9 Lessons Learned from Teaching Developing and Dormant Readers

There’s a movement right now in education to end the term 'struggling' readers.  And I love it!  Our students aren’t violently breaking free from shackles; they are on a learning journey, and we are here to help them become their best and to instill a lifetime of learning.  So I’m changing my vocabulary to 'developing' and 'dormant' readers, instead of struggling and reluctant.  I heard these previous terms, somewhere on Twitter, and I like them a lot so they are now with me!  

Recently, I’ve read a lot of online articles dealing with lists, and it got me thinking about what I have learned in my twenty years of teaching developing and dormant readers, which is rooted in my background beginning with my B.A. in Communicative Disorders to my Doctorate in Education, and teaching in both low and high socioeconomic school districts.

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  1. Get to know your students.  Interview them, ask questions about their family, interests, likes, and dislikes, and what they love or hate about reading and writing.  Check your body language, face them, and smile! You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn within just one minute of conversation. It unlocks a gate for communication and the potential to free a channel of openness for a child to earn your trust.  This builds the foundation for you to know what your students need academically and personally. I used to use interview forms and would vigorously write their answers behind a clipboard, but I stopped the intensity and opted for pertinent notes instead, and let the conversation grow more organically.  Wow!  My students really opened up.

  2. Do Not Rely on a Reading Program.  No reading program alone can get your students to progress forward.  It’s imperative that teachers know their students' strengths and needs, and what instructional strategies will be most powerful to make an impact on their learning and progress.  While a scope and sequence can be very helpful, it doesn't take in the human element, nor does it know your instructional goals.  I’m also not advocating for the teacher alone to develop their own curriculum, that is incredibly difficult and time-consuming, especially if you are planning math, social studies, science, writing, oral language etc.  However, write lessons that are organized with purposeful intention and supplement your curriculum.  Remember, it’s the students, not the program that’s most important.

  3. Learn about Language.  The more you know about language, which includes alphabetic principle, phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, morphology and vocabulary, and its’ history, the more effective literacy teacher you will be, which in turn will help your students move forward.  As we now know, a strong predictor of reading comprehension is knowledge of words and how they work. When I began my journey teaching in second grade in an urban school in San Diego, my knowledge in teaching phonics and vocabulary was limited.  Month by Month Phonics by Patricia Cunningham was the first book that commenced my understanding of the importance, and love, of teaching language or word study.  This one resource provided little history lessons and strategies of common words my students needed to learn and that information that I needed to learn for more effective teaching.  Much to the chagrin of my husband, I now have three shelves of professional resources under the umbrella of language learning.

  4. Hold High Expectations of Your Students.  They will perform to your expectations high or low.  It evokes hope in the children you teach and shows you value your students and their learning.  My students were not allowed to say “I can’t” or “I don’t know.” When they use those phrases, they are trying to avoid whatever it is you are asking of them, so don’t let your students down.  Provide the support so that they will put forth the effort, and do the mental hard work for you.  Another way to demonstrate high expectations is to encourage students to use precise vocabulary.  Don’t let them use words like “thingy” or “whatchamacallit.”  Chances are you know what they are talking about, so provide vocabulary words to for them to choose from, and ask your student(s) again with the precise word.  Most students love to do something complex or challenging, and in my experience, they love learning words, especially, big words.

  5. Adhere to the Teaching Cycle: Assess, Diagnose, Plan, Instruct, Reflect.  Way back in 1993, in my credential program, I was taught to write lessons according to Madeline Hunters' 7-Step Lesson Plan Model, found here.  This taught me to have instructional goals, be intentional, organized and assess when teaching, and not fly off the seat of my pants.  Admittedly, there were times in my teaching career, when I wasn't as prepared and well, those lessons, for the most part, were unsatisfactory.  I didn't serve my students well.  When we know better, we do better.  You don't have to follow Madeline Hunters model, but do use something to plan purposefully designed lessons.

  6. Be Discerning with Assessments and Instructional Strategies.  Recognize and understand the purpose of each assessment and decide which strategy is effective and engaging for your student(s).  This reflects back to truly understanding the teaching cycle.

  7. Collaborate.  Effective teachers seek others to share and support teaching methods, instructional design, assessments, and student work or behaviors.  Collaboration keeps you accountable and helps you grow as an educator.

  8. Be a Learner.  Educators should be evolving, taking risks and growing; stagnation and mediocrity equate to going backward.  Effective and engaging educators are reflective of their practice and always searching for ways to improve their knowledge.  This also means being a prolific reader of children and adolescent texts.

  9. Be Their Advocate.  You are there to help them on their journey to freedom, so speak up, and be their voice, as they need you the most when they are developing and dormant readers.  

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Laura HancockComment