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Reading Challenges and Opportunities: Part 3 of 4

In Reading Challenges and Opportunities Part 2, I explored the challenges our students face that contribute to their difficulties with reading comprehension. These past student experiences are things that we cannot change. Our job is to determine what we can influence. What can we do that will support student learning today, in our classrooms? We know that some of our students overcome challenges and make gains in reading comprehension by the end of fourth grade. We chose to examine the “internal resources,” or character traits and habits of our successful students. We wondered if we could help other students develop the same habits and recognize their own internal resources.

The internal resources we observe in our most successful students include: family loyalty, curiosity, and the capacity to persist in the face of challenges. This post will explore how we define each of these internal resources and how we try to draw out these internal resources in our struggling learners, and all our students.

What do we mean by family loyalty? This loyalty is shown by our most successful students for their families. Students regularly share stories about their parents and siblings. Students proudly bring their parents to parent nights and their younger siblings to meet us during recess. Older siblings return to help interpret for parents at conference time. Older siblings are seen attending the soccer games or music concerts of their brothers or sisters. We view this loyalty as an internal resource that helps students recognize a purpose for their learning. A good education will make their family proud, and help them contribute to their family’s wellbeing in the future. We draw this internal resource out in our students by taking the time to get to know them as individuals. I make time for monthly lunch dates with small table groups for example, and have short conversations with students during recess. In class, we ask them questions and have them write about their families. We ask, “what do you want to be doing in twenty years?” we ask parents to consider, “What do you want your child to be doing in twenty years?” We also emphasize to both parents and students the importance of learning the home language.  Second language learning can be confusing for students in the short term, but in the long term it will benefit the students to know a second language.  We believe that connecting with students in this way has made a big difference for them academically and socially, it helps them identify their inner resources.

Another internal resource students possess is curiosity, or a love of learning. I see this most clearly when we go on field trips in nature and when I include hands on activities to explore math, social studies, engineering or science. These activities encourage conversations with classmates, and reduce the usual caution about making mistakes in oral language that can occur in more formal classroom discussions. When my students seem to be getting discouraged with learning a topic, I strive to include an activity that will allow them to build a physical representation, to explore the topic in a hands-on way. These activities seem to reignite students’ curiosity and increase their readiness to tackle academic language and concepts.

The third internal resource we have identified is the ability to persist in the face of challenges. Many of our students share a room with their immediate family in an apartment. The apartment is often shared with other people. Students live in cramped living situations, but most find a way get their homework done and do their nightly reading. Families find a way to contribute school supplies and money for field trip busses. Parents find a way to take off work to help with field trips and volunteer in our classrooms. We emphasize to our students that these are all signs of persistence and that this character trait will help them learn in the face of challenges.

Clearly, it is too late to make up for language deficits that our students experienced before they came to school. We cannot assume that our students mastered all the phonic elements and reading comprehension strategies that they were taught in the lower grades. However, we can help them recognize the internal resources they already possess and show them how those characteristics and habits will help them as they build reading comprehension.

In my final post on Reading Challenges and Opportunities (Part 4) I will describe our use of the Scholastic Reading Counts program to help our students build their reading comprehension skills through regular practice reading real literature, and the reward of seeing themselves pass quizzes on the books they have read.

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