I have often said not all of my students have a reading deficit; they have a “like” deficit. Therefore, I spend time getting them excited about learning. We begin our day with a “would you rather” question in which they must make a choice and defend this decision.
We focus on the “why” this decision is best for them. Each student is then required to present their choice. This allows for each student to have a voice and be heard in our class. I have found many of my at-risk readers never speak out in class, or they are only heard when they are acting out in class. By presenting their “would you rather” choice and defense, they are given a chance to have a positive voice with their peers.
This short activity each day, sets a nurturing and safe tone for our classroom community after which I can stretch my students’ abilities in reading. When looking at the National Council for Teaching English guiding principles, this activity aligns with giving students the opportunity to develop the language skills they need to pursue life’s goals and to participate fully as informed, productive members of society.
Another bonus to beginning the class this way it gives each student a positive voice which promotes classroom relationships. Last year, my students were not afraid to read aloud to each other, which I know would not have happened had we not started each day with a “would you rather” question presentation.
When working with students who know they are in a remedial reading class, there are many emotional barriers we must overcome to move students forward. They often feel inferior to their peers and their motivation wanes due to fewer choices to explore literacy with perceived success. An understanding of the emotional connection to building literacy skills is essential. I feel when a student feels safe, it builds trust and I can stretch their abilities to ensure they reach their highest potential.
In my class we often use magazine articles with an array of text features and structures to entice students to want to read more. I tell them the story of my own father asking me if I felt okay because he saw me reading a book on the dock. They are always astounded to learn I wasn’t always an avid book reader. I explain often our brains need to be “hooked” into reading by short articles to build our stamina to read longer and more complex texts.
While this may seem common sense, many at-risk readers do not see themselves having this ability. After students have read and discussed a multitude of articles, I ask them to reflect on how they view themselves as readers. Through meaningful group acceptance, the feeling they have an important voice in their learning and the feeling they are capable, my students grow as readers. These activities allow students the right to be imaginative, express themselves and to have fun learning which turns their reading experience from a “like” deficit to a reading advantage.
NCTE standards addressed with these strategies:
- Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Jonann Ellner has been teaching for seventeen years in elementary and middle-school public schools in Kansas. She also teaches writing and communication courses for a university. Her passion for learning has driven her to pursue degrees in school administration as well as a doctorate in educational leadership. Her motto — which has been on display in her room for many years — is: “failure + perseverance = success.”