Engaging the Disengaged, Number 4

How can we individualize reading experiences for struggling readers?

How do we engage a diverse group of adolescents? Individualized Daily Reading (IDR), that’s how!In 2010 I was given a class that included the four unique students described below along with eleven other struggling readers. The mission was to catch these students up in four half-hour sessions per week. While not all caught up, the average grew two years as documented by our assessments. But my early worries were not about catching them up; they were how to keep this group of unique students engaged. A huge focus on IDR with all of its benefits-choice of books, individual feedback, strategy instruction, and time to share and collaborate-did just that.

Joseph, an autistic eighth-grader found living on a bus with his mother, could decode fluently and spent hours reading the dictionary but comprehended nothing. We began by reading Shel Silverstein poems while using sensory image for him to keep track of his thinking. Thinking while reading was completely new for Joseph. Eventually he could list dozens of images, but not until he was on the third Silverstein poetry book well into the fall. Next he chose and adored Dr. Suess. Last, he spent hours reading Nate the Great using a three-column note page that had him list conflict, clues and resolution; though he struggled to identify the clues. He grew from basically a no documented score to fifth-grade level that year!Rob was a fifth-grader who struggled to stay focused. I would hold my conferences at one table so that he could sit right below me on the floor. Many times on each page he would get distracted and look away from the text. I would gently guide him back. He would say “Thank you Mrs. D,” and continue reading. Rob was one of the students who not only caught up but was reading ahead of grade-level at the end of the year.

Rosalba, an ELL seventh-grader from Chihuahua, Mexico joined us in January. She began with Frog and Toad when given a choice of books at her English reading level. She rapidly graduated to Junie B. Jones; she was on her seventh book in this series when she sadly walked out of my life. My heart broke. She had borrowed the book Little Woman in Spanish. Her last words to me were to describe her plan to read the book in Spanish first and then English. I was floored by her personal plan to help herself, and I will use that in the future as an ELL technique. This precious student may never know the gem she gave me.

Jaron had been kicked out of his last school. It took several days to get him to choose a book and settle down. I finally hooked him on an R.L. Stine by telling him that in this book someone’s head got chopped off. He finished this book quickly claiming it was the first he had completed since second grade. We celebrated as a group, and Jaron read five more before getting bored. I spend time finding out student’s interests: his was war. I found many war novels and, once again, he was hooked. Towards the end of the year, Jaron was getting attention for being our local war expert and NOT the tough kid who was kicked out of his last school. Shortly before school let out for summer, I arranged for him to e-mail a past principal and retired marine general. I watched his eyes shine as he wrote all his questions to his new pen pal!How do we engage disengaged readers? IDR, that’s how!