Hey there, teacher! I’m so excited for today’s topic, because literacy is my THING. Today we’re going to talk about the kiddos who are struggling to learn to read and how to get them over the finish line to become proficient readers. Whichever primary grade you teach, this is absolutely for you. No matter what grade they are in, all struggling readers need consistency.
January is a time when we look back at how far our students have come but also toward the finish line. Where do we want them to end up?
Here’s the podcast version of this post:
Have a struggling reader?
This is the time of year when we really start noticing who is excelling and who is falling behind. That’s good, because it lets us plan for those students who aren’t meeting their goals and find ways to support them. The most important thing struggling readers need from you to help them make progress is consistency.
A struggling reader might be the kindergartener who has yet to decode words. In first grade it may be the student who struggles to read a complete sentence. In second grade, it may be the kid who can read but not really well or fluently.
If you have a student in mind that sounds like one of those examples, this post will help you. This number one thing is something that took me a long time to realize, but it’s been a game changer for me and the students I work with.
Why repetition and consistency?
Repetition is the mother of skill. I’ve said this before, and it’s certainly true. Tony Robbins is a life coach I love to listen to, and that is my favorite advice from him that relates to teaching. I’ve learned over the years that he’s right.
When we repeat something over and over, skill is born. That repetition mothers skill. In the ten years I’ve been teaching reading, I have repeated things over and over. I’ve refined my strategies, but that repetition has mothered my skill as a literacy teacher.
We want our students to be skilled in reading, right? There’s not much they can do if they aren’t successful readers. We’re playing a role in society by helping our students become proficient at reading.
That’s why we need to make sure we’re consistent in our teaching. They need learning opportunities that are repetitive enough for them to become skilled at them.
Here’s how to accomplish this so you can apply this rule to your teaching.
Many times, as teachers we’re distracted by the shiny things: cute activities, wonderful things we see on Pinterest, and the cool things a teacher did on Facebook. In reality, those cute activities and week-long units aren’t helping our students become masters at reading.
They need repetition and consistency.
How do I establish consistency?
So right now, I’m telling you to ignore that cute pin and what’s the exciting thing you can do this week.
Focus on being consistent in the areas that mean the most. These are times like your language arts block and small reading groups. That’s when you need consistency the most.
How can you apply this rule of consistency to help struggling readers? I’m going to share some advice that has worked for me over the years. These steps will help you identify where your students need consistency and how to implement it in your daily schedule.
Step #1: Assess Your Students
Before we can provide consistency in the areas they need it most, we must first assess their needs. Now, I believe our kids are overly assessed, but there are no more important assessments done in their whole time at school than the ones when they are learning to read.
These assessments really guide our instruction and tell us what skills the student is lacking in. That lets us get them over the finish line of becoming fluent readers.
This assessment will look a little different depending on the grade level. In K, 1, and 2 I definitely recommend doing a phonological awareness and phonemic awareness assessment. In my district, we use the PAST, Phonological Awareness Skills Test, and this is a running test that is done in K, 1, and 2 because it shows a progression in skills and it zones in on what the students need.
We also need a phonics skills test. Phonics skills are the same everywhere. They progress in the same manner no matter what test you use, so find a good phonics assessment and pair that with your phonological and phonemic awareness assessment to see which specific phonics skills your students need to focus on.
You will also include letter and sound identification. Even at the second grade level, you’ll be surprised how many students, although they may be able to identify the letters and sounds, are not very fluent with them. That means it takes them a long time to take that sound from their brain, produce and blend it with other sounds, and make a word. I’ve written an article with a free resource about letter and sound fluency you can check out HERE.
Don’t forget a sight word assessment. I use my rainbow word system HERE. In my district, we use the Dolch word list. You’re going to have to assess sight words, because without that knowledge your students cannot be successful readers.
Finally, if you’re a first or second grade teacher, you’ll need to throw a fluency assessment in there. Maybe your kids can decode words and they know their sight words, but is it coming together fluently? Is it painful when you hear them read? If so, they need practice in fluency, and that is also something we can add consistency to.
Step #2: Find Ways to Practice the Skill
Now that we have assessed our struggling students and pinpointed the area or areas they need help in, it’s time to really investigate and find ways to practice that skill consistently. That means every day as a routine.
I’m going to give you some examples of things I do that are consistent, routine-based, that help me zone in on their area of need.
I used to teach kindergarten, and now that I’m in second grade, I have been surprised that often the areas they struggle in are the pre-k and kindergarten skills of phonological and phonemic awareness. Sometimes mastering those skills is what’s holding those readers back. Phonological and phonemic awareness can have lasting effects on a child’s ability to read.
Sometimes in second grade, I have to back up and pull out my Word Works, which is a daily routine for phonological and phonemic awareness. I do this in my RTI groups every day with students who have needs in that area until they master that skill. You can get more detail here on Word Works for KINDERGARTEN and FIRST GRADE.
Then I move on up to letter and sound identification and fluency. You’d be surprised how many students aren’t fluent enough in identification. I may do a letter and sound routine with them where they say the letter’s name and sound every day until it’s second nature. They repeat it so much they never forget.
I’ll do the same with the next phonics skill. We repeat it daily, with consistency, until they master it. This is the reason that almost everything in my Teachers Pay Teachers store is based on the idea of consistency. You can take the product and reuse it for many days, because I truly believe that consistency is what builds the skill.
What type of activities give consistency?
Whether you’re looking at a resource I created or someone else created, be sure you are checking it out through the glasses of consistency. Is this something that will only last a few days? You don’t want that. You want a learning routine you can teach to your students and they can repeat over and over.
One of my newer examples of this is Phast Phonics. It’s a ROUTINE I created a couple of months ago. You can preview one of the three Phast Phonics routines if you want to see it in action. The students practice a certain phonics skill every single day, and then they go on to the next skill.
Here’s the thing: the structure of the activity does not change. The students know exactly what to do, but they’re still getting to learn a new skill when they’re ready. You could even use one of these routines in RTI to practice with consistency for as many days as you need.
Step #3: Schedule
The last step is to put it on your schedule. If we just say something out loud, our overwhelmed brains may forget. I really love writing something down, whether it’s your goals or schedule. When are you going to do it? Carve out your time, and make sure you put it somewhere it won’t get ignored. Do it every day.
My friend Susan talked with me HERE about how she uses First Grade Word Works every day in her morning meeting to help her students get their most essential reading skills in. She understood she needed to get those skills in every single day, so she put it on her schedule. Now her students show up and know exactly what to do because of her consistency.
Ready for some consistency?
Trust me, I’ve done it the other way. This is the way to go. Don’t make the same mistakes I did!
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Until next time, keep making a difference, difference maker!