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Reading Should Be Hard

By Carla Kessler
 | Aug 23, 2017

Reading Should Be HardWhile browsing Facebook the other day, I came across an online article that was fascinating, but difficult to read. I had to repeatedly reread sentences, or refer back to the beginning of the paragraph. I stumbled over familiar words used in unfamiliar contexts.

This was not a poorly written piece; on the contrary, it was fluid and full of great ideas. But I had only made it through two-thirds of the piece when I felt discouraged and gave up.

I don’t often run into challenging content on Facebook, and I guess I had forgotten what it's like to have to work hard at reading.

Then it dawned on me—I wonder if this is how my struggling readers feel about reading, all the time.

Coincidentally, I had just read a MindShift article on discussing how to promote a growth mindset in readers. In other words, how to help struggling readers persevere.

Their message? Reading is a “complicated experience.” It is hard! And nothing is more discouraging to a struggling reader than thinking reading is supposed to be easy.

I already know how to read, so I can get away with ignoring an occasional Facebook-related challenge. But struggling readers—how can they learn if they give up? 

The article provides ideas to help teachers guide students in overcoming their reading challenges. As a vocabulary specialist, here’s how I apply these ideas to help students decipher unknown words on their own.  

Recognize the source of the challenge

Provide high-interest reading with challenging words and ask comprehension questions that test their understanding of those words. If they struggle to answer, ask them to explain why. Then, replace those challenging words with easy synonyms, and ask the questions again. This will help them identify the specific words that are at the root of the challenge.

Remind them that strong readers struggle too

Show students that you also struggle with comprehension when you encounter unfamiliar words. Model what you do:

  • Reread the sentence
  • Use context clues to define the word (talk them through this process)
  • Look up the word in a dictionary
  • Use a technique for remembering the meaning of the word

Provide tools

  • Prove to them that most people don’t remember a word after one introduction, by playing the Hot Leads! memory strategy game. This activity only needs to be done once to get the point across.
  • Help them keep track of new words using a journal. On each page create three columns with three headings: word, meaning, and picture/example. The students can fill out the columns out as they read.
  • Provide an easy-to-use digital search tool such as a tablet or phone (they do not need to be connected) with a downloaded dictionary.

Let them struggle and succeed, review, and question—then celebrate the learning!

Carla Kessler is the director of learning at LogixLab LLC and along with her husband, Richard, co-creator of Word Lab Web. She was formerly a Title I coordinator and learning specialist, and has been recognized as an Outstanding Educator by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International.

1 comment

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  1. Nadine Allen | Aug 23, 2017
    Thanks for the excellent ideas! I have been struggling with how to help my third-graders organize their vocabulary; this is great advice!

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