Helping the Underachiever in Reading
Learning to read is a complex process. Most children learn to read and continue to grow in their mastery of reading. However, there continues to be a group of children for whom learning to read is a struggle. Consequently, the development of effective instructional strategies and intervention programs for struggling readers, or underachievers in reading, is a topic of concern for parents.
Importance of Initial Reading Instruction
There is increased interest in preventing reading problems before they develop and in engaging young children in activities that will enable them to be successful readers in the early grades.
According to a report written by the National Research Council (1998), the type of instruction children receive in the classroom is significant in the prevention of reading difficulties. Effective instruction is a key component of successful acquisition of reading competency and in helping to prevent underachievement in reading. To prevent reading difficulties before they start, the National Research Council recommends that initial instruction:
- Focus on using reading to gain meaning from print.
- Promote an understanding of the structure of spoken words.
- Provide opportunities to practice regular spelling-sound relationships.
- Provide many opportunities for reading and writing.
Characteristics of Successful Intervention Programs
Successful interventions, which have targeted both younger and older underachievers in reading, have included the following instructional practices:
- One-on-one and small-group tutoring.
- Individual attention and extra instructional time.
- Coordination with regular classroom instruction.
- Explicit instruction in letter-sound relationships, word identification strategies, phonological awareness, letters, words, and word patterns (Grossen, 1997).
- Repeated exposure to words to encourage mastery and the presentation of words in small practice sets to provide scaffolding for struggling readers (Juel, 1996; McCormick, 1994).
- Explicit instruction in techniques that will improve reading comprehension. Some strategies to teach include:
- self-questioning (readers ask themselves questions about the story as they are reading),
- visual imagery (readers visualize what they are reading),
- and retelling (readers tell the story to someone else).
Successful instruction also includes helping struggling readers transfer these strategies to other texts (Dole, Brown, and Trathen, 1996; Sorrell, 1996).
- Multiple opportunities for repeated reading of connected texts to develop fluency. Methods of encouraging repeated reading include:
- paired reading,
- direct instruction,
- choral reading,
- and providing easy reading materials.
Repeated reading also helps increase the word recognition rate and accuracy of the reader (McCormick, 1994; Reutzel, Hollingsworth, and Eldredge, 1994; Dowhower, 1994).