So much of the job of the resource room teacher is supporting struggling readers and writers. The advent of the Common Core has just increased this emphasis. Dorothy S. Strickland, Kathy Ganske, and Joanne K. Monroe's book Supporting Struggling Readers and Writers: Strategies for Classroom Interventions 3-6 is designed to help teachers meet the needs of these students. The book has two parts. Part one consists of 9 chapters addressing two categories- general student populations (learners and contexts, motivation, ELL, and instructional intervention frameworks) and literacy topics (words, fluency, comprehension, and writing). The second part is a strategy bank. This structure is carefully developed, eminently readable and useful.
The authors call out whole class instruction as a method of reading instruction. "Whole class instruction is generally aimed at teaching subject matter rather than teaching students how to read" (p. 57). When I think about much of the common core instruction I have heard of and observed, it has involved an increase in whole class techniques and a reduction in small group and differentiated approaches. While this might be useful for covering subject matter, it tends to be less effective for improving the reading instruction of the class. Teaching reading as a whole class generally involves leaving the struggling learners behind, boring the highest students and targeting the middle. Their recommendation is to have ELA classes use small group instruction. Large group mini-lessons can be pared with small group instruction in reading. If we want to improve reading skills, we need to teach reading skills within a student's zone of proximal development.
When we think of comprehension skills one of the critical components is the monitoring of the skill. As the authors observe, our struggling readers are least likely to recognize when comprehension breaks down and consequently, least likely to apply fix-up strategies (p. 71). I have included a graphic for comprehension monitoring strategies here. I am afraid that if we put all students into one learning group, our struggling learners will not even try. I have worked with students who decode beautifully. The problem is that they have no idea what they read. Language and/or memory issues interfere, our pushes for reading more words per minute deny the import of comprehension, and boldface terms and markers highlight the area of the text to copy so that comprehension is not a concern. Small group instruction helps target this need and teach self-monitoring. There is movement within the CCSS initiatives to address this concern and refocus on comprehension, but whether underlying issues will be addressed remains in the air.
One of the strategies suggested for developing the strength and quality of mental representations is sorts. I have used sorts in Wilson Reading System lessons with the word cards- find me the words with a long e sound or the words which end with a vowel consonant e syllable. I have also used sorts in vocabulary building- separate the words into poetry sound devices (ex. rhyme, onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance) and literary devices (ex. allusion, metaphor, personification) or terms related to the separate branches of government (ex. legislators, senators, president, executive, Chief Justice, Supreme Court, Congress, make laws, enforce laws and impeach) or terms related to triangles (isosceles, right, equilateral, scalene, obtuse, acute, 180 degrees) and those related to quadrilaterals (square, right angle, trapezoid, kite, rectangle, rhombus, 360 degrees). They have worked well and students enjoy them. The most important part, however, the debrief, is often skipped. Students need to justify their sort. Sometimes they identify unique features that teachers did not foresee and sometimes they use misinformation that leads to correct sorting. Discussion in small groups is easy. If a whole class is working on sorts, justifications may need to be written or shared with partners.
This book offers an easily accessible source of ideas that can easily be adapted up throughout secondary instruction. Teachers need to have firmly in hand their objectives. If they are teaching reading or reading strategies, materials need to be accessible to each child, low level reading materials need to be available as well as more challenging above grade level works so that students can practice on comprehendible materials, materials at their independent reading level, where they read 90% of the words correctly and have 90% comprehension. If they are teaching content, strategies for reading are not the focus. Such strategies need to have been taught so they can be used on materials that may be more challenging for many students. If we co-mingle, lost looks are sure to be found on our struggling learners and bored to tears ones will be found on students who did not need the strategy to approach the material in the first place.