Research-based teaching strategies and intentional edtech use can help struggling readers thrive and become confident students.

3 strategies we use to turn struggling students into confident readers

Research-based teaching strategies and intentional edtech use can help struggling readers thrive

The ability to read–and read well–sets kids on a path to success. That’s why at Cambridge School, we focus on helping students with learning differences learn how to read. Students attend Cambridge School because they have been diagnosed with a language-based learning difference, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, auditory processing disorder, or executive function difficulties, and have struggled in traditional academic settings. 

But if you walk into a Cambridge School classroom during one of our reading sessions, you will see engaged students reading both silently and aloud, using devices and books. You will see teachers working one-on-one with students checking their fluency progress and reviewing important comprehension skills and relevant vocabulary. You will see hard-working students becoming more motivated, confident readers. 

Each year our students make notable fluency gains, with many reading at or above grade level by the end of 8th grade or sooner. In the 2021-22 school year, all students in grades 2-8 made fluency gains from the fall to the spring, with a 52 percent average percent increase in words read correctly per minute. How do we accomplish this?

The right tools are key to reading growth

What we’ve found at Cambridge School is that effective, individualized and evidence-based educational instruction is vital to supporting our students’ reading growth. Thus, students have three separate blocks of ELA instruction daily, including direct, explicit phonics instruction, step-by-step guided reading and comprehension instruction, and systemic, hands-on writing instruction. 

We often utilize supporting technology in conjunction with our research-based programs, and studies support this use of complementary edtech tools. A meta-analysis of dozens of rigorous studies of edtech indicated that when education technology is used to help individualize students’ learning, the results overall show “enormous promise.” 

Understanding that our students have learning differences, we work to provide positive educational opportunities that are tailored to each child’s personal strengths and learning styles. The use of evidence-based programs and a variety of supporting edtech tools help our students boost their reading confidence, increase their fluency skills and foster their interest and love of reading.

Effective use of technology in the classroom produces powerful results

At Cambridge School, all of our students have a Chromebook or a tablet. We also use a range of different technologies to help our students access grade-level content, with the focus on improving reading abilities across any and all subject areas. If we use an audiobook in a class, for example, the text will be available online so the students can read while they listen to it. 

We strategically integrate technology in the classroom to further personalize instruction. This includes using speech-to-text, text-to-speech, Read&Write for Google Chrome, audiobooks, spell check, and interactive whiteboards. Teachers also utilize various platforms to engage the students like Kahoot!, Flipgrid, Blooket and Quizlet.

Especially for students with high needs, multiple studies show that this enriched use of technology can boost learning opportunities, and help facilitate greater learning gains. When effective technology is incorporated into personalized learning for students across multiple schools and school systems, it has been associated with better academic outcomes than comparable classrooms that did not include technology.  

3 teaching strategies we use to help turn struggling students into confident readers

Along with using the right edtech tools, we have developed guiding tenets that enable us to effectively boost our students’ reading skills:

  • Multisensory is key. It’s essential for students to be active participants in their learning, so we add audio, tactile, and visual elements to enrich the readings.
  • Break learning into manageable sections for students. We chunk content into small sections that students are able to manage and make sure they’re progressing at their own speed. This includes being dynamic with classes so students are working in the right groups for different subjects.
  • Modify learning materials to meet the needs of all students. We take advantage of the flexibility of today’s edtech tools to modify virtually everything we use in order to meet the personal learning needs of our students. This can be as simple as increasing the font size on a worksheet, so students find it easier to work with.

How we use edtech: A mini case study

One example of how we integrate these strategies with edtech tools can be seen in our use of the Read Naturally Live program. This online reading program combines teacher modeling with repeated reading to develop oral reading fluency. The program incorporates progress monitoring which is motivating for students and gives teachers detailed reports. It is highly customizable to meet individual students’ needs, and each student works at a level that will challenge but not frustrate them.

Our students in grades K-8 utilize Read Naturally Live three to four times per week for 30-45 minutes per session. Students get the multisensory benefit of hearing the story read aloud for pronunciation and fluency. Multiple sessions every week keep progress moving at a manageable rate. Since the program meets individual students where they are, students enjoy working with it, and their confidence grows as they progress through stories and levels. And the real-time data provided by the platform gives students, teachers and parents helpful diagnostic information on improvements and areas of challenge. 

Reading is a foundational skill and students who struggle with reading fluency can face countless challenges if not remediated appropriately. But as Cambridge School demonstrates, effective research-based teaching strategies paired with intentional, thoughtful inclusion of technology can help all students thrive, in school and throughout life.

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