Strategies for Struggling Readers

strategies for struggling readers


How to help struggling readers in upper elementary?  By the time students get into the upper elementary grades they are expected to be able to read and comprehend at a certain level.  In most states they are even expected to take and pass a state test. So what do you do when they are not where they are supposed to be?  There is not enough time in the year to go back two to three years and reteach what they should have gotten I second or third grade.  In 3rd-5th grades they should be reading to learn not learning to read.  However, I have learned that that is not always the case.  I have always had to close major gaps when teaching in the upper grades. It can be quite frustrating. Luckily the strategies I have used have helped close gaps and I have experienced growth from most of my students.   Now that is a big part of keeping your sanity as a teacher, you have to realize that you may be able to have growth and not focusing on getting them on grade level, depending on where your students are.   The steps to take to help you’re struggling readers is vocabulary instruction, word study and reading fluency. Your students cannot progress if they do not have those basic skills.  Students cannot comprehend if they cannot read the words.  And I am so surprised at how limited our students vocabulary is even for my on grade level readers.

Vocabulary instruction is so important to building and improving your students comprehension.  When tutoring and small group instruction I find my students either guessing or just skipping words, which is hindering their comprehension.  Prefix, suffix, and affix knowledge can open them up to thousands of new words so ensure they become proficient with this concept, as well as teaching multiple meaning words.

Word study is the students practicing these skills.  I wrote a post on effective reading instruction where I stress practice, practice, practice.  Vocabulary words, spelling activities, writing using new words, etc. can all help enhance their word knowledge.

And lastly, reading fluency is very important especially for us that have state test.  Students need to be able to read quickly and fluently in order to be effective on these test.  In our state the test are timed and this can cause anxiety, not possible finishing and most importantly loss of confidence when the students see other finishing before them.  I recommend 6 minute fluency daily or at least 3 times a week, this is where students practice fluency daily for six minutes with a partner.  They time each other do a word count and check for understanding during and after the reading.  You can have questions that students can use to guide them.  Of course, this has to be explicitly taught and practiced often until it is a routine.


Below is a list of sites I always go to for help with my reading instruction:



Nine classroom management tips to start your year off right

classroom mgmt

Classroom management is the key to being a great teacher and having a great school year.  If you don’t have great classroom management your year will be horrible.  And you will wonder why you chose this job and why the kids don’t like you…lol, but you have to remember how to start your school year off right. And that is by establishing your classroom management standards from day 1!


  1. Set class rules and procedures, the first couple weeks of school you should practice these procedures and helping the students to remember the rules. You need to ensure kids know these rules have them recite them back to you, you can give a test.  There so many activities that you can do to ensure that the kids know the rules and procedures.  Remember this must happen at the beginning of the school year.
  2. You should have no more than four to five rules. You will have a lot more procedures i.e. on how you want your class to run but keep the rule list short. This way you can ensure students can remember.
  3. Establish entry and exit routines. For example, how to enter your room do they get materials and start a warm-up, or enter get your materials and wait for instructions you have to have some type of routine so that the kids know what to do when they come into your room.  As well as exit, do they have to complete an exit ticket, do they just leave when the bell ring, there must be some type of routine or there will be chaos.
  4. Be consistent! We all know that sometimes there are some things that happened that you can’t foresee like fire drills, assemblies, or teachers being absent but always try to at least be as consistent as possible to keep you and your student’s sanity.
  5. Decide what it is a No in your class. There are some rules you will have that are nonnegotiable.   Kids want to negotiate  and there may be a things that can be negotiated based on their behavior but there are some things that you should just not do or allow and they should be aware of what that is, for me it is no name calling.  I never want any student to feel uncomfortable in my class that is nonnegotiable for me. My students know that they will either lose recess or have to call their parents “I consider it bullying”
  6. Build relationships with students talk to them and be open to letting them talk to you. Get to know your students, when you have these relationships they are more apt to follow your rules and procedures.  Most times your students will ensure that your class is running smoothly because they like you and want to please you.  Plus they know what your expectations are.
  7. Let students know consequences of rule breaking don’t let it be a surprise. Always ensure they are aware of the consequences of their actions.  That is not to say you cannot make adjustments to what the consequences are but you always want to stay consistent with students
  8. Reward positive behavior sometimes as teachers we tend to overlook our students who are really trying to follow the rules and who are trying to be good students and citizens. They are often overlooked especially when you have a lot of behavior problems. But we cannot forget the all the positives.  Many times when our students that struggle with behavior, see that a student is getting rewards for being good, a lot of times that helps to change their behavior I like Class Dojo to help me keep track and if they are good I even let my trustworthy students be my dojo monitor. Be careful they have to be trustworthy or all of their friends will have a lot of points
  9. Practice your rules and procedures if you want your students to learn the rules basically practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect, don’t assume just because you’re in the third six weeks that your students will know or remember the rules unfortunately they are kids and we have to keep reminding them of the rules, don’t get upset (I mean all the every time) because they will forget and it is just a part of teaching. They will  have it by the end of the year I promise…lol!


What are some of the rules that you use in your class or do you have any classroom management tips that you feel helps your class run smoothly, please send a comment and share out, I would love to hear what everybody else does.

Four Features of Effective Reading Instruction

Four Features of Effective Reading Instruction!

Recently, I attended a workshop called “Reading to Learn for Fifth Grade” where I learned about the features of effective instruction that I wanted to share out with others who are teaching reading.  Now, this effective instruction may be for any content area, however I am putting this towards reading because that’s what I teach.  And I think that this is the groundwork for any teacher in other content areas as well.  First I’m going to list the features and then talk about each one of them individually.


  • Explicit instruction with modeling
  • Systematic instruction with scaffolding
  • Multiple opportunities to practice and respond
  • Immediate and corrective feedback


First, explicit instruction with modeling is the deliberate demonstrating and explaining of concepts.  It could be you modeling for the students or peer modeling with other students.  When you have kids sitting in groups or partners this can be an effective way to get students interacting.  When you have explicit instruction you are explaining the concepts and skills in ways that are concrete visible you have to include clear language and use many examples.  You want to ensure that you get your point across so that kids can master whatever skill that you are trying to teach, you want have routines to ensure mastery, and you definitely need to be prepared.   Explicit instruction consists of instructional procedures that are predictable, clear, and consistent. It has known expectations for the students so they know what to expect and what you are expecting.  Lastly explicit instruction has familiar routines.  Remember with explicit instruction you want to ensure you are constantly modeling, you want to demonstrate the task aloud by following a step-by-step procedure, you want to speak clearly and use language specific to the demonstration of the skill.  And you always ALWAYS want to continuously check for understanding while you’re modeling. Don’t just keep speaking and not check to see if the concept is understood.


The second feature is systematic instruction with scaffolding.  That means planning your lesson from start to finish.  Make sure that the task is appropriate for the outcome you want. You want to carefully sequence instruction so that you can optimize learning.  To select appropriate task and goals you want to move from easier to more difficult skills, you want to begin with higher-utility skills and begin with what your students already know.  Scaffolding should be based on each child and scaffolding should also be temporary. First, think about your most challenging student; then order the concepts and skills; next choose one concept or skill to scaffold; and finally provide three scaffolds for your chosen concept or skill.


The third feature is multiple opportunities to practice and respond.  You want to maximize your student engagement and participation. You want to always provide opportunities to practice this new skills in a variety of ways.  You want choose an activity that is related to the concept and skills you want the students to master.  You want the practice to relate the skill to student’s prior knowledge.  Kids that are actively engaged learn better.  You also want to make sure you increase the students opportunity to respond and you want to hear what they’re saying about the skill to make sure they understand.  Activities you can do are think pair share, choral responses, whole group, or small group. You want to ensure that you are practicing after each step of instruction, so stop and explicitly teach each step of instruction and then give them an opportunity to practice to ensure that they mastered the skill before moving onto the next step using multiple practice formats. Other ways to get in constant practice is through guided practice, whole group instruction, small group work (peer tutoring), independent practice, workstations, or work centers.


Lastly the fourth feature, immediate and corrective feedback.  When giving feedback to student you have to ensure that you are giving feedback in various forms.  For example, verbal, nonverbal, and written.  Feedback can be given in whole group, small group, partners, and/or individual.  When you give feedback make sure it is descriptive, telling students if they are right or wrong and explain why their answer is wrong and have them (students) correct themselves. When you explain why answers are correct or incorrect you are telling the students what they have and have not achieved and giving them an opportunity to develop ways to improve their learning. That means you need to have an environment where you can’t give that feedback so that students will still want to participate and not hinder them for being engaged because they are too scared to give the wrong answer.  You want to make the feedback immediate you don’t want to wait a day or two before you can give feedback. You want to ensure they are not learning how to do something wrong that makes it more difficult to reteach. So always make sure your feedback is immediate and corrective. Remember these features are given so that your instruction is effective and that your kids are learning, engaged, and that you are seeing results.

Poverty and Education

poverty and education

How does poverty affect education?  For the past 10 years I have worked in low income schools that receive title I funds because of the socioeconomic demographics of the school.  And I started to realize and notice some misconceptions out there by others and sometimes even teachers that affect how we educate our students.  My blog is based on my experience with teaching students in low socioeconomic areas and it is always a struggle.  Oftentimes, they come to me below grade level and they are not where they need to be, and it is not small gaps that I have to bridge there are enormous gap that I have to bridge.   I mean 2 to 3 year gaps.  Once we had a discussion in a staff meeting on how can we bridge these gaps and found out there was so many myths and misconceptions out there about what was affecting how our students learn that we could not come up with a strategy.


What I have come to understand after years of working with schools in poverty areas is to never come in with preconceived notions.  Listening to what administrators and other teachers were thinking I came up with a list of what I will call myths or misconceptions.


  • First myth is that parents do not care about their kid’s education. This is because of their visibility around the school and afterschool activities, i.e. PTA, parent conferences, open house, etc.
  • Second myth is that students don’t care they have no interest in learning
  • Third myth is that students can’t learn because their resources are limited
  • Fourth myth is that behavior problems due to their environment and the parents will not do anything about it hinder learning


Unfortunately we cannot change a poverty situation, however, we can change our thinking.  We cannot assume those myths because we are not in their shoes and we don’t know what goes on in their homes. Although our students may tell us some things we should never assume things.  Every situation is different and we shouldn’t judge.  Because many of the parents do care but are limited in what they can do.


We as educators need to build relationships with our students and with their parents.  Even if it is only by phone or email.   I had a parent that I never saw but I talk to all the time and one time she was very upset and cried on the phone because she felt like that she wasn’t being a good parent because she could never come to anything, her job wouldn’t let her, she was fearful of taking off unless it was a true emergency, however I reassured her that I had her back and that as long as we kept the communication lines open we could work together to do what was best for her son.  Because I knew that all jobs are not as flexible and understanding and putting food on the table was important. Her son ended up being one of my top students and I even had as my go to peer tutor to help out in class.  Sometimes I stepped in and helped my students where I could and even sometimes even providing supplies and provide food.


Remember to always praise the students whenever possible for even the little thing because that may be the only praise they get for the day, not that the parents can’t  or don’t it’s because they don’t have the time (work schedule) or they don’t think about this and the biggest most important thing is to listen to the kids.   When you build those relationships you will learn a lot more than you even thought you would about your kids.  They do have the ability to learn and when you build those relationships they will do whatever it takes to please you even though it is really helping them.  So never assume, don’t judge, build relationships and praise whenever possible and number one again listen!