An Inconvenient Truth…
“Why do developing readers continue to struggle in spite of every intervention effort?” Author and reading teacher Donalyn Miller asks this question in her book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. Teachers and interventionists continue to wrestle with this issue as they explore school and district assessment data and find many of the same student names emerging year to year. Where in the RTI structure can these kids find the best fit, and most importantly, have a chance to progress significantly?
Miller puts forth one answer: “…the key might be in the amount of reading these students actually do. Reading policy expert Richard Allington explains in What Really Matters for Struggling Readers that when he examined the reading requirements of Title I and special education programs, he discovered that students in remedial settings read roughly 75% less than their peers in regular reading classes. No matter how much instruction students receive in how to decode vocabulary, improve comprehension, or increase fluency, if they seldom apply what they have learned in the context of real reading experiences, they will fail to improve as much as they could.
The fact that students in intervention programs don’t read much has serious consequences for what Miller prefers to call “developing” rather than “struggling” readers. Students who do not read regularly become weaker readers with each subsequent year. Meanwhile, their peers who read more become stronger readers, creating an ever-widening achievement gap–exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do through RTI intervention! So we are seemingly back to Square One–unless we ensure that part of the intervention recipe includes substantial instructional time actually reading. Miller says,
Here is why I have hope for children who have fallen behind and why I call them developing readers instead of struggling ones; these students have the ability to become strong readers. They may lag behind their peers on the reading-development continuum, but they are still on the same path. What they need is support for where they are in their development and the chance to feel success as readers instead of experiencing reading failure. They also need to read and read. Time and time again, I have seen a heavy dose of independent reading, paired with explicit instruction in reading strategies, transform nonreaders into readers.
We have this recipe. The instructional model of the Read 180 program includes a daily dose of independent reading, and opportunity through the whole group and small group time for each teacher to provide support and ensure success for every reader. So–how do we hook these “developing” readers into books so they read and read? That can be a big challenge, but it is critical that we devote time and energy to this piece of the Read 180 design. A place to start might be to view and review how we ourselves think about that independent reading time, and how we are projecting our own attitude about it to our Read 180 students. Some things to think about:
• if a student “forgets” his book in the locker or can’t find it in the classroom, what is your remedy to make that 20 minutes productive reading time for that student?
• do you set deadlines for a number of books to be read by everybody by a certain date? Is that working? If not, why not?
• How is reading viewed in your classroom? As a punitive act–if you don’t settle down, you’re going to have to read longer! or a time everybody looks forward to?
What are your thoughts about how to get your kids into that reading place Ellin Keene refers to as “dwelling in the text”?