Imagine yourself to be the teacher of a classroom of young elementary school students. Maybe, some of you are that teacher. The children in your class are bright, beautiful, inquisitive, and growing up to be everything their parents hoped for. But you notice a distinct delay in the reading ability of a few students. What do YOU do?
Well, what do you do? There are some who might adopt a “wait and see” attitude. Others might think it best to inform the school support staff, as they’re exposed to the newest training and tools, right? Still, some teachers might not really know if they need to do anything at all. Who is making the right choices?
The Right Choice for Reading
Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic answer, and not one avenue is right for ALL children, as they are all unique and learn differently. However, I can offer some insight as to why the “wait and see” attitude should be avoided, or at least critiqued harshly.
Studies have shown that the earlier reading difficulties are assessed, the more successful that reader will be in the future. Take, for instance, a study that was done at the Bethel School District in Eugene, OR. Although the school has a low socioeconomic status with a high mobility rate of students, the practical application of a new reading initiative brought their level of non-reading first graders from 15% down to 2%! A nearly unheard of, unbelievable improvement.
Adjusting to a New Reading Program
Prior to the new reading program, it’s important to note there were a few things deemed to be contributing to the extremely high percentage of non-readers after first grade. We’ll review a few of the findings, but if you want to read the whole study and learn more about their prevention model, click here: https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/fall-2004/practicing-prevention
First off, there was a lack of consistency from school to school within the district, even within the same grades of the same school. As adults, we know that lack of consistency equates to poor outcomes, no matter your age.
Next, it was determined that the district’s half-day kindergarten was not focused on learning and comprehension and definitely was not a platform to catapult children into reading readiness. In fact, it was the opposite, serving as a social-readiness program. While we can agree that socialization is key to a well-rounded and happy child, there does need to be a balance that incorporates structured learning of core subjects.
Another visible failure was lumping all children that showed any sign of reading difficulty into one group where they would receive a special education program and perhaps speech therapy. What was learned is that many of the children who displayed difficulty reading were actually “instructionally disabled,” meaning that they hadn’t received instruction appropriate for their needs. Every one of us learns in our own way, children are no different. To assume that one learning program fits all students is a misconception.
A New Reading Initiative
Instead of sending children away to the special education classes, this new initiative placed the students in figurative groups. One group is labeled for those who are on track, the second for those who are behind but making progress, and a third of those that are at risk. From there, the educators provided different curriculums to different students based on their assessment levels. Ultimately, that meant the at-risk Kindergarteners were getting an extra 30 minutes of reading instruction each day.
While in the classroom, students were physically placed in small groups based on their reading level. This led to many visible positive effects. One was that the children could help and support each other while excelling at their own pace. They received attention and guidance from the teacher, specific to their current level. All these changes brought about a significant, positive change in students all around.
“By putting them in a small group, by getting them right where their skill level is, we alleviate some … problems. They start feeling good about themselves, and they don’t have to act out.”
– Rhonda Wolter, District Reading Coordinator
What would have happened if the Bethel School District had a “wait and see” attitude? Would waiting longer have improved their reading percentages? Definitely not! Early prevention is the best prevention. Don’t let your student get “lost” in the shuffle. Take a vested interest in their reading and learning. If you notice children showing signs of reading difficulty or apprehension, speak with school staff members specializing in reading education, and don’t delay. The quicker a child can be assessed, the quicker they can get on the path to better reading and comprehension, paving the way to being a well-educated adult.