Here’s the second in a series of posts about a few books I’ve loved working with over the years – starting at those for readers with the highest ability and working down. The first post is here.
Older struggling readers have very low expectations of what they can achieve and I've generally found those same low expectations are echoed by their teachers and support workers.
When I was volunteering in a small school for boys with behavioural and emotional difficulties, the English teacher asked me to liaise with the support assistant who was working with the same year 7 lad - just to make sure we were on the same wavelength.
I showed her this:
Her response was, "but he can't read!" But he can, I assured her. He'd even read "Ipswich Australia" fluently because he was gaining confidence in attacking long words. Ipswich contains very simple code and I suspect he just knew Australia. The vast array of sight words that older students bring to a lesson is a wonderful bonus for That Reading Thing tutors.
Years later, I was working with five year 9s in an academy. None of them had been identified as having a special need but all of them were going to need a reader at GCSE. After a couple of sessions, I went into the reading support room, fanning the pages of this book:
The head support worker (a retired SENCO) said, "Oh - you won't get them reading that!"
I replied, "I was just coming to show you what they're all reading." All of them. And they were understanding it. And they were enjoying it. Even the weakest reader who decided she didn't really need to improve her literacy "because I'm going to be a hairdresser" (sigh) would start each session asking if she could read the "ghosty book".
High expectation is a marvellous tool when it comes to encouraging struggling readers, but it requires a couple of things to be firmly in place.
- They have to have conquered any fear of attacking long words. This requires practice from the first TRT lesson and involves building, spelling, reading out of context and reading in text, words that can be decoded at the current level. That means admit, until, combat, illness, fantastic etc in the first lesson and working up to extending, suspending, accomplishing, instructions, recognition, attraction, etc within 3 to 5 hours. This support gives them huge confidence when the code gets more complex.
- They must be feeling secure in the knowledge that The Deal will be applied in every situation. The Deal is: "You never have to know anything we haven't learned together" and this safety net means that their days of associating reading with humiliation are over and they can start learning from errors.