Struggling readers need to read

boy carrying booksI was waiting for my gym class to start and I began talking to a woman who had heard me say that I taught Reading Recovery. She wanted to know what she could do for her son in Prep who was falling behind in reading. She had bought him an ‘alphabet app’ and she was investigating spelling programs.

My suggestion was to have him read! Of course children are not going to want to read books that are too hard for them but they do need to read.

Struggling readers need to read more books than those students who find it easy.

I am sometimes asked why harder books are not sent home. I send home books that are very familiar to the student and are within his or her ability to read so that he / she can practice independent reading (reading without help). If the book was too hard it would just add to the frustration that we want to avoid. By taking a running record every day I am able to keep track of which level the student can manage with some support from me. If the level becomes way too easy there is little to stretch the student to learn new ways of solving words, and if a book is too difficult there is no enjoyment and very limited learning opportunities. Sometimes a book and a student just do not match because there is little interest in the topic. If a book is not working out for the student I remove it.

Struggling readers need massive exposure to interesting, colourful and engaging books (books they WANT to read) without the pressure of trying to read the same books as their more capable friends.

My suggestion to the woman with the prep child was to speak to the class teacher about having more books sent home. Perhaps the teacher might know of interesting ‘just right’ books that could be borrowed for a week or so at a time. Reading the same book many times can be a great way of feeling in charge of the book.

Reading to children is fantastic, but they have to do some reading for themselves as dancewell. I went on to explain to my new gym buddy that I could just complain that I was no good at Zumba and give up trying. Those ‘Young Ones’ seem to pick up the new moves faster than me. But I need to help myself by watching and listening to the instructor as she slowly demonstrates new steps, and asking to be shown a tricky move again after the class, and repeatedly going over the dance steps . Avoiding going to the next class is not going to help me, and having someone else do the dancing for me is not going to work. By the way, I also discovered that watching Youtube clips without getting out of the chair does not help much either.

We all have things that we have to work on. Dancers have to dance and readers have to read. But let’s not make the task too daunting.

Flexibility in problem solving

teacher-1415225-mWe have just had another session of Reading Recovery professional development. We looked at many examples of excellent teaching strategies, including a webcast of Mary Fried (Ohio State University) presenting Flexibility in Problem Solving During Writing.

She gave some examples of what we might expect our students to contribute to their own writing during various stages within their series of lessons. (This is only a guide. Some students will be able to contribute more themselves earlier in the lessons, and some students may need longer time.)

This sentence example could have been composed at any stage of the lessons but we would expect the student to demonstrate an increasing amount of problem solving. In the following examples Mary Fried has anticipated what a student at various levels might contribute. This is demonstrated by the red letters / words / word parts. The fictional teacher chose the underlined words to work on.


My mum took me to the library yesterday. I got movies and books.

The student would be asked- Can you write ___? (mum, me, the) Another question would be- What can you hear? (Some 1st and last sounds.)

EARLY STAGE (Levels 3-6)

My mum t-oo-k me to the library yesterday. I g-o-t movies and books.

Sound boxes could possibly be used for took and got.

MID STAGE (Levels 6-11)

My mum took me to the library yesterday. I got movies and books.

Analogy would be prompted- If you know look, you can write took. Look at how you wrote took. It will help you to write books. Clap the 3 parts of yes-ter-day. Can you write yes …and… day? Sound boxes would be used for movies.

LATER STAGE (Levels 12-16) (16-20)

My mum took me to the library yesterday. I got movies and books.

Clap yes-ter-day. Try it on the practice page. Try writing movies in letter boxes. The student might write move_es independently.

The students always contribute the parts that they can. At first they may only write a few letters that they can hear. They may already know how to write some words. Some words may only be tentatively known (or mostly known), and the student may be asked to write it a number of times in order to learn it.

Some words may be partly solved and the teacher contributes the tricky parts, e.g. ter in school_clipart_boy_writtingyesterday. Some words are easier to solve if you clap the parts, e.g. yes-ter-day. Some words are solved using sound boxes (What can you hear?). Some words are easier to solve if you compare it to a word you already know, e.g. look / took / books and some words are solved using letter boxes (What would you expect to see?)

