Frequently Asked Questions
Why do some people have difficulty learning to read?
For some youth, environmental factors hinder the process of learning
to read. Children who are English language learners, or whose parents
do not read to them, or who are exposed to a limited vocabulary,
will have more difficulty learning to read English. Others have
difficulty due to the presence of a disability. Research has identified
several factors that lead to reading difficulties irrespective of
ethnicity and socioeconomic status. These include inadequate phoneme
awareness (awareness of the speech sounds of the language), lack
of understanding of the alphabetic principle (correspondence of
letters to speech sounds), and the inability to apply these with
fluency and accuracy when reading text. Other important factors
are deficits in reading comprehension strategies and the application
to reading, lack or loss of motivation to learn to read, and inadequate
teacher preparation (Overview of Reading and Literacy Initiatives,
What approaches help adolescents with disabilities learn to read?
Research-based approaches that help secondary students with disabilities
improve their reading skills include Strategic Instruction Model
(SIM), Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) and class-wide peer
tutoring. CSR was developed for students with learning disabilities
and students who are at risk of reading failure (Klingner &
Vaughn, 1998). CSR adapts reciprocal reading (Palincsar & Brown,
1984) and employs cooperative learning (Johnson & Johnson, 1987).
CSR uses four strategies:
- Preview (Students brainstorm about the topic and predict what
will be learned. This occurs before reading.);
- Click and Clunk (Students identify parts of a passage that are
hard to understand and then use four “fix-up” strategies);
- Get the Gist (Students identify the most important information
in a passage); and
- Wrap Up (Students ask and answer questions that demonstrate
understanding; then they review what was learned) (Klingner &
SIM is a package of components designed for students with learning
disabilities (Deshler & Schumaker, 1988), in combination with
instructional tools for use by teachers (Schumaker, Deshler, &
McKnight, 1991). The learning strategies portion of SIM helps students
with disabilities to better manage the requirements of their general
education courses (Deshler, et al., 2001). Strategies specifically
related to reading are:
- Paraphrasing (Students express main idea and details in their
- Self questioning (Students develop questions concerning reading
passages and read to find answers);
- Visual imagery (Students visualize scenes in detail); and
- Word identification (Students decode unfamiliar words by using
context clues and word analysis).
Class-wide peer tutoring is an effective method for improving the
literacy skills of students with mild disabilities in inclusive
classrooms (Greenwood, Delquadri, & Carta, 1997; Fulk &
King, 2001). Structured approaches to peer tutoring emphasize training
of students in giving and receiving feedback. An additional benefit
of peer tutoring is the opportunity for students to enhance their
social skills. Effective peer tutoring models provide opportunities
for all students to participate in both the tutor and learner roles.
In addition to acquiring decoding and comprehension skills, students
need to develop fluency in reading. This can only be accomplished
through the frequent practice of reading, which requires engagement
How can teachers engage reluctant and struggling readers?
Many students reach middle school and high school with below-grade-level
reading skills. Reading is generally not enjoyable for these students,
so they tend to avoid it and develop coping mechanisms to hide their
difficulties. Students with a history of failure often protect themselves
emotionally by withdrawing and ceasing to try to learn. These patterns
can only be overcome if students feel sufficiently engaged and motivated
to work steadily at improving their literacy skills.
Research and theory support the use of several instructional
processes that help students become engaged and motivated
readers. These processes, defined below, include a focus on learning
and knowledge goals, learning through real-world interactions, support
for autonomy and choice, using interesting texts, providing instruction
in strategies for reading and writing, collaboration among students,
using praise and rewards, evaluating effort and progress, promoting
teacher involvement, and ensuring coherence among instructional
processes (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000).
Learning and Knowledge Goals: When teachers and
students are focused on goals related to learning and understanding
rather than on performance (e.g., getting the right answer), students
are more highly engaged in learning.
Real-World Interactions: Students
tend to be more engaged with reading when texts and books are connected
to enjoyable, interactive, hands-on activities. Use of manipulatives,
role-playing, and service projects are examples of activities that
increase student engagement.
Autonomy Support: When students have choices, they
experience more autonomy and become more motivated as learners.
