The Chalk Blog

Solving the Puzzle of Reading

Overcoming reading challenges with students

child on stack of books

“In every problem, there's a concealed solution…locking itself underneath…unlock, peruse, find and solve.” - Michael Bassey Johnson 


As a child, I was an avid reader. It came easily and I enjoyed it, often finding myself lost in stories when I should have been cleaning my room or playing outside. As a teen, I continued to read for fun and was also able to learn by reading. Even attacking the piles of reading necessary in college was not a struggle for me. I read fast and had discovered comprehension strategies that ensured I understood. Reading was a puzzle I had solved quite easily with little effort.

Then, I became a special education teacher, and I realized that job included teaching children to read. At first I thought, “This can’t be hard. Reading is simple.” I was wrong! The more experienced I became and the more I learned about the complex process of learning to read, the more I panicked. Not only is reading a cognitive challenge, but the students that I would be working with had disabilities making this challenge even more intense. My students faced struggles like dyslexia, low cognitive ability, language disorders, and visual processing deficits. It was at that point that I realized teaching a student to read is like solving a puzzle and assessment held many of the necessary clues.    

Lucky for me, I have worked with two individuals who shared the same thinking and are amazing teachers making a difference every day in the lives of struggling readers. 

Ginger Diethart is an ADSIS Reading Interventionist at Delano Elementary
School in Delano, MN.
 

Ginny Schuelke is a Special Education
Teacher for Delano Public Schools
in Delano, MN.
 

I asked them a few questions and thought their responses might give you some great insight and a few strategies to try with your struggling readers.  

Question 1: What is the biggest challenge related to teaching students to read? 

Ginger: “…identifying strengths and difficulties related to reading. Which areas of reading does she do well with and which area(s) does she struggle with – phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, vocabulary, and/or fluency? Then, you need to break it down even further to find the specific part of that area that is giving them the most trouble…” 

Ginny: “It is critical that you follow the research; implement best practice with fidelity if you want your students to make gains and close the achievement gap. It is not a one size fits all approach, and it is crucial that we understand what is interfering with the student’s ability to read. You have to meet them where they are. Additionally, the reading intervention needs to be in addition to classroom instruction…” 


Question 2: How does assessment data help in teaching students to read or develop interventions? 

Ginger: “Assessments are the tools that help you figure out the puzzle. Assessment data lead you down the path to identify all the things I mentioned in my response to question 1.” 

Ginny: “Assessment is a critical component of addressing reading difficulties. It is important that you drill back until you find the source of the reading concern…Once we have identified the skill to start the intervention, it is important to do ongoing frequent progress monitoring at both the student’s instructional level as well as grade. The instructional level progress monitoring informs if the intervention is working, whereas the grade level progress monitoring provides information if we are closing the achievement gap.” 


Question 3: What is the best intervention you have found for the readers with whom you work? 

Ginger: “…I work with readers who are having quite a bit of difficulty with reading. So, after identifying the specific needs, I use an intervention that is based on research and focuses on each child’s particular skill deficits. The teaching and modeling must be explicit and systematic so that children know exactly what they are being asked to do and how to do it. I also use a comprehensive intervention, for example, Fountas & Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention, to ensure the student can apply what she’s learned as she reads books.” 

Ginny: “In regard to instructional material, at the 4 to 12 grade level, I have found that the REWARDS Curriculum, Reading Excellence, Work Attack, Decoding Strategies developed by Dr. Anita Archer to be very effective for both decoding/phonics and fluency. It also addresses vocabulary instruction strategies for content areas as well as beginning comprehension skills.” 


Question 4: How is teaching reading like solving a puzzle? 

Ginger: “Progress monitoring needs to be done on a regular basis to ensure the intervention being used is the right “fit” for the child. When it is, the child should show the expected amount of progress over time. If they are not, you need to try something else using the assessment data, as well as the observations you make of the child during instruction. The intervention may need to be modified in some way or changed completely to better meet the child’s needs. You take steps continuously to solve the puzzle on a daily basis. The child’s progress or lack of progress guides you along the way until she is able to read and understand on her own, and the puzzle is solved.” 

Ginny: “When you solve a puzzle, you often start with the corner pieces and build off of them to complete the puzzle. Reading is very similar; you start with the foundational skills and ensure that the student has mastered them. You then build off these skills to develop the higher-level skills.” 


Question 5: Share about a time when you helped a student “solve the puzzle of reading.” 

Ginger: “One child I taught in Reading Intervention came to me a few years ago and told me, ‘You taught me to read when I was in first grade. Now I’m in Advanced Reading, and I love it!’ That does the heart good. 😊 Puzzle solved!” 

Ginny: “I worked with an 8th grade student who had significant delays in decoding and fluency. He started the year at a 4th grade instructional level and was averaging 38 words per minute. Following instruction with REWARDS Secondary and REWARDS Plus Social Studies, he improved his reading to the degree that he was reading 8th grade passages with 95% accuracy at 82 correct words per minute. Additionally, we implemented Bookshare and Google Read and Write to assist with reading grade level information in Science and Social Studies.” 


I am thankful for the impactful work Ginger and Ginny have accomplished to unlock, peruse, find, and solve the reading puzzle with students. What a difference they have made and continue to make! 

If you would like to learn more about using assessment to help students improve their reading, check out Course 5078: Solving the Reading Puzzle: Using Assessment to Drive Intervention.

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