There are four lies/misconceptions about struggling readers that have become embedded in school systems, said Terrie Noland, vice president of educator initiatives at Learning Ally, during a recent edWebinar. “School leaders are just following along and are starting to believe them.” These misconceptions are having a detrimental impact on struggling readers, and school leaders need to set the tone and build a school culture where best practices and evidence-based research are shared to create a system of support for all readers.

4 lies we are told about struggling readers

1. Struggling readers have a lower cognitive capacity than typical readers

All students have similar cognitive capacities in their brains; however, the connections to learning are different in the brain of a struggling reader. These students need a specific type of fluency intervention for them to make connections to the cognitive capacities in their brains that lead to learning. The four elements of fluency that launch students into the cognitive process are rate, automaticity, accuracy, and prosody. By building these skills, students start to develop their neuro-networks and move to the learning area of the brain.

2. Lower expectations for students that are falling behind due to reading

The belief that lowering reading expectations benefits struggling readers not only hurts students’ competency but under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is against the law. In the case Endrew F. v Douglas County School District, the Supreme Court ruled that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives” and that “goals should be as ambitious as is reasonable for the student.”

Related: These easy intervention strategies can help struggling readers thrive

Setting a low bar is not a recipe for reading success. Schools need to set challenging goals for students with disabilities while also scaffolding up the content. Giving struggling students individualized tools and accommodations enables them to reach their learning potential and be given the same assessments as non-struggling students.

3. Our curriculum needs to embed leveled reading no matter the goal

Leveled reading must have a specific purpose and intent when used as a tool for struggling readers. Using predictable text that utilizes repeated patterns provides students opportunities to practice the taught skills. Controlled text (where the text is written with words that use decoding skills) can be used to help students move onto the cognitive process. Leveled texts (where stories and informational text has been written to control the level of difficulty and some aspect of skill application) provide students with guided reading instruction to practice skills necessary to read non-leveled content when back in the classroom.

4. Audiobooks are cheating; students should be taught to read

Noland agrees 110 percent that students should be taught to read. However, when struggling students use audiobooks correctly, it can dramatically increase their reading skills. Audiobooks do not replace explicit instruction in reading that scaffolds and models oral reading strategies. Audiobooks should be used to support struggling readers’ reading skill development as they reinforce the development of fluency, hearing, and vocabulary and build comprehensive and cognitive capacity. Human-read audiobooks should be used to support struggling readers when it comes to hearing what is going on in a particular book because it models oral reading skills.

About the Presenter

Terrie Noland’s greatest strengths lie in the ability to motivate, inspire, and create enthusiasm in others to be passionate educators that support the diverse needs of students. She serves as the vice president of educator initiatives for Learning Ally, where she works to develop engagement programs, professional learning services, and communities for educators. Her passions are working with educators to create dynamic classrooms and recognizing educators in their tremendous efforts. Noland has more than 25 years of experience as both a motivational leader and developer of content for educators and administrators. Her focus for the past six years has been on the pedagogical practices needed to create effective environments for struggling readers and students with dyslexia. She has the opportunity to lead and facilitate groups numbering in the thousands, helping to build a better understanding of working with struggling readers and students with dyslexia.

Join the Community

Empowering Struggling Readers is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net that provides educators, administrators, special educators, curriculum leaders, and librarians a place to collaborate on how to turn struggling readers into thriving students.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Learning Ally. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

[Editor’s note: This piece is original content produced by edWeb.net. View more edWeb.net events here.]

About the Author:

Eileen Belastock, CETL is the director of academic technology for Mount Greylock RSD in Williamstown, Mass., and also works with edWeb.net to write articles on their professional learning edWebinars. You can follow her on Twitter @EileenBelastock.


Add your opinion to the discussion.