Choices that can be offered in reading classes include input regarding
which books to read, the decision to work alone or in small groups,
involvement in creating questions to be addressed in assignments,
and input on the kinds of projects or presentations they will work
Interesting Texts for Instruction: Like others,
students are generally more motivated to read when they find the
text interesting. Guthrie and Wigfield (2000) note that interesting
texts are “single-authored works in which the text matches
the topical interest and cognitive competency of the reader”
(p. 412). Students often have preferences for certain genres of
books, such as mystery or science fiction, or for certain content,
such as stories about animals or space travel. For students who
struggle with reading, many books are available in which the reading
level is lower than the interest level. These high-interest, low-reading
level books can play an important role in keeping struggling readers
Strategy Instruction: Strategies to improve student
reading performance include both teachers’ instructional strategies
and the learning strategies taught to students that they can use
both inside and outside of the classroom. Most learning strategies
require significant time and effort to learn at the level needed
to be useful on a day-to-day basis, and student engagement and motivation
are important during this learning process. A number of strategies
have been identified as particularly helpful to students with disabilities.
These are described in the NCSET
Instructional Strategies and Student
Learning Strategies Web topics under Additional Resources.
Collaboration: When students collaborate while
reading, they experience multiple perspectives and engage in the
social construction of knowledge from text. Social collaboration
in the classroom helps to create a learning community that supports
intrinsic motivation and active learning. A socially supportive
classroom increases students’ willingness to express their
views and also increases motivation and interest in reading and
Praise and Rewards: Praise from teachers can help
students experience a sense of pride and accomplishment in their
work and can help orient students to helpful strategies. However,
praise can be counter-productive if students perceive it as manipulative.
To be helpful, praise needs to be sincere, spontaneous, and interpreted
as a reflection of real accomplishment. Giving rewards and incentives
for reading books can increase the amount of time and effort put
forth by students. However, the effects of using rewards are often
short-term. Students who become accustomed to such extrinsic rewards
can become focused on performance goals, such as grades, and become
less interested in comprehension and reading for enjoyment.
Evaluation: Teachers who successfully capture and
keep students’ attention and inspire their interest in reading
tend to evaluate effort and progress rather than measuring achievement
against external benchmarks. Students who are evaluated on the basis
of projects and portfolios have the opportunity to develop a sense
of competence and self-efficacy, which promotes intrinsic motivation.
Teacher Involvement: Students are most engaged
in learning when they see that their teachers care about and are
interested in their progress as individuals, have positive and achievable
expectations, and offer students some level of control over their
Coherence of Instructional Processes: When the
instructional processes described above are connected to each other,
the result is greater coherence and increased student engagement.
For example, strategy instruction is enhanced when paired with interesting
How can I find books that will interest struggling and reluctant
Resources listing materials of high interest to teens that are
written at accessible reading levels are available on several Web
sites. These materials help provide reading practice, and,
in some cases, include items that can be used as alternatives or
supplements to grade-level classroom texts.
- AMP Reading System from Pearson
(http://www.pearsonschool.com/index.cfm?locator=PSZu68&PMDbSiteId=2781&PMDbSolutionId=6724&PMDbSubSolutionId=&PMDbCategoryId=3289&PMDbSubCategoryId=24806&PMDbSubjectAreaId=&PMDbProgramId=27098) High interest books written for students
who read below grade level.
The following resources include books that are
selected for interest rather than reading level. For struggling
readers, books from these lists can be read aloud or provided on
tape to spark interest in reading.
Awards: Books written for adults that appeal to young adults
This Web page includes 10 books selected for the Alex Award by
the Adult Books for Young Adults Task Force. The selection contains
exceptional adult fiction and nonfiction that interests a variety
of teen readers.
Library Association’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult
The titles included on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers are
found on this Web page. Both nonfiction and fiction are featured,
and the books are selected for teens who do not enjoy reading.
While the list is not aimed for teenagers with reading disabilities,
some of the books may be suitable for these individuals.
Books for Young Adults (http://www.ala.org/yalsa/booklists/bbya)
The Young Adult Library Services Association has listed its selections
for the Best Books for Young Adults 2002 on this Web page. The
featured books, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and biography,
are recommended for ages 12 to 18.
What can schools and districts do to support adolescent literacy?
Schools and districts should ensure that every teacher is prepared
to work with students on literacy skills. Professional development
in reading instruction should be available to all teachers and paraprofessionals.
Teachers may need to have the additional support of reading specialists.
These specialists can be available to teachers on an ongoing basis
and can ensure that teachers have the skills to help students with
more significant needs. Classroom teachers may also need assistance
from paraprofessionals or volunteers. Parental involvement should
be encouraged, and parent-training initiatives should be included
as part of any school’s efforts to improve adolescent literacy.
Schools also need to ensure that teachers and school libraries have
a wide range of reading materials so that students have access to
an appropriate level of reading materials that interest them. In
addition, the school day should be structured so that students have
time to read for pleasure as well as for information.
