George Lucas Educational Foundation

Students arrive to middle school with lack of reading skills

Students arrive to middle school with lack of reading skills

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I am currently enrolled in a graduate program, which will certify me as a literacy specialist. We have studied many trends and issues in literacy education. One topic we have discussed is how and why students arrive to middle school with a major lack of reading skills. When assessed in middle school, the most common lack of reading skills is reading comprehension. Many students have not acquired the vocabulary and comprehension strategies they need to gain meaning from text. Also, readers cannot attain proficiency unless they progress from their current stage through reading to learn. In other words, the gap of their struggles gets wider. Some students learn to fake it or give up early. My question is how can we prevent this as teachers? How would you make changes in your school or education to help prevent this? I would appreciate any comments, suggestions, or simple personal experiences as a teacher. Thank you!

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Beverly Piontek's picture
Beverly Piontek
Middle School Literacy teacher Monroe,LA

This year I am using the 2 sisters' approach by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. Their book, The Daily Five outlines a time honored strategy for training kids to love reading independently. Their follow up book, CAFE (acronym for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, abdExtebd Vocabulary) is a how to guide that gives teachers the tools to set up their classroom for indidual and small group instruction and assessment. Though a veteran teacher, I appreciate creative ideas, especially when they are simple and make sense. I am excited about the prospect of training my students using this approach starting day 1 of school.

Wayne's picture

I work with BD/ED students in an economically depressed area. I have found that many of my students simply have never read except for school. I feel that in order to teach reading as a life-long choice we must introduce students early and with fun. I have never, even as a student myself, enjoyed grammar or a "analysis" of a story. Why can't we hold discussions with young people as to what they would like to read and then let them either write an ending or have a discussion on the analysis instead of same technique that has been used for decades?

April's picture

I agree that many students are not ready to advance when it comes to comprehension and/or fluency, but they slip through the cracks anyway. One way I have tried to improve reading with my students is to really encourage summer reading programs. Our local library has a wonderful program that offers many incentives for dedicated readers. While this won't solve the problem, perhaps it will help. Also, teaching them about their own reading level, such as with Lexile scores, can help them choose appropriate books.

Wayne's picture

Here in Southern Illinois the reading comprehension among at-risk students is horrific. Why we don't have more parental involvement is so sad. They don't seem to understand or, sometimes, care that their children will be in the same economic status as they are if they don't get through at least high school. Why can't we implement more intense reading skills to these students supplemented by a trade so at least they have hope. They seem to come to us with no skill to speak of socially or academically.

Wayne's picture

Why couldn't we get a set block of time, maybe 20 minutes in which the entire school stops and reads a book. I mean students, teachers, administrators all stop and read at mid-morning. Also, why not get some readers to go from the middle school to the elementary schools to read to the kids there once or twice a month.

Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price

The pattern I see is that American public schools like to talk about teaching reading ( so there's a lot of chatter about comprehension, meaning from print, balanced literacy, no one method works best for everyone), but they don't actually intend to teach reading. How do I know that? Because they continue to use the essential fallacy of Look-say, which is sight-words. If children are expected to memorize words as graphic design, you can kiss them goodbye as fluent readers. They will instead end up being the children described in Susan Offen's question.

Here's a good general article explaining this position:

Also see short video about what phonics can do:

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I've seen this addressed in many ways:

1. The curriculum that works for kids in schools devoted to dyslexic children, such as Wilson Reading, Orton Gillingham and Linda Mood Bell should be used in every school to make sure every kid gets the intensive foundation they need. I don't know why we don't use these research based methods more widely for all children.

2. The gap between student interest level and student reading level can be wide at the beginning. We used audio books with our kids to help close this gap. They listened to books like the Harry Potter Series (we did together- they were great!) and this kept them interested in the big picture of reading while the texts they read in school were not as complex or exciting- it boosted their appetite for reading and tackling thick books.

3. We need to allow them to read any and everything- and have parents and teachers- even siblings- ask them about the material, talk about it, learn to ask the next question, including inference, etc. If we help families support the deeper analysis of reading, that may be valued more than "Read for 15 minutes" - which sounds more like a chore or punishment than a joy.

4. Tweet, Skype or Facebook with authors and make the reading/writing process real (I always too my kids to local author events- Eoin Colfer who wrote the Artemis Fowl series even signed my oldest son's cast!) It's possible - you just need to ask.

Comprehension is a product of not only reading, but of being asked the next question and learning to be critical, positively and negatively of the material you read, which needs reinforcement. If we blend fun and enjoyment- discovery and curiosity- with reading, and help reinforce the summarizing/reporting/thinking steps all along the way, we'll have more active learners.

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