By Dr. Geraldine Haggard, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger
Let's take a look at the need for fostering a love of reading in the lives of struggling readers in middle school. To do this, first I'll explain issues that affect students who struggle with reading in middle school. Then I'll give some ideas for school personnel and parents to improve reading skills with resources to increase the number of readers in middle school that will see the merits of reading.
Middle schools are composed of students with a range of influences in their personal lives that can affect literacy. Some of these influences include sports, dance or music lessons, and other activities before and after school. Many students, if not all of them, have time-consuming homework. Struggling readers may grow to dislike reading because they see it as a distraction from their daily activities.
Some students, though they speak English, may not have had opportunities to develop a love of books. This could be due to a few factors, such as not being read to, or not participating in discussions of books enjoyed at home. These students are also a part of the striving group of readers—students not reading at grade level. This creates a word gap between the comprehension of oral language and of the language in books. As result, a high-low situation is created between the capable and less-capable readers.
Testing for Common Core State Standards in reading creates a need for teachers of all content areas to address student achievement through reading skills and strategies, with an emphasis on students passing the test. Often these skills are not modeled, and opportunities for students to practice the strategies independently are sometimes omitted. This is why it's important for the entire middle school community to be active in demonstrating a love of reading.
All your middle school staff—principals, teachers, and aides—are needed to help create a love of reading in students. Staff can plan and work together to provide a school culture that shows how exciting reading is. Encourage everyone to make reading relevant to students of multicultural backgrounds by tapping into their prior knowledge and directing students to books that showcase diversity.
Everyone in your team can also model fondness of reading by talking about what they are reading. Read-a-thons that set aside special times for reading during off-times, such as at lunch or before school, are great possibilities to consider. You can also create a comfortable setting by inviting students to bring pillows and share their favorite fiction books to read with friends.
Your principal, along with his or her colleagues, can provide training for teachers of all content areas to use reading comprehension activities with struggling readers in these grades. These activities can be focused on a common theme with an emphasis on cognitive domains for students to make real world connections between their experiences and experiences of characters in books. Inference strategies that are part of the Common Core State Standards in reading can also be used to make the characters come to life for students. Content-area teachers may find paired texts useful for strengthening their curricula and students' love of reading.
Involving students in discussions about what is read can improve vocabulary, which will help to close the word gap. You can also strengthen the reading process for striving readers by using information from books to practice writing. Field trips can be preceded by reading about what may be seen on the trip. Then, while on the trip, you can encourage students to share what they read, and you can ask them how they process the information.
I tutor a sixth-grade girl who is in a school setting that has created a love of reading. As a dyslexic student, she is in a two-block time period for language arts with other students of multiple ability levels. She selects a book that she wants to read and share in a small group. She has forty-five minutes a day in which she reads with an audio version of her book. Then each group has the opportunity to share details about their books in creative ways, such as writing, acting, singing, or art.
My student recently shared a book with me after she read it, and she suggested that I might enjoy the book. She said she loved the book she finished, and that she loved the new one that she is currently reading. She even wanted me to donate the book to a nearby library so others could enjoy the book. To help your students engage in conversations like this, you may consider guiding them to special interest magazines and websites that allow students in special groups to read and share the merits of reading.
The impact of family literacy time is incredibly valuable. The girl I tutor reads parts of books with her mother two or three times each week. This provides the opportunity for all of their family members to celebrate the importance and joy of reading. To encourage family literacy nights, it's worth suggesting that parents model good reading habits by visibly reading on their own. They should also be encouraged to read age-appropriate, leveled books to younger children. Then the middle-schooler can read to, or with, a younger sibling.
You should also motivate families to make regular visits to libraries. Most public libraries have activities that provide opportunities for social times with books for summer reading. Bookstores often have programs that include earning points to purchase music, books, or other items in the store. If an author visits a nearby bookstore, you could create a powerful field trip opportunity to demonstrate the importance of reading to your middle-schoolers.
A child who has a library of a wide range of reading material will see the importance of reading, and he or she will want to model the act of sharing and recommending books after they enjoy books that have been recommended to them. Remember that while middle school students are seeking independence, they still need to see others reading and enjoying books.
Be sure to return to this blog for more helpful tips and guidance.
Dr. Geraldine Haggard is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent thirty-seven years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, teaches in her church, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more from Dr. Haggard elsewhere on our blog.