Let's Stop Pulling Kids From Reading to Give Them Reading

Topics: Literacy

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    Often in my workshops, I tell groups if they are going to remember only one thing from my presentation that will raise reading achievement more than anything else for struggling students, remember this: Let’s stop pulling kids from reading to give them reading. What do I mean? Well, I don’t know if your schools are like the schools I work with most often, but when kids struggle in reading, especially if they ultimately receive special education services, the most frequent "intervention" that is tried is to give them one period a day (usually about 45 minutes) of reading instruction in a small group, somewhere away from the general education setting. Often this instruction is provided at a slower pace, in materials that are not as challenging as the materials being provided in general education. And importantly, this instruction is often provided at the SAME TIME as the general education reading instruction.

    What’s wrong with this picture?  Let’s see, if we look at this from a common sense standpoint, do children with developmental reading problems need overall less reading instruction than typically developing kids or do they need more reading instruction?  I live with a 12-year-old daughter.  One of the new statements I hear often in my household is "Duh Dad!"  Of course struggling students need more instruction than typically developing students.  So what’s so bad about pulling them out to get it?  At least 2 things.  First, they are missing what’s going on in the general classroom, and if we ever are going to get them back full time learning in the general education classroom, they need to be taught in those materials.  Second, often times when we pull kids out from general education instruction, they actually get less direct instruction than they would if they stayed in the general curriculum in the first place.


    The vision of special education in 1975 was not that children with disabilities would receive services.  The vision was that those services would be effective.  The vision was that struggling students would receive super charged instruction, from teachers with more training than the average bear, using effective strategies, with smaller student-teacher ratios.  And that based on this instruction, many students would work their way back into the general instruction.  In short, we need to teach more in less time and catch kids up!


    To reach this vision, we must STOP PULLING KIDS FROM GENERAL EDUCATION READING INSTRUCTION TO GIVE THEM READING instruction.  Now, I’m not talking about doing goofy things here.  Like, let’s not subject a non-reader to 25 minutes a day of sustained silent reading.  If we do this, I will guarantee, it will not be sustained, it will not be silent and it will not be reading.  Most kids, however far behind they are, can benefit from some components of core instruction.  So when students struggle, let’s examine closely what components from core instruction they can benefit from, let’s continue providing that to them, then let’s provide additional reading instruction matched to the student’s specific instructional needs.


    The next predictable question that will come up is "What will we pull them out of then, if not reading?"  I will answer this question as the parent of a child with a reading disability:  "I don’t care!"  If she can’t read, she can’t do science.  If she can’t read, she can’t learn social studies.  Heck, if she can’t read, she can’t even do math the way we teach math these days.  We must realize that everything in schools cannot be equally important.  And if we’re going to prioritize one thing at the top of the list, it has got to be reading.

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