Tag Archives: struggling readers

Respecting Teachers’ Professionalism in Reading Instruction

booksIncreasing the reading ability of young people is a major focus of critics of schooling, and prescribed remedies constantly rain down upon us. It is refreshing, then, to re-visit Richard Allington’s What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (2006, 2nd edn.), as I (Clive) have recently done.

According to Allington, the remedies mandated at a system level typically have two flaws: (1) prescribing a single method for all students, and (2) not placing enough emphasis on the amount students read (including re-reading the same favorite works). With respect to the first, he says:

“Expecting any single method, material, or program to work equally well with every kid in every classroom is nonsensical. And yet we see increasing pressure for a standardization of reading curriculum and lessons…. The substantial research evidence that such plans have not produced the desired effects is routinely ignored in the latest quest for a cheap, quick fix.” (p. 34)

Regarding the second flaw in system mandates, Allington says:

“If I were required to select a single aspect of the instructional environment to change, my first choice would be creating a schedule that supported dramatically increased quantities of reading during the school day” (p. 35)

Unfortunately, federally funded Title I remedial reading and special education programs (in the US) have not increased the amount of reading children do. According to one study:

“[C]hildren who received reading instructional support from either program often had the volume of reading reduced rather than expanded as remedial and resource room lessons focused on other activities” (p. 43)

These “other activities” – such as extra phonics teaching, correcting pronunciation, asking comprehension questions – mean that children are interrupted in their reading. Apart from reducing reading time, this means children become used to being interrupted and read in a slow, hesitant manner, with half a mind on when the next interruption will come.

While attempting to support teachers in their reading instruction, then, it is essential to respect their professionalism so they are free to adapt to what works for individual students and give students abundant opportunities to read in peace.


Reading for Relevance AND Fluency

In the past, I (Clive) have posted about the need to teach for relevance. When recently re-visiting two of Richard Allington’s wonderful books on reading instruction – What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (2006) and What Really Matters in Fluency (2009) – I was impressed with his discussion of the link between relevance and fluency in reading. In his view, there are at least 4 instructional causes of reading difficulties:

  • Texts are too difficult
  • Texts are not interesting enough
  • Insufficient time is given for actual reading (as distinct from studying reading strategies)
  • Reading is interrupted for instructional reasons

Because of these factors, students don’t do enough reading to become fluent. Teaching reading strategies is important, but a balance is needed. Allington says:

[To increase their] store of at-a-glance words, readers need to consistently and repeatedly read a word correctly. [This requires] a lot of accurate reading…struggling readers [should] read at least as much as the achieving readers at their grade level. (2009, p. 38).

He cites what he sees as “one of the greatest failures of the [U.S.] federally funded Title I remedial reading and special education programs: Neither program reliably increased the volume of reading that children engaged in” (2006, p. 43). In fact, the amount of reading was often reduced.

But struggling students won’t read very much – either at school or at home – if texts are uninteresting to them. This is where relevance comes in. According to Allington, if we want students to read a lot they must see the point of reading. But if we force them to read books they aren’t interested in and bombard them with reading strategies, along with “comprehension” tasks that just require them to recall and retell, they may never realize that reading has a point. He comments:

I fear that we will continue to develop students who don’t even know that thoughtful literacy is the reason for reading. (2006, p. 116)

So relevance is valuable in two ways: it helps students learn about “life” and the real world, and it helps them learn how to read.