Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Helping Striving Readers: Q & A with Alan Trussell-Cullen, Pt. 1 of 2

 Welcome to our first installation of videos in which teacher educator and author Alan Trussell-Cullen answers questions about struggling and striving readers in the upper grades and how to best help them take an interest in and achieve proficiency in reading.

Click on the videos to watch. Transcripts, if preferred, are available below each of the videos.

Q: What kinds of difficulties does a striving reader have in the upper grades?

A: I think the difficulties that striving readers have in the upper grades tend to be two-fold. On one hand, there are technical issues. Obviously they’re going to have gaps in terms of their reading skills and their reading strategies. Because they’ve got those gaps they’re probably also going to have difficulties with comprehension.

Because a lot of learning that takes place in the upper grades is very closely tied in with reading, there is a lot of reading involved, then they’re going to have difficulties probably in other subject areas; the content areas like science and social studies, even mathematics and so on.

But the main difficulties that they tend to have tend to be attitudinal. It’s how they feel about themselves as readers and that so often tends to be rather negative and generally a lack of self-esteem that comes from the consistent problems they’ve been having with reading.


Q: What kinds of materials would be useful to support teachers and striving readers?

 A: I think there are two things that reading materials have to do. First of all they’ve got to provide success for these striving readers. Secondary, they’ve got to provide acceleration.  
When we’re looking for good reading materials for striving readers, we need to look at the interest level or the content. It is tremendously important that the content is pitched at the age level that the student have when they’re reading this material. It has to be about the kind of things that students their age are interested in and want to know about and want to read about and get involved in.

That’s where materials like Hameray’s   Download   series and the  The Extraordinary Files   series are so valuable. Just have a look at the content; skateboarding, BMX riding, mountain bikes, pop groups, that’s really cool for kids of this age.

The language is very important. It’s important that not only that do characters do the kind of things they like doing, and think about the kind of things that they’d like to be able to be able to do and so on, they also need to talk like them too.


Q: What do you think about using plays for striving readers in the upper grades?

 A: I really like the Hameray’s   SuperScript   Series. Plays are using all the language written down, they’ve same things people say when they talk. Talk is one of those things which striving readers can do. So when they are reading that material they’re also able to refer to back to their own knowledge and experience in terms of oral vocabulary, in terms of the kind of language constructions we use when we talk.

When you’re reading a play, you’re reading with a group of other students, you’re reading together with other people. That’s very supportive. It’s also fun. It’s also fun to be able to do something with your peers, so that’s great.  While the reading age is more appropriate for Grade 2, Grade 3, the interest level is very much pitched to Grade 4 to 8.

If I was reading the play script, one of the things I would be supported by is the color coding, but also the big spaces between the lines. Basically, this is a very supportive text for a striving reader.  The context is really spot on for the readers of this age. Just look at the titles,   Time Warriors ,   Alien Attack . They’re really just exciting materials. I also like the fact the speeches are short, the cast is small so everybody gets a turn. I like the fact that the action moves along quickly and also they’re supported nicely by some illustration here.

They have also have some other clever things that come with them. The cast names are in colored code. So that you just have to know well I'm the green one, or so I'm reading the yellow part. That actually helps you. Because so often when kids are doing a play, they get so engrossed in the play they forget ah, it’s my turn next. So that’s a useful tip as well.  So it’s all very helpful from a reading point of view, from a language point of view, from a social point of view, and also I think from a literacy point of view as well, because those are wonderful tradition in terms of drama and theater.

I think it might also encourage them in their writing as well. They might want to write a story about the kind of experience they have read here. They might want to write their own script, who knows. They might want to write their own little video play, lots of exciting possibilities.  
Maybe one other point, when you’re on a play, particularly some of the characters in these plays, these characters have got attitude. They do things. They say things. They make things happen, and that’s very empowering for them as people too.


The book series mentioned in this interview,  Download   series,   The Extraordinary Files , and  SuperScripts   are part of Hameray's High Interest / Low Vocabulary genre, intended to encourage struggling readers to read through presenting compelling topics that they want to read about.   Download   offers facts about the exciting world of extreme sports and hot contemporary subjects such as technology and natural disasters.   The Extraordinary Files   is a mystery-fiction series that follows the adventures of two sleuths as they work to solve cases, often of a supernatural bent.   SuperScripts   are action-packed, easy-to-follow plays in such genres as sci-fi, drama, and sports. They combine reading with social interaction, making it fun for even the most reluctant reader.

Flip through samples of books from these series to see how they appeal to readers who have trouble taking an interest in reading.



If you're interested in learning more about these series, you can click on the images below to download an information sheet with highlights and key features. Check back on Friday for the second part of this Q & A!

- Tara Rodriquez