The problem most of the struggling readers experience is the avoidance of books due to their inability to read fluently and be engaged in the book. Some of them, like Charles, the boy mentioned in the article, have a limited experience with printed texts, which results in decreased fluency and inability to decode more complex materials (Rog & Kropp, 2007). The struggles with reading are not the problem per se but rather the coping mechanisms and avoidance that students develop after they realize they are disinterested in reading. At the same time, the strategy to teach the struggling reader by presenting specific reading skills to them often fails. The reader will still read fewer books than his or her classmates but will be aware of the existing reading strategies (that do not seem to be helpful at all) (Rog & Kropp, 2007).
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In my opinion, the “high interest, low vocabulary books” are a solution, although with its particular disadvantages. First, such a feature of the text as “an interesting topic” can be perceived by readers differently; it is a subjective assessment. What might be appealing to one, will be of no use to the other. Second, middle school students (and sometimes primary school students too) often have their own hi/lo books, i.e. comic books, and graphic novels.
The preference of comic books to the specially adapted hi/lo books for struggling readers may result in student’s refusal to try reading a hi/lo book because comic books will be more appealing to them. Comic books are good supporters for struggling readers and can enhance their vocabulary, as well as the general interest in reading, but they can also avert the struggling reader from any other type of books that are not similar to comics. Third, the danger of hi/lo books is their simple, detective-like twists.
Detectives and simple plots are not to be seen as disadvantages but rather as specific features of particular books. During their school years (especially at high school), students will have to face a variety of texts, including very sophisticated classic ones (the question if such texts are necessary is another lengthy discussion). However, there is a mild danger that the struggling reader will perceive other literature as too complicated, even after the training with hi/lo books. The love for the specific structure of texts and plot twists can persist without evoking any interest in more complex books.
Still, if a student is motivated to become an advanced reader, he/she can be taught to become one. As suggested by Rog and Kropp (2007), teachers should also be aware of students’ interests, and understand how these interests can be supported by various materials, including but not limited to hi/lo books. Such students can be more interested in improving their learning/reading outcomes and do not need as much reinforcement as other unmotivated struggling students do. Furthermore, the ability to evaluate one’s reading skills and progress will also be perceived by motivated students as a skill more relevant to them.
Another issue that should be addressed is the individual differences of struggling students. This problem has been extensively discussed, and teachers do understand the importance of individual learning styles and approaches. Nevertheless, it appears that one-size instructions are often preferred with no regard to students’ differences. I sometimes view the hi/lo books as an excellent example of one-size instructions because, as mentioned above, such books do not always fit students’ needs and interests. Despite their urge to improve and work on their reading skills, they can get tired of the hi/lo reading books because of their specific structure and reading approach that is similar from one book to another.
However, I agree with Rog and Kropp (2007) that effective hi/lo books increase the possible success of teacher’s intervention and student’s progress. Teachers still have to find effective hi/lo books and ensure they are suitable for students. If the teacher works in groups, he/she might discover that the book is not as appealing to students as the teacher expected it to be; some of the students will be more interested in it than others. Thus, together with the present reading difficulties, the teacher could also resolve the problem of partial or sometimes even lacking interest of the group. Thus, the differences in students are a primary thing to consider when finding ways to address struggling readers’ needs.
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The scores of state tests, frequently used as an assessment basis or evidence of students’ difficulties, often do not present the picture in all the details. The patterns of students’ abilities, skills, less obvious strengths, and weaknesses often remain unaddressed. Without careful observation and individual assessment, teachers always risk implementing the wrong or incorrect interventions that can harm the student’s ability to work on and maintain progress in reading.
At the same time, English teachers (and teachers of other content areas) might merely not have enough time to complete such assessments. One-size instructions are often the only method teachers can use to help struggling readers with their difficulties.
Block, C. C., & Mangieri, J. N. (2008). The vocabulary enriched classroom: Practices for improving the reading performance of all students in grades 3 and up. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Daly, E. J., Neugebauer, S., Chafouleas, S. M., & Skinner, C. H. (2015). Interventions for reading problems: Designing and evaluating effective strategies. New York, NY: Guilford Publications.
McPeck, J. E. (2016). Critical thinking and education. London, England: Routledge.
Richardson, J. S., Morgan, R. F., & Fleener, C. (2012). Reading to learn in the content areas. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Rog, L., & Kropp, P. (2007). Hooking struggling readers: Using books they can and want to read. Web.