Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Building reading skills and engagement in older students

Engaging struggling readers in middle and high school is a difficult prospect for teachers. Below-level readers in the upper grades have not experienced success in reading for a very long time – if ever. Gaps in fundamental skills become roadblocks as students work with increasingly complex content in all subject areas. The process of reading is slow and frustrating, and it often compounds any behavioral or attention issues that struggling learners may also be grappling with, forcing them to work harder than their peers for diminishing returns.

While there are real skills deficits at the root of the problem, the lack of engagement and desire to spend time reading becomes its own issue. We tend to avoid something that is too challenging, especially if it makes us look bad in front of our peers. Unfortunately, time is not on the side of struggling readers or their teachers – packed schedules and rigorous curriculum requirements create a practical issue for educators trying to address the problem in a structured manner.

Technology can be an effective tool to reach struggling readers in new ways that can stimulate a different response. Self-paced reading practice takes away the pressure of class environments and instead offers greater control over the learning process.

Here are a few observations about “what works” in using technology to engage older readers:

1. Offer choice and interesting topics: Reading is already a bad experience for struggling readers, so providing a wide range of text in different genres and subject areas is critical to grabbing and sustaining interest. Enabling students to choose their reading material from a menu (think Netflix) also puts the control into the student’s hands.

2. Provide a path to grade-level reading: “Why am I doing this and how will it help me?” are two common (and very good) questions from older students. Reading practice becomes meaningful when text is accessible but not too junior, and when students can actively track their progress and skills mastery. Also letting students know how the work they are doing will help them in other classes and on high-stakes tests tends increase their commitment and interest.

3. Incorporate video: Content comes in many forms, and students need to be able to digest and process information from different media. Technology programs can weave video and audio content into the learning stream to help students better understand a topic and evaluate information from a variety of sources.

4. Reward often and in different ways: Building up the intrinsic motivation to read can require a little external support. Technology programs can incorporate points, badges, certificates, and other rewards to celebrate milestones as students master concepts and improve their skills. Using games rooms and class “leader boards” provide alternative ways to reach students motivated by different types of rewards.

5. Give teachers data: Technology-based programs are uniquely capable of gathering data as students complete their work. Giving teachers access to real-time data on how their students are progressing provides a powerful mechanism to inform 1:1 feedback sessions and small group remediation.

Technology is part of the teacher toolbox that can be used to engage older students to read, learn and increase their confidence.

Read more about how BrightFish Learning in middle and high schools here.

Content for older students needs to be high-interest and accessible.