I spent my first year teaching as a Special Education teacher in a resource room setting. My students qualified for special education because of learning disabilities, emotional impairments, moderate cognitive impairments, ADHD, and some displayed characteristics of autism.
Although each student was incredibly unique in his/her needs academically, socially, and emotionally, all of my students were working on their reading skills. Many of them shared similar IEP goals of increasing reading fluency, reading comprehension, and reading level. But guess what?? ALL of my kids needed to develop a love for reading. To feel firsthand how literacy empowers.
My students were in 5th grade, eleven and twelve years old, and the struggle was real. Being illiterate affects you very deeply in most educational settings. Most subject-orientated/standard-based schools revolve around curriculums that teach from passages in textbooks for social studies, science, and mathematics. The embarrassment is palpable and as the vocabulary got bigger and the font size got smaller, my students were ready to run out of the room screaming or shrink under their desks.
So what’s a teacher to do?
Design Choice Reading Groups & Let Them Lead- As educators, we know that interest increases motivation. Your students will not be inspired to read if they do not like what they are reading…or if your older students who are struggling to read believe the books are too “babyish”. Enter creative teacher mode. Find books they want to read. Modify them so they are at your student’s reading level. Find books at library sales, online, and borrow them for other educators. Well written books! Allow your students to have a CHOICE in the books they read. If it’s too high of a reading level, modify it. Or scaffold and choose short paragraphs to close read instead of reading multiple pages. Not only will this allow you to zoom in and work on critical reading skills with your students, but your students will feel respected and LOVED!
Make Reading Aloud SAFE- One of the most empowering realisations for a child is that their peers, teachers, and families WANT to hear them read a book aloud. Even if their fluency is slow. Or they read a few words wrong. Don’t correct them in front of others. Jot down a few notes on strengths and challenges & meet one on one later with your student. This will inspire students to find books they are interested in and practice, practice, practice. Allowing students to read aloud should be embedded in daily literacy activities within your classroom.
Allow Students to Co-Create Reader’s Theater Skits– One of my FAVORITE things to explore with my students was theater. “Showing what you know” through short culminating skits after a unit is completed. Although it’s wonderful to find pre-made skits online (these are fabulous for small groups, partner work, and just all around a wonderful way to reinforce reading skills), making skit-designing a collaborative effort is incredibly rewarding. Especially in a multi-age setting! So much learning going on in those student’s brains as they plan, prepare, design sets, and act out their skits in front of an audience. Here are two examples of culminating skits my students helped me design: Attack of the Germs, The Peaceful Mermaids
I hope these ideas inspire you to foster a love of literacy this year in your classroom. It’s always important to take a step back & think about the complex demands that textbooks & a literacy-rich environment places on our students who are struggling to read and our ELs (English Learners). Make learning to read SAFE and ENGAGING this year for your students!!