Students entering high school are all over the place when it comes to their reading skills. Some read at the college level already, while others struggle. In general, though, they’re 1-2 grade levels behind where they need to be.
For the average student, who is a little behind, we know what works. Care about reading and invest time teaching it. Teach specific strategies of skillful readers with challenging texts, while at the same time encouraging students to read voluminously books of their choice. It’s hard, but it’s easy.
My colleagues and I have had moderate to strong success with this Reading Apprenticeship + Independent Reading approach. For students who read above, at, or slightly below grade level, the program has helped students read better, feel better about reading, and build their reading lives.
Unfortunately, what works for 70 to 75 percent of our students has not worked consistently for the lowest quarter of them. We’ve found that students who read at the third through fifth grade level do not improve at the same rate as their peers. Teacher Pam Mueller calls these students “lifers.”
This year, my colleagues in Hayward and San Francisco are working together, in different ways, to do something about this problem. Here’s a quick summary of our two approaches:
+ San Francisco: Reading Lab
After looking at the data last year, the thoughtful principal recommended built-in reading and Math intervention classes for incoming ninth graders. These small classes (about 15 students each) resemble Ms. Mueller’s class as outlined in Lifers: Learning from At-Risk Adolescent Readers and follow WestEd’s Reading Apprenticeship framework, which allows for additional reading practice and dedicated time for reading.
So far, the three sections are going very well. Last Spring, when the teachers began preparing the curriculum, they expressed concern that students would feel stigmatized being placed in Reading Lab. Not so! At all. There’s tons of joy, and so far, the students are joyfully serious.
+ Hayward: Reading Cohort
Today I attended this year’s first meeting of a teacher-led study team on reading, founded last year by teacher-leader Tess Lantos. This year’s goal for the cohort, which includes the principal and teachers from all disciplines, is to learn how to meet the needs of the school’s lowest-skilled readers.
The teachers will look at the results from the reading diagnostic, which students took a few weeks ago, and each identify five focal students. Then, the teachers will administer the Qualitative Reading Inventory to gain insights about exactly where each student struggles in their reading. From there, the interventions will begin, either in small groups or individually.
I’m very excited by this approach, too, particularly because the cohort includes Social Studies, Math, Science, and Spanish teachers. It’s not a normal thing to see non-English teachers working earnestly to improve their reading instruction.
I am fortunate to work with smart, skilled colleagues who care deeply about their students. My colleagues really get how important reading is for a student’s academic success and overall well-being.
What do you think? Do you have comments or questions? Please leave a brilliant insight!