Debunking myths and supporting older struggling readers

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The reasons that students remain struggling readers in middle and high school are frequently based on myths and misconceptions.

The first big myth, based on reading assessment measures, is that comprehension is the problem. The majority of reading assessments and standardized tests for older students focus on reading comprehension measures without determining gaps in the essential components that lead to comprehension: decoding, fluency, and vocabulary. A low comprehension score doesn’t tell teachers what they need to know to intervene, yet the proposed solution is often more reading “strategies.” This is generally unsuccessful because, as stated by Dr. Anita Archer, “There is no reading strategy powerful enough to compensate for the fact that you can’t read the words.”

Decades of research have shown that effective readers have a solid and automatic knowledge of how to translate the sounds of our language to the print that represents those sounds. This begins with the sounds for consonants and vowels—called phoneme proficiency—and an understanding of how speech and print work together for reading and spelling. Without this foundation, the ability to develop accurate and automatic word recognition and fluency will always be limited.

Another misconception is that struggling readers aren’t trying hard enough or must be less intelligent than their peers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of students with dyslexia, for instance, have average or above-average intelligence. Teachers may assume that students are lazy or not working very hard because secondary teachers often don’t know the characteristics of dyslexia or how to identify a struggling reader who has spent years hiding this fact. When educators know how to identify a student with a learning or language disability, they can act immediately to begin remediation. Here are steps educators can take to support struggling readers in middle or high school.



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