Every Student Can Read - Unique Approaches to Teaching Reading

written by: Nancy Martin, English Department Chair



Every Student Can Read - Unique Approaches to Teaching Reading

Like most schools, Eagle Hill highlights the institution’s mission and philosophy on their website. Eagle Hill School has eleven statements listed under our philosophy. The first five directly apply to the educational objectives of the school:

Eagle Hill School believes:
  • that every student can learn.
  • that every person who interacts with a student is a teacher.
  • that learning differently demands teaching differently.
  • that the foremost responsibility for pedagogical decisions lies with individual teachers.
  • that all teachers should have the necessary resources for implementing the curriculum.
These beliefs are embodied in the Reading Department and are put into practice on a daily basis.

I Positively Hate to Read
stack of booksWhen students first come to Eagle Hill and enter the Reading Department they often seem discouraged, dispirited, lack confidence, and their interest in reading varies from mildly averse to positively hating to read. As the courses progress and student teacher relationships are formed, the teachers often hear heartrending stories from students about previous experiences with reading classes or school in general. Students often share that in prior educational settings they failed, they may have repeated grades, they have been labeled as “lazy” or even “unteachable”.

In previous blogs this month, we highlighted the three pillars that form the underlying supports in all of our reading classes: Independent Reading, Assistive Technology, and Structured Word Inquiry. Overriding all of this, however, is the way we approach teaching reading to our students.

First, we know that we have to establish relationships with our students. Many have been so let down by previous schools that, understandably, they don’t trust us. We are yet another teacher who is going to point out all of their mistakes and make them read books of which they have no interest. This leads us to two elements we strongly adhere to: give students choice and find students’ strengths and teach to them.

I Want to Read
In a recent reading class that had returned from a term break, two students needed to choose independent reading books. Both are reluctant readers. When discussing possible books each said to the teacher, “You will never hear these words out of my mouth again, but I want to read …”. They then named specific books. Each had heard of titles that interested them. One chose a novel because she had heard other students talk about how much they liked it and the other chose a book his brother was listening to while driving to work. Giving students freedom of choice of what to read is pivotal in drawing them to reading. Another student made it quite clear to her teacher she was not a reader. It took her three months to read her first independent book. Following that, she read the next four books in two months. In a note at graduation, she told her reading teacher she now considers herself a reader.

DoodleTeaching to a student’s strengths requires knowing how a student learns best. Last year a student in Reading Tutorial was quite artistic. The teacher and student figured out that when the student was allowed to draw or doodle while listening to a book, she had much better retention of what she heard than even if she followed along with the book. This student then took this strategy to her History course and while the teacher lectured, she doodled, resulting in better retention which she was able to demonstrate on quizzes.

One day during class a teacher had her students doing a word sort activity and one student had her cards placed upside down on the table in front of her. The teacher told the student she could turn them around and the student replied that it’s easier for her to read this way, but her previous teachers at former schools never allowed her to do this. The teacher stated that she’d never seen her do this before, but if it was easier, she should read the way she feels most comfortable.

Another approach we use in our courses is customizing each student’s program. While all of our reading courses include reading comprehension and vocabulary development, each course emphasizes certain skills and strategies necessary to strengthen reading. This occurs by determining which courses students enroll based upon students’ testing, internal assessments and teacher recommendations.

Reading with Learning Differences
We also know that no two students are alike and no one with dyslexia or any language-based learning disability presents the same. We may have four students enrolled in a class section of Reading Fluency or two students enrolled in a Reading Tutorial course. Once the teacher gets to know each student, she may design customized class activities to meet the needs of each student. In any reading class on any given day, students may be doing completely different activities. Some students may simply need more time to process information, so rather than having each student work on the same task at the same time, the teacher may stagger the activities so students do not feel pressured to hurry up and finish simply because every other student in the class is done.

Our seasoned reading teachers are professionally trained in multiple ways to approach teaching reading. Together, there is a combined 125 years of experience in teaching reading, yet we continue to be amazed and energized nearly every day by our students. As teachers we are given the autonomy and resources to teach the way students learn versus expecting students to learn from the way we teach.


Sources:
Beers, G. Kylene, and Robert E. Probst. Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters. Scholastic Inc., 2017.
 
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Learning Diversity is a blog hosted by Eagle Hill School where educators, students, and other members of the LD community regularly contribute posts and critical essays about learning and living in spaces that privilege the inevitability of human diversity.

The contributors of Learning Diversity come together to engage our readers from a variety of disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, biological sciences and mathematics, athletics, and residential life. Embracing learning diversity means understanding and respecting our students as whole persons.


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