Over the past 18 months we have seen a surge of enquiries from teachers and schools wanting a program to address the literacy demands of a wide range of readers and writers in the upper primary and secondary years.  Compounding the challenge for teachers is the reality that today’s classrooms are filled with students with increasingly diverse needs, stemming from differences in their home languages, learning abilities, literacy experiences, and the undeniable effects of covid interruptions. 

All teachers are teachers of literacy. Teachers in both primary and secondary industries know that literacy overarches every subject area. Let’s look at 10 ways how you can help your individual learners who may be experiencing some difficulty in their reading and writing.

1. High levels of student engagement and providing choices

Student engagement is a vital factor in student performance and academic growth.  Ask students to sit where they can see, hear and participate. Student engagement can be achieved through instruction that fosters motivation, strategy use, the use of a variety of activities and instructional approaches, and social interaction.  Break down long, complex tasks into smaller sections.

There are two powerful instructional elements to improving reading motivation and comprehension:

  1.  Student access to many books
  2. Personal choice of what to read

Consider a limited, yet meaningful, choice of reading topics.  When given choices, students become active participants in their own learning, thus becoming more invested in the reading and related activities (Moore, et al. Adolescent literacy: A position statement for the commission on adolescent literacy of the International Reading Association.)

2. What can your students do? Build on their strengths

Teach them to use what they know and work from there.  Have high expectations for student performance; be sure that tasks are within students’ control.
Assign tasks they can accomplish and expect that they will perform.  In reading, writing and literacy tasks, present students with work that they can do with your support. That includes reading texts that offer only a few challenges and writing about topics that they possess some knowledge about and understand.

3. Time, organization, and classroom management

Small-group instruction is a critical literacy component for struggling learners and writers. Some small groups comprise students with similar reading abilities, and texts and instruction are matched to the readers so that the level of challenge is sufficient but not overwhelming. The small-group format enables teachers to more easily maintain the focus and attention of students who may otherwise be disengaged, and it makes it easier for them to monitor the students’ reading behaviours.

Time: Take extra time to walk students through the procedures of each new task and provide support until they know how things go. Make sure students participate in flexible, diverse groups, such as research groups, literature circles, oral reading groups etc.
4. Read aloud

This is an underutilised strategy, particularly in the secondary domain. Students should have regular opportunities to listen to a fluent adult read aloud. Listening to an adult model fluent reading increases students’ own fluency and comprehension skills, in conjunction with expanding their vocabulary, background knowledge, sense of story, awareness of genre and text structure, and comprehension.  Reading their drafts aloud should be actively encouraged as this gives them insights into things such as the use of punctuation (or lack of!), sentence structure, and repetition (have they repeatedly used the same sentence starter? for example)

5.  Opportunities to talk with their peers about reading and writing

It’s a nice break from pen and paper!  Conversations with their peers does improve comprehension and engagement with texts. Ask your students to analyse, comment, discuss, predict and compare – in short, to think about what they’ve read, rather than merely focus on recalling or retelling what they have read.

6. Make certain that students engage in successful reading practice
Use meaningful texts that are at the student’s independent reading level. Regular and intensive practice is the single most important ingredient in helping all learners improve their reading fluency and confidence. It’s not just the time spent with a book in hand, but rather the intensity and volume of high success reading, that determines a student’s progress in learning to read (Allington, 2009; Kuhn et al., 2006). When students read accurately, they consolidate their word-recognition, decoding, and word-analysis skills. Here’s the important message ~ they are likely to understand what they read ~ and, as a result, to enjoy reading.
Use technology to support students, for example, many of our schools use Literacy for Kids and Literacy for Boys with their students – either with small groups or for whole class instruction.  It is compatible with talk-to-text software thus assisting those students with difficulties.
7.  Explicit teaching of text structure
This is connected to the above point.  Be aware that for some students, reading a wide variety of genres will not be sufficient for them to internalize the different characteristics of various types of writing. Student awareness of text structure is highly related to reading comprehension.  Explicit teaching about text structures specific to the genres will help your students find important
information in texts in a more systematic, organized way.
Interesting findings around brain research have been consistent for the last 50 years ~  Regardless of their focus, target population, or publisher, interventions that accelerate reading development routinely devote at least two-thirds of their time to reading and rereading rather than isolated or contrived skill practice (Allington, 2011). 
8.  Modeling effective reading behaviours
I’m a huge advocate for this – both in our home and with the students that I teach! Many students do not come from homes where reading is practiced or discussed. It is difficult for them to see that reading can be meaningful in their own lives and that it can be a source of pleasure and entertainment. You can provide an excellent role model by discussing books you are reading, thinking aloud as you demonstrate the use of comprehension strategies, and providing a model of fluent reading when reading aloud.

9.  Opportunities for writing tasks to be personally relevant 

Struggling writers need to write more. Invite them to talk about their writing before they sit down to write.  The use of a computer may make writing and editing easier. When students write about something that is personally meaningful, they hey have to think about what words will best convey their ideas to their readers. This is an important process for those who are striving to improve, as it produces a comprehensible text that the student can read, reread, and analyse.

10.  Classroom environment

“How do you keep struggling readers and writers feeling part of the class?”

We can only help these students develop a real sense of belonging if we enable them to be active learners, and this means we must ensure that they are given materials and tasks with which they can be successful. Provide extra support to help them practice so that they can participate fully in the classroom and this will bolster their growth as readers and writers.

To sum up….

To help students tackle the writing of whole texts is a monumental task. It is why the teaching of writing is hard!  There are many foundation skills ~ spelling, grammar, punctuation, the composition of sentences ~ and these need to be regularly practiced before students tackle the Mt Everest of writing.

Teacher Resources:

Click here for our article Literacy Toolkit 2022:  Fresh Ideas to get your students to read

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Looking for a program to engage and further improve your learners’ literacy levels?

Literacy for Boys and Literacy for Kids have been adopted in over 50 schools around Australia, NZ, and the Asia Pacific.  Contact us for a FREE trial in your school.  See for yourself how our engaging programs are boosting literacy levels in the next generation!

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