low level/high interest reading series exactly for this purpose. Check with some of your SPED colleagues (or reading specialists) to see if anyone in the building has some.
    2. Read aloud, read aloud, read aloud. Your read alouds should match their interest level. Letting students enjoy literature helps keep them engaged and motivated in reading – they will want to be able to read the books they really enjoy and will see the purpose in reading. Remember to mix fiction and nonfiction.

  5. Pingback: Off and Running | From the Desk of Mr. Foteah

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