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Struggling Readers

An old saying in education GOEs, "Students learn to read in elementary school, and read to learn in secondary school." But what if students arrive in middle school without having mastered simple vocabulary, decoding skills and comprehension, and can't read well? What if the lifelong love of reading that teachers hope to instill never takes root?

According to Lucy M. Calkins, professor of English education at Columbia University's Teachers College and author of The Art of Teaching Reading, language arts teachers simply do not dedicate enough time for reading. "English is usually in 45-minute periods,'' she says, "but the data say that students need two hours of reading a day to maintain grade level." Calkins advocates 90-minute language arts periods where students read at least 30 minutes in class, followed by explicit instruction on reading skills such as looking for clues about what will happen next in a story, or making connections between the setting of a novel and how it affects the characters.

However, what is less widely accepted is the fact that teachers in other content areas can assist struggling readers significantly, and can structure activities that will boost student performance in reading content-based material. Reading instruction is a responsibility shared by all teachers, regardless of level or content area, but for many the task may be daunting.

This article appeared in the October 2006 edition of the Burrelles.

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