“Did you know that rats are responsible for more human deaths than all other predators combined?” The class looked at me. “Yeah. Rats!”
I taught reading intervention for three years, and had a hand in revamping reading intervention programs at a few schools as an administrator. Helping struggling readers has always been a passion for me, and with each opportunity to make a difference in this pursuit, I did my best to always remember the fear and wonder of talking with struggling readers about rats.
My rat facts came from a book given to me for a classroom library I could use with my reading intervention class. Titled Rat Attacks, a feral looking creature staring from the front cover, it was my go to book in the opening days of the semester as I showed my students how the class operated.
Together we read about the vicious rodents, puzzled through vocab, and answered questions like those they’d see in the comprehension quizzes they’d take on their own independent reading. That Rat Attacks was almost unanimously agreed upon as interesting, or at least compelling, made it a useful tool. All reading intervention is about engagement.
The first, vital, connection when working with struggling readers is between the teacher and the kids. Students don’t learn to read (or read better) from someone they don’t trust, and when we talk about engagement in a reading intervention class, it must not only be an engagement between the students and the subjects, but also between all of the people, adult and adolescent, who fill the room.
Culture trumps program, and a healthy classroom environment is more important in an intervention class than almost anywhere else.
Within that classroom there must be opportunities for students to engage in reading and writing that is both interesting (to them) and relevant. The independent reading that students engage in as well as their shared experiences should be appropriately rigorous and appropriately compelling. This isn’t always easy, but more often than not I’ve found reading intervention teachers to be some of the most creative and widely read folks I know. Add to that an uncompromisingly student centered approach, and success is sure to follow.
A third component for engagement in reading class is student understanding of the importance of improving. This, coupled with student set goals for increasing reading ability, either built in or teacher inspired, is a cornerstone for progress. Students must know why they’re striving to improve.
When they do, they thrive. Engaged students, who know their teacher is an ally, have access to relevant content, and are inspired to reach goals, do become stronger readers.
They may even learn a thing or two about rats.