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.”
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.