The teacher needs to adjust her prompts throughout the series of lessons. The aim is to teach the students how to be flexible when solving words by using a variety of strategies.

Revisiting composing

I was looking back at some earlier posts and I was interested in one that was written after an OPL (meeting with other Reading Recovery teachers and tutor) about Composing.

At that time- We were asked to bring samples of writing from our students. One sample was to be a piece that thewriting student had written completely unaided, including no discussion about a topic and no help with the grammar.

I chose to try this again with each of my students. I wanted to find out what the students would write with no talk about it first, and no help at all during the writing. I would then compare it to a sample of writing from a typical lesson (a lot of discussion first). Only 1 of the 4 students happily wrote straight away. Each of the students have a Non-English Background so it is usually even more important to talk about the topic before they compose their sentences (vocabulary, structure).

Student 1 (nearly finished RR) happily began writing straight away.
Unaided she wrote about the book that she had just read:
The troll jumped up and said you are not coming my bridge.
After a discussion, on another day she wrote:
Goldilocks saw a house in the forest and she saw some things that she could do.
 After the discussion she was able to use correct grammar. She wrote a longer sentence using more words that were not taken directly from the book.

Student 2 sat thinking about it for 2 minutes before he started.
He wrote about a favourite topic:
I like to play games with my friends.
After a discussion, on another day he wrote:
On Saturday my dad bought my mum a new car and on Sunday my dad bought a basketball ring for me.
After the discussion he was able to add more detail to his sentence.

Student 3 tried to engage me in a conversation before she finally realised that I really puppywould not be helping at all with the writing that day.
She decided to write about her puppy. She has previously written many sentences about it.
My sister was annoying my puppy yesterday she was annoying my puppy.
After a discussion, on another day she wrote:
My puppy accidently scratched my cheek.
She wrote more unaided but she repeated herself, and the spelling was very ‘interesting’. This student requires more time to match oral and written language (talking and writing) so there is less time to write longer sentences.

Student 4 squirmed around in his chair for 2 minutes before he started writing.
He chose to write about doing his homework as I had just praised him for doing it.
I did my homework at home.
After a discussion, on another day he wrote:
Mother Chimp was walking for a long time and she got tired.
After the discussion about his book he wrote more and he thought about why Mother Chimp was tired.

Talking before writing helped the students to think about a topic, and to sort through rrguidetheir many ideas, or to expand a simple thought. The grammar of my speech was copied (buyed / bought) without me needing to draw attention to it. There are many benefits to having a genuine conversation before inviting the student to write. Using a book that the student has recently read can sometimes be used to inspire the use of new words and sentence structure.

An example of a lesson


Here is a new youtube video of a Reading Recovery lesson. It is interesting to hear the prompts that the teacher uses to scaffold (help) her student to check and solve words as he is reading and writing.

The lesson is made up of-

Familiar reading (well known books). Usually that there is less help needed during familiar reading, and the reading should sound smooth (not word by word).

Running record. The student read independently.The teacher was recording what he was doing well and what needed attention. After the reading she made some decisions about which teaching points would be the most valuable at this time, and which errors she wanted him to work on again.

Making And Breaking. He made the word play with magnetic letters. He was asked to make a similar word– day. The word pay was harder for him to read showing that he didn’t quite understand that ay had a constant sound in the different words.

Writing. The student composed a sentence based on one of his books. The teacher and the student shared the pen. (We have a marker each. We would do the cut up sentence next. This was left out of this lesson.) The teacher and the student worked on various ways to solve words: clapping the parts, sound boxes, and stretching out the word.

New book. There was some discussion to familiarise the student with the overall story and some of the words and phrases in the book. She left out the ending for the student to discover during the 1st reading of the whole book. He read this book with the most amount of expression in his reading voice.

This teacher has been very generous in allowing this video to be posted. It kids-readingdemonstrates that a student does not always easily follow our prompts and we need to constantly adjust what will help him or her. We need to know what is not working for this student at this particular time. We need to know what to keep working on and what to leave for another day. Our students are certainly unpredictable.