Cheryl Golden is a veteran teacher of over fifteen years with an additional ten years of training, coaching and managing in the corporate world. She holds a Master's in Educational Leadership, is a teacher consultant for the Northern VA Writing Project, serves on the Virginia Association Teachers of English state board and is a National Board Certified Teacher. Her goals are being a lifelong learner and assisting others in learning and developing a passion for reading and writing. She currently is teaching at Seneca Ridge Middle School.
Welcome, Cheryl! And thank you for starting off our conversations here at The Corner.
Despite being a superpower in the world, the US still struggles to lift the literacy levels of children reading below-grade. What are your thoughts on this issue?
After 16 years of teaching, what still amazes me is the number of children who enter middle school reading two or more grade levels below. Yes, often they are students who speak English as their second language. We need to address this gap and help to close it. Unfortunately, the challenge is compounded by the fact that these struggling readers often come from families at or below the poverty line. Therefore, these families usually lack the resources to work on literacy at home. Here are strategies we can focus on in school to help our struggling readers:
- Put books in their hands that are on their independent reading level. Some titles I've recently used for this purpose are the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis, the Underworld series by Tony Abbott, and all of Roald Dahl’s books. For those who are reading slightly below grade level, at a 5th/6th grade level, they love Roland Smith and Sharon G. Flake books.
- Identify "what do good readers do" - often at a subconscious level - and bring those skills to the conscious level for struggling readers. Then they can practice these skills until it becomes a natural part of what they do. Examples of these skills are: a) figuring out what’s confusing them, b) setting goals for getting through the reading, and c) use of many strategies to create understanding and d) having the confidence to persevere.
- Recognize what the brain needs to move things from short term memory to long term memory and apply them to the reading process. The “Four Card Match” is a good example of how to do this. The four cards include the vocab word, its definition, its graphic representation, and a sentence using the word – with all the vocab cards one color, the definition cards another color, and so on. The use of color, picture, physical movement, and the variety of ways to interact with the word all assist the student in transferring vocabulary from working to long term memory, and from there to the reading process.
- Partner struggling readers with strong readers for modeling and think-out-louds. For our readers who are not teachers, think-out-louds are when a teacher or strong reading partner reads and then "thinks out loud" about what they are processing while reading. For example, what visual images they’re picturing, what connections they’re making, or what questions they’re asking themselves.
Your students are lucky to have you helping them! But sometimes, you must feel frustrated with limitations that are out of your control. If you could sit at a magical roundtable filled with publishing representatives and tell them what you desperately need more of in the classroom, what would you say?
Oh, sitting at that roundtable would be like winning the lottery for me! One of the biggest gaps we see in middle school English classes is a lack of high interest/low readability for our students reading below grade level. Often in my 6th and 7th grade English classes, there will be a mix of reading levels varying from 2nd grade up through post high school. It is never a problem to find challenging material for my strong readers. However, finding "cool," acceptable-looking books that interest middle schoolers (especially boys), AND that are written at the 3rd-5th grade level, is extremely difficult. I would welcome more publishers to take on this challenge.
Thank you for sharing your time and expertise with us, Cheryl! If you would like to serve at the 2014 National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., please email Cheryl at firstname.lastname@example.org.