Students who enter high school with poor reading skills are at
risk of dropping out. Middle schools should put extra effort into
assuring that all students can read well enough to succeed in content-area
Schools that offer career and technical education classes or work-based
learning experiences also promote literacy. Students in these programs
are often motivated to improve their functional literacy, even if
they have little interest in literature. These courses and experiences
can help students learn how to use manuals, understand charts and
graphs, and write instructions for others. However, students in
vocationally-oriented programs should not be permitted to avoid
challenging academic classes. Male students, in particular, tend
to choose vocational programs requiring less reading than those
chosen by females. A study of students at High Schools That Work
sites found that male students’ reading skills could be improved
in the context of vocational programs (Forget & Bottoms, 2000).
Nonetheless, findings also indicated that students in such programs
would benefit from being exposed to more challenging academic content;
learning communication skills including writing, discussing, debating;
being expected to read both during class and outside of class; and
receiving extra help from teachers.
How can parents encourage adolescents to read?
Parents can encourage reading by increasing teens’ access
to reading materials and by sharing reading. Adolescents benefit
from having access to a wide range of reading materials in the home
that reflect their interests and are at an appropriate reading level.
Teens should be encouraged to choose their reading materials and
to read for their own purposes, whether for information or pleasure.
Parents should try to allow adolescents to read what interests them,
excluding as little as possible. In general, neither nagging nor
praising students about reading is helpful. Adolescents need to
find their own reasons for reading. Parents can also encourage reading
by sharing a newspaper article, reading aloud a letter from a friend
or relative, or pointing out an interesting magazine article. Reading
some books currently popular with adolescents can make it easier
to share conversations about reading.
What are the new literacies?
In recent years, the concept of literacy has been extended beyond
the traditional realms of reading and writing to include the other
ways in which people extract meaning from symbolic information.
This includes computer literacy, cultural literacy, economic literacy,
scientific literacy, information literacy, media literacy, visual
literacy, etc. (Pettersson, 2000). Many of these new literacies
are described on the new
literacies page of the Reading Online Web site (http://www.readingonline.org/newliteracies/lit_index.asp?HREF=webwatch/index.html).
The following sources were cited in this Frequently Asked Questions
section. For additional research and resources, see our links to
other pages on this topic below.
Deshler, D. D., & Schumaker, J. B. (1988). An instructional model for teaching students how to learn. In J.
L. Graden, J. E. Zins, & M. J. Curtis (Eds.), Alternative educational
delivery systems: Enhancing instructional options for all students (pp. 391-411). Washington, DC: National Association of School Psychologists.
Deshler, D. D., Schumaker, J. B., Lenz, K. B., Bulgren,
J. A., Hock, M. F., Knight, J., et. al. (2001). Ensuring
content-area learning by secondary students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 16(2), 96-108.
Forget, M., & Bottoms, G. (2000). Academic
and vocational teachers can improve the reading achievement of male
career-bound students. Retrieved from http://publications.sreb.org/2000/00V07_ReadingAchievementBrief.pdf
Fulk, B. M., & King, K. (2001). Classwide
peer tutoring at work. Teaching Exceptional Children, 34(2), 49-53.
Greenwood, C. R., Delquadri, J., & Carta, J. J. (1997). Together we can! Classwide peer tutoring to improve basic academic
skills. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
Guthrie, J. T., & Wigfield, A. (2000). Engagement
and motivation in reading. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D.
Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research, vol. 3 (pp. 403-422). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1987). Learning
together and alone (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Klingner, J. K., & Vaughn, S. (1998). Using
Collaborative Strategic Reading. Teaching Exceptional Children,
30(6), 32-37. Retrieved from http://www.ldonline.org/article/103/
Palincsar, A. M., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal
teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring
activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1(2), 117-175.
Pettersson, R. (2000). Literacies
in the new millennium. In W. Strykowski (Ed.), III Miedzynardowa
Konferencja. Media a Edukacja. Poznan, Poland: Oficyna Edukacyjna
Wydawnictwa. Retrieved from http://www.idp.mdh.se/forskning/utbildning/kurser/innovationochdesign/litteratur/rune/5._Literacies_in_the_New_M.pdf
Schumaker, J. B., Deshler, D. D., & McKnight, P. C.
(1991). Teaching routines for content areas at the secondary
level. In G. Stover, M. R. Shinn, & H. M. Walker (Eds.), Interventions
for achievement and behavior problems (pp. 473–494). Washington,
DC: National Association of School Psychologists.
Other pages on this topic:
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This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred.