Building Reading Skills – One Step at a Time

by | Jan 19, 2018


Students who consistently struggle over time to learn to read, begin to develop low self-esteem and some children might even say that they feel stupid. These feelings may be a direct result of being called “stupid” or “lazy” by their peers or others. There is plenty of research that supports no correlation between intelligence and the difficulties students experience when learning to read.

Parents and educators should share with students that their reading struggles have nothing to do with their intelligence and they simply need to be taught in the way their brains learn. This can be one of the most empowering pieces of information that we can provide to students who struggle with learning to read. 

Students need to know and understand that there are a plethora of tools and resources to address the way they learn to read. Once they understand that they are not alone, they will begin to feel better about themselves and their abilities.

“The fluent reader sounds good, is easy to listen to, and reads with enough expression to help the listener understand and enjoy the material.” – Charles Clark, “Building Fluency: Do It Right and Do It Well” (1999)

Reading Skills Comprehension as a Foundation

Why start with understanding comprehension? Students need solid comprehension strategies to become purposeful, active readers who are in control of their own reading to understand complex text. Comprehension strategies can be viewed as the blueprint that outlines the steps that good readers use to make sense of the complex text.

“A student must able to read correctly approximately 95 percent of the words accurately in text to comprehend what is read. Moreover, to comprehend, a student must know the meanings of 90 to 95 percent of the words read.” –G. Reid Lyon, “How Children Learn to Read and Evidence-Based Reading Instruction (2013)

There are simple strategies that can be taught such as teaching struggling readers to use a checklist. Some students struggle with reading and processing language and they have a difficult time with organization and processing verbal directions. One of the best strategies is to teach these students how to make a checklist to outline each step of a particular task.

For example, phonics programs that are systematic and simple have a natural progression that is logical for these types of learners. This provides them with the supports they need in order to make sense of and retain the information that was taught. The research on comprehension instruction indicates that comprehension can be improved by instruction that teaches students to use specific comprehension strategies. List-making is one of those strategies, simple but effective.

Keep Valuable Teaching Techniques at Hand

Explicit, direct, and systematic teaching techniques are valuable approaches to teach comprehension strategies. Research shows that this approach provides the structure that all students need to increase their ability to comprehend different types of literature. Explicit instruction is a core component of the Gradual Release of Responsibility approach, whereby teachers provide the “I do” part of the lesson by explicitly sharing with students why and when they should use a specific comprehension strategy, what specific strategy to use, and how to apply the strategy. Gradual Release of Responsibility steps for explicit instruction consists of the teacher providing an explicit and direct explanation, modeling (teacher thinking aloud), guided practice, and independent practice (students applying what they learned).

  • Explicit, systematic, and direct instruction

The teacher provides instruction to students explaining why the strategy supports or helps with comprehension and when to use and apply the strategy when reading different types of literature.

  • Demonstration and modeling

The teacher demonstrates and models, how to use and apply the comprehension strategy, one such technique is “thinking aloud” while reading the text that the students are using.

  • Guided practice

The teacher provides guidance and assistance to students as they learn how. Also when to use and apply the comprehension strategy.

  • Application and independent practice

The teacher provides guidance and assistance to students as they learn how and when to use and apply the comprehension strategy.

“The gradual release of responsibility model of instruction has documented as an effective approach for improving literacy achievement (Fisher & Frey, 2007), reading comprehension (Lloyd, 2004).”

Using these comprehension instructional strategies and suggestions, you can ensure that all students are being provided with the supports needed to be successful when learning to read new and complex information.

In today’s schools, too many children struggle with learning to read. While there are no easy answers or quick solutions for optimizing reading achievement, there now exists extensive research about the kind of instruction that needs to be given to children so they can learn to read well. We must ensure that our schools and classrooms are preparing all students for college and the career of their choice. 

When students experience success while reading, their self-esteem increases, and they have access to a brighter future. We can all agree on one thing, reading builds a great foundation for successful adults. For this reason, we encourage you to take an active interest in helping others improve their reading skills, ultimately improving their life!