Struggling Readers: The Struggles

Struggling readers have a number of barriers to their success that can be overcome if they are properly understood and addressed. Left unchecked, these barriers can grow into an unmanageable weight for both the student and the educators who are trying to help them.

1. The Experience Struggle

Ten chances to one, a struggling reader will not have much book experience. There is a great disparity in the amount of book experience children entering kindergarten have: some have none; some have well over 1000 hours of quality book experience with their parents. Children with no book experience enter kindergarten without such simple knowledge as where the book begins, what direction the text is supposed to be read, and where the book ends. Children without book experience probably don't have parents who read, and they don't see reading as being an everyday activity that is done for enjoyment. As time goes by, the difference in the amount of book experience a struggling reader has and his or her peers have increases.

Solution: A lot of book experience before, during, and after school. This is easier said than done because resource people including the parents are required to fully help this struggling reader.

2. The Self-Esteem Struggle

Struggling readers are often embarrassed to read in front of their peers because they can not read as well as them. Struggling readers are the brunt of criticism, jokes, and teasing when they read in front of their peers, so they often avoid it like the plague. They might deliberately try to get sent into the hall or office if they know that oral reading is approaching. If they are called on to read, they try extra hard to struggle because they quickly learn if they struggle too much, someone else will take over. If they do manage to read out loud, they might obsess over how the reading sounds rather than trying to make meaning from the text.

Solutions: Have struggling readers read one-on-one with a teacher or a peer who can give them positive feedback on their reading. Let them practice ahead of time, anything they need to read in front of others. Instruct the whole class that saying words out loud while someone else is reading doesn't allow that person to use reading strategies themselves. This will make the struggling reader accountable to try their best without singling them out.

3. The Motivation Struggle

If a struggling student sees himself or herself as a non-reader or a poor reader, they may not be motivated to learn to read. They might not see any use in learning to read. If there isn't any intrinsic or extrinsic motivation for them to read, they might choose to give up. Struggling readers may have a defeatist attitude toward reading since they have already decided that they "can't" read. Students are disinterested in reading because of their lack of success in reading. Reading becomes an activity that is irritating, annoying and negative to them, so they find other activities with which they can experience success (such as sports).

Solutions: The key solution is to give the struggling reader many good reasons why they should learn to read. This might involve exposing them to many different jobs where reading is necessary, not to mention the benefits to their school career. Struggling readers need to experience success--that is the intrinsic motivation--in reading many times, so goals should be set that are achievable in the short-term. For some students, extrinsic motivation might work at the beginning. For example, they might receive stars on a chart, or a pencil for reaching a goal. Try to move from the extrinsic to the intrinsic because after a while extrinsic rewards don't carry the same weight.

4. The Comprehension Struggle

Many struggling readers are able to decode text with few problems, but they have no idea what it is about. They may be able to answer explicit questions about the text, but any question requiring a higher level of thinking may be difficult.

Solutions: Good readers already have a sense of how to make meaning from text--they re-read, they question, they interpret, they self-monitor, they clarify, they judge, they predict, they do everything that a struggling reader does not. The solution is to teach the struggling reader all of the reading strategies that good readers use as a matter of practice. What is innate in good readers is a mystery to struggling readers. Give them many opportunities to practice these reading strategies.

5. The Other Struggle

Each struggling reader is unique. There could be another or many other reasons why they struggle. They might have a learning disability or a rotten home life. Whatever the struggle, try to overcome it by educating yourself on the struggling reader's needs including finding as many strategies as possible that will support him or her.

Author: Peter Waycik
About the Author:

Peter Waycik is a reading specialist and an elementary teacher in the wilds of Northern Ontario, Canada. He manages an education article database, and provides thousands of math worksheets to teachers and parents for free at

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