Reading Difficult Text: It’s OK to struggle

How do you help students who are struggling to read classroom texts while preventing them from becoming disengaged? Should we be providing these students with easier texts to facilitate comprehension and learning or should we be helping students read these difficult texts because if these students are only exposed to short sentences and simple vocabulary we are ‘stunting’ their vocabulary growth and complex understanding of the topic?

In Lupo and colleagues (2018) article, they argue that that educators should take the mindset that when it comes to reading, struggling is not necessarily detrimental. The challenge then is to provide appropriate support for these students to ensure they can comprehend these difficult texts. These authors make the following recommendations:

  1. Determine what is making the text difficult

  • Vocabulary (consider familiarity, frequency, concreteness versus abstractness)
  • Sentence length and syntactic complexity
  • Structure (cohesiveness, formality/technicality of language)
  • Topic (level of students’ background knowledge)
  1. Motivate readers through choice, collaborative learning and leveraging knowledge

  • Allow students to choose the text they will read
  • Prior to reading, organise opportunities for discussion and sharing of knowledge (provide focus by asking critical questions)
  • Build background knowledge using other resources (e.g., videos, graphs and other visuals)
  1. Provide more opportunities for reading

  • Offer a variety of texts on the topic from easy to challenging, scientific to conversational
  • Expect students to read a number of these texts
  1. Scaffold students’ reading

  • Differentiate support rather than differentiating the complexity of the text
  • Preview and discuss potentially challenging vocabulary
  • Provide e-versions and audio-versions
  • Read aloud parts of the text using ‘think aloud’ to model strategies supporting comprehension
  • Set a specific purpose for reading selected sections of the text

Reference

Lupo, Sarah & Strong, John & Conradi Smith, Kristin. (2018). Struggle Is Not a Bad Word: Misconceptions and Recommendations About Readers Struggling With Difficult Texts. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 10.1002/jaal.926.

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