This time of year high school social studies teachers are working toward WWII in their classes. Typical class organization involves assigning readings to students to support (or be) the instruction. Struggling readers look at the lovely picture in the text book and are reluctant to read it. In part because of the dry style, in part because of the content dense reading that is difficult if not impossible to get through and in part because of the reading level simply being higher than they can easily access. In Struggling Readers: Why Band aids Don't Stick and Worksheets Don't Work, Lori Jamison Rog argues that it is important students have access to reading material that is at their instructional level. This is the level at which the student can read 95% or more of the words accurately with adequate comprehension (at least 70%, but for better luck try at least 80%). So what is a teacher to do if they have been presented with a textbook series and the instructions that our students need to read at grade level including challenge material. It is on the test?
One approach is to differentiate the content. I know that this is a fallback catch phrase today, but it is what is needed. If you are lucky enough to have a special ed teacher, paraprofessional or English as a second language teacher to work with, they can do some of this preview and prepare for you or help conduct it in the classroom.
Here's an example of what might be done for a class beginning to talk about homefront efforts in the war:
Have the lower level readers (and maybe the struggling English speakers/learners) explore a website such as http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/world_war2/the_war_effort/ or a video segment that highlights the homefront efforts. This previews vocabulary and content. Discussion needs to occur. An adult should work with this group to facilitate discussion.
Have the on grade level readers explore the website http://www.ushistory.org/us/51b.asp and answer what did people on the home front do to help the war effort? Small groups should come up with answers to share.
Above grade level readers can look at the library of congress site and explore the primary sources and answer the same question as the grade level readers.
After 15 minutes of this preview the whole class can come together and discuss what they learned about. Then they can read the text and answer the text questions. Having the chance to explore these sources prior to reading and discussion the material sets the kids up for success when reading.
If we give our kids access to the language they will see in the reading it increases the likelihood that the reading will be comprehensible and as a consequence, done.