You might have noticed that your classroom is quite diverse this year. You may have had students at varying reading levels, but you had many struggling readers either a grade level behind or multiple English Language Learners (ELL).
I remember a few years ago, I struggled with a class full of so many levels in reading. I had students from 1st grade skill to 7th grade fluency—and I was officially teaching fourth graders. What really worried me most were my struggling readers. They pretended to read during free-read time, or just looked at the pictures when they were supposed to be reading their social studies or science textbooks.
I was so frustrated because—like you—I am a teacher and I deeply care about my students.
One of my girls (who always had a smile on her face and a unicorn on her shirt) read painstakingly slow. She could read the stories but it took her so long. It broke my heart to see her struggle with reading so much.
Fortunately, early on I decided to dig in and learn. I really geeked out and became obsessed with teaching myself to increase fluency and motivating my struggling students to read. What I discovered surprised me, but it makes complete sense.
If you’re like me, you worry you’re not reaching ALL your levels in reading. Many of them lack motivation to read because they don’t read well. And some students don’t read well because they lack motivation.
If only you knew how to increase fluency for those struggling readers, you could grow all your students year after year.
How do we increase the fluency of our approaching-grade-level readers and motivate them to read?
The answer is complex but the solution is simple. If you want the quick fix now without all the research behind it—DOWNLOAD your QUICK START GUIDE for FREE. If you want to understand why it works—read on.
When my son was only two he was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder—and he wasn’t talking when most children have already said their first words and complete sentences. As we began speech therapy and occupational therapy, I learned that he was more likely to have reading challenges later on as well.
So I began the work of teaching him to read—through stickers. I had read to him every night since birth so he loved books. But he wasn’t motivated to do anything—even potty training—because he was extrinsically motivated—he wanted something for his efforts.
I purchased a set of books for children that gave sticker rewards for the reading of each book. I also placed sight words all around the house, labeling different things like “door”, “window”, and “wall”.
By kindergarten, he was reading. Today, he is an avid reader and is even in honors classes for reading. All his success began with stickers.
Intrinsically motivated students are 300% more likely to read—meaning they’re motivated purely for their own reasons. Those students love learning and are self-driven. Motivation comes from the inside.
But our struggling readers are more likely to be extrinsically motivated—they need a little extra. That’s where we come to the rescue as teachers.
The method is simple: try motivating your struggling readers with RIC: Relevancy, Interaction, and Curiosity.
You can motivate even your most reluctant reader to read by making the content relevant, allowing students to interact and discuss texts frequently, AND by provoking their curiosity with texts that interest them.
Relevancy. Many struggling readers don’t associate reading with pleasure—it’s something to be avoided. Giving them extra incentive to read is essential. For the method I use, DOWNLOAD your QUICK START GUIDE for FREE.
Interaction. Allow students to discuss the text without your oversight. Research shows that student-led discussion increases struggling readers’ desire to read.
You can begin by grouping them with their tables, pods, or partners. No matter your grouping strategy—just begin.
I remember listening to my students read during timed readings to monitor fluency. Some students read much more than others. Some read well but slowly.
For the upper grades, reading fluently means reading with expression and ease. (They don’t struggle to pronounce words any more.)
I had one student recently that read painstakingly slowly—even when we were all reading together. Yet, she could pronounce every word and if you looked at her statistics, she was on grade level. That’s still fluency.
Once students know how to read, your focus moves to making sure they can read appropriately complex words. Research shows that fluency doesn’t depend on how fast they read—comprehension is the key.
If students read slowly but easily, and they comprehend complex words, they’re exactly where they need to be. However, as they move on to upper grades they need to read more text in shorter amounts of time. That’s where practice comes into play.
Practice reading increases fluency, and so does repeated reading. Research over the past two decades has identified repeated reading as the most essential practice for improving students’ fluency skills.
Repeated reading has two key components: 1) giving students the opportunity to read and then re-read the same text, and 2) having students practice their reading orally, with an opportunity to receive corrections and guidance (as necessary).
One of the main methods I use to incorporate reading practice and repeated reading is super simple, but effective! During center time, students participate in a Buddy Reading center.
You can partner students who are at a similar reading level (but not the same). The key to grouping for buddy reading is to make sure that each pair has a slightly stronger reader, but that the difference in ability is not so large as to cause embarrassment or confusion.
At times, direct the stronger reader to read first, providing a model of fluent reading. Then the less-fluent reader reads the same text aloud. The stronger student can help with word recognition and give feedback and encouragement to the less fluent partner.
Later on, I pair students who read at the same level and ask them to re-read a story or text on the appropriate Lexile level. Check this free QUICK START GUIDE that provides you a ready-made center and instructions for this strategy.
Increasing fluency through repeated reading and by motivating students to read through relevancy, interaction, and curiosity are simple and doable tools you can use to grow and motivate your students in reading year after year.
Imagine how good it will feel knowing you motivated your struggling students to read, and imagine how confident you will feel, knowing exactly what to do.
And because it’s simple, it will work for you. Because it’s based upon decades of research, it will work for you. The essential ingredient in any new learning is whether it works for you, meaning you will be consistent in your approach, and can implement it right now without too much effort.
The choice is simple, too. DOWNLOAD your QUICK START GUIDE to have everything you need at your fingertips.