Struggling readers come in many varieties, but we can safely say that they have one thing in common: they don’t easily learn to read in the same way as other students. However, we want the struggling readers to cover the same material as the other students. We want these students included or mainstreamed as much as possible because such inclusion has clear benefits. It also creates a clear problem for teachers who work with struggling readers. How do you do everything that the other students do, when your students need to do things differently?
A simple answer would be: teach the same content as the “mainstream,” or “average”, or “regular” students, but teach that content in a way that your students will be able to learn it. It’s a nice answer, but it is not realistic. At the elementary level, where struggling readers receive the most remedial help, skills and content are taught concurrently. They are intertwined. A student’s ability to absorb content depends directly on the student’s basic skill development. Also, skills can be taught by many methods, and most struggling learners require more intensive instruction and more time to accomplish some of these tasks. If you look at the Common Core Standards for First Grade alone, there are a multitude of objectives, and of course there is only so much time in the day. The conflict remains – you can’t realistically do everything that the curriculum demands, and do what the struggling reader needs at the same time.
We make this point to help those of you who are trapped in this dilemma stay sane. You are not alone. The conflict is almost unavoidable. However, there are ways to cope and ways to make important progress. As school starts next fall, we will send another newsletter that describes ways to juggle conflicting objectives. This information should help you when you are once again expected to do the impossible.