Helping struggling readers become college- and career-ready

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Educators at an Illinois high school pull out the stops to encourage interest in reading for struggling learners

One of the most important life skills is reading. It’s crucial for job attainment, higher education, and being a good citizen. So when Elizabeth Hauser and Katherine Young, special education co-teachers at Grayslake Community High School District 127 in Illinois, were faced with struggling and reluctant readers, they put their heads together and came up with a host of strategies to get their students reading and excited about it. Hauser is a reading specialist and certified dyslexia practitioner. Young is a certified speech/language pathologist.

The webinar was sponsored by LearningAlly.org, which provides books on tape read by human voices. Hauser and Young use the service often.

Here are some of Hauser and Young’s strategies, as presented in the webinar “College and Career Ready! Motivate and Empower Struggling Readers in High School” on edWeb.net. Some content was also presented in a LearningAlly blog.

They used a five-pronged approach: 1) Collaboration and Outreach, 2) Physical Classroom Design; 3) Environment and Culture, 4) Motivation, and 5) Assistive Technology.

Collaboration and Outreach

Hauser and Young created reading activities that included the entire school, including other teachers and the general ed student population. They were surprised at how powerful this is. Here are some of their events:

  • Family Reading Night: Participants were encouraged to take pictures of themselves reading at home. They could include other family members or pets. The pictures were posted on social media (Instagram or Twitter) and students could vote on the best picture posted. Hauser and Young described it as a sneaky way to get kids to read at home.
  • World Read Aloud Day: World Read Aloud Day is an annual event during which people around the globe read aloud together and share stories to advocate for literacy as a human right that belongs to all people. The school used it as a read-a-thon fundraiser similar to walk-a-thon, where students raised money per minutes read. They used social media to advertise the event and partnered with local libraries to keep track of the minutes logged.
  • Teach-the-Teacher sessions: Hauser and Young administered a dyslexia simulation to attendees, which they obtained from the IDA (International Dyslexia Association). The teachers and parents who took the test were given text with misspelled words and reversed letters, then they had to give a presentation on the material immediately afterward, which many found intimidating. Hauser and Young videotaped interviews with the attendees who told how insecure the experiment made them feel.
  • Diverse books for Reading Month: Another collaborative effort was in March, recognized as Reading Month. They shared diverse literature school-wide, posting the book covers on the library bulletin board and on social media — for example, The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis. This helped represent the diverse community within the school and encouraged students to read outside their comfort zone.

Physical Classroom

Hauser and Young designed the classroom to be safe and welcoming. They:

  • Placed reference materials such as dictionaries, thesauruses and other tools near the classroom entrance in an attractive display
  • Used light covers which reduced the flourescent lighting
  • Displayed student work on the walls
  • Created a reading corner with comfy chairs and high-interest reading material at appropriate reading levels

Environment and Culture

They planned fun and engaging activities, such as:

  • Harry Potter photo booth

    Harry Potter week: To get participation from the entire school, they created a “Have You Seen This Wizard?” photo opportunity booth from cardboard boxes, and all those who had their picture taken in the booth got a free drink from the cafeteria. With the librarian’s help, they put on a sorting ceremony and created wands. Students also wrote short stories about being in Azkaban, the wizard prison. Students and teachers in the whole school dressed up during that week to add to the fun.

  • Dr. Seuss hat

    Dr. Seuss hat

    Fun with Dr. Seuss: On Read Across America Day, which is March 2 (Dr. Seuss’s birthday), any teacher in the school caught teaching literature by the students was awarded the opportunity to wear a Dr. Seuss hat and get their picture taken.

  • Comfort dog: Hauser and Young invite a comfort dog to come to the classroom once a month. The dog’s visit, which is free, helps students and they love reading with him. The dog is very therapeutic for some of the students.
  • Time outside: When weather allows the class goes outside, taking magazines or computers with them to listen to audio books.

Motivation

  • Kindles: To get students excited about reading, Hauser and Grant got each student their own Kindle, with funding help from Dollar General. This allows the students to hide their reading level from their peers. Hauser and Young loaded each Kindle library with high-interest, low-reading-level books and articles, and also installed LearningAlly.org on each device so that students can listen to books. Students are allowed to take the Kindles home and use them over breaks, and there are also some kept in the classroom. Since Kindles also have a camera and an Internet search engine, they facilitate other classroom activities besides reading.
  • Flipboard app: Hauser and Young installed Flipboard on each Kindle. Flipboard is a news service which presents articles based on the user’s interests.
  • Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) day: To prepare for this day, Hauser and Young created DEAR cards and gave them to students for good behavior. On Drop Everything And Read day, students could pull out the cards at any time and interrupt the class for 10 minutes of reading or listening to LearningAlly.org.
  • STAR student of the month: Hauser and Young use the STAR Assessment system by Renaissance Learning to keep track of student progress. In the system, students can track their own scores. The student who progresses most in the month is named “STAR student of the month,” and gets his or her picture in an attractive frame on the class bulletin board.
  • Movie field trips: These only happen once or twice a year and are carefully planned out. Hauser and Young look a year in advance to see which movies will be coming out and plan an activity around one that seems appropriate. For example, knowing that the movie Wonder was coming out, they had the class read the book first, then they went to see the movie. They used a similar tactic with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, reading the book as a class first, then having the students create and describe their own creatures, using Lindamood Bell’s “visualizing and verbalizing” strategy.
  • Kindness campaign: Along with the book and movie Wonder, the class organized a kindness campaign, where students could post their picture with a #InclusionRevoluion sign on social media.
  • Reading Leaders for Kindergarteners: The high school is down the street from the elementary school which many of the students attended, so teachers there know the students. Every year, the class takes a day and reads stories to kindergarteners. The kindergarteners look up to the students, giving them confidence, and it is a highlight of the year for many students.

Assistive Technology

  • LearningAlly.org: LearningAlly.org is an important tool for the class because it provides human (as opposed to computer) voices reading books. LearningAlly.org has an incredible selection and you can select material by topic,so it’s easy to find something of interest for every student. Hauser and Young pair students interested in the same topic so they can listen to books and articles together. LearningAlly also keeps track of the number of pages read. Students can control the speed of the reading and the program highlights words as they are read.
  • Co:Writer: Co:Writer by Don Johnson is a Chrome extension which helps students write more independently with it’s high-quality speech-to-text capabilities and vocabulary and grammar prediction. It’s very easy to install and turn on. The school got a site license so the product is usable by all students in the school.
  • Snap&Read: Snap&Read, also by Don Johnson, can read aloud any text selected. It offers multiple voices and speeds, simplifies complex vocabulary, and can translate between English and Spanish. Students use it to listen to what they have written, and this helps them edit their own writing. The school also got a site license for this product, so everyone in the school could use it.
  • Google Read & Write: Hauser and Young use the free version of Read&Write, which reads selected text, because it offers voices which sound more realistic. It works best with Google software.
  • Microsoft OneNote: Hauser and Young use OneNote to organize classroom material. Because they can access documents at the same time together, it’s great for co-teaching. It also lets the class save and add on to projects they are working on together, such as the list of prefixes they were making.
  • Google Docs and Google Classroom: Google Classroom keeps assignments very organized, and lets Hauser and Young create templates that students can access, and name the files for the students. This is helpful because students had tended not to rename files when saving them, so there were many untitled files. Google Docs also allows a version history so it’s possible to see whether students are using teacher suggestions to edit their writing.
  • picture of Boogie Board

    Boogie Board

    Boogie Boards: Boogie Boards are the modern equivalent of the slate used by children in frontier classrooms, except they are much cooler, producing neon green lines on a black background. They are also much cleaner than chalkboards or whiteboards. Hauser and Young use them on “Figurative Fridays,” where students write down idioms they think of and share them in class. The students receive the boards immediately before the exercise to prevent the distraction of doodling with them beforehand.

  • Multisensory tools: Hauser and Young use sand-writing tools, especially for sight words, and the Wilson Reading System to help students with decoding and spelling words. They laminated structure words and give them to students during exercises. They also use color-coded Linking Blocks to teach grammar and paragraph structure. They also play Upwords in class, frequently listening to Harry Potter on tape while they play.
  • Twitter logo

    Twitter

    Social media: Hauser and Young have found social media incredibly important for building relationships in school and in the community. Most often, they use

    Instagram logo

    Instagram

    Twitter and Instagram. Many teachers use Twitter, and usnig it is how Hauser and Young found out about the Read Around the World program. They also connected with Henry Winkler on Twitter because of a series of books he wrote on dyslexia.

If you use Twitter, you can follow the class at @Knights_Reading and follow Elizabeth Hauser at @Hauser_Reading.

 

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