Remote Learning for Students with Reading Challenges

These key tools and techniques will help teachers (and parents) support online learning for struggling readers, ELL students, and students with dyslexia.

By Jillian Kaster and Laura Axtell

With questions about whether schools will offer virtual and/or in-person learning still unanswered, parents can find solace in this fact: authentic teachable moments happen outside the classroom all the time. Creating learning experiences such as having your child help prepare meals, shop, or enjoy outings to parks or museums can improve literacy. Facilitating a deep level of communication is as simple as engaging in conversation about shared experiences, explaining your thinking, and asking open-ended questions so your child can share their thoughts. All these actions build metacognition, which is key for comprehension and reading success.

As an implementation coach and educational specialist for a reading program, we would like to share two simple guiding principles, no matter what area of reading your student struggles with:

  • Find effective resources and strategies; and
  • Build background knowledge.

Students who struggle with reading need repetition, practice, and familiarity to keep momentum going. Providing your student with authentic experiences and background knowledge on the topics they are reading gives them a head start on reading comprehension. There are many ways parents and educators can further support their readers, whatever their need. Here are a number of specific strategies you can use to make learning as effective as possible, regardless of location.

For Struggling Readers

Set specific goals: A helpful way to begin is to identify some simple goals for reading. For example, have your student use their finger to ensure they stop and look at every word rather than guess or skip words. Another goal may be to pause whenever they see a period, since many struggling readers miss punctuation. Discussing the content with your student is vital for building reading comprehension and retention. For younger children, that may involve them retelling the story. Older students may identify the key points in the text and connect those points to prior knowledge and how they are relevant to what is being studied.

Teachers may find it helpful to identify a few specific and achievable actions like these that parents can implement at home to support reading goals. Parents can communicate with their child’s teacher to understand what specific intervention goals, if any, the child is working towards. Together, form a plan for your child to continue that support to attain their goal.

Find quality tech resources: One of the biggest supports for struggling readers is providing access to research-aligned reading instruction they can access at home with support from a teacher or parent. Make sure students have at-home access to decodable readers and stories that are matched to their Lexile level to practice fluency. Model reading aloud on a regular basis.

If students have technology at home, software like Reading Horizons—a systematic, explicit approach for teaching reading and spelling—increases the ability for students of any age to decode words and connect these skills to authentic text.

Boost confidence: Be sure to provide frequent encouragement when a child makes progress. Celebrating small successes keeps the focus on what they can do instead of what they are not yet able to do. Research by Cambria and Guthrie (2010) indicated that confidence in oneself is more closely linked to achievement in school than any other motivator.

For English Language Learners (ELLs)

Focus on speaking and listening: For Level 1 and 2 ELLs, practice in social communication and functional English are the most beneficial. Students with more speaking proficiency can begin basic reading and writing and move to more academic English as they are ready.

For students who have access, use the ABC tools on Reading Horizons Discovery or pronunciation tools on Reading Horizons Elevate to teach students how the sounds are made in the English language. The student can record themselves pronouncing the sound and play it back to gauge accuracy.

Having access to an interactive online site is helpful, and there are a number of free resources available. Encouraging the use of English subtitles for television, free language apps, and opportunities for conversation with an English speaker can also be valuable. Pairing a student learning English with a classmate for conversations online or by phone can be a wonderful way to support students and build relationships.

Use storytelling tools: Storytelling is an awesome way to get conversations going. For young children, use picture books and have your student discuss what is happening in the story. Use the images to build vocabulary (“See this wreath on the door?”). For older students, having them predict what will happen next, discuss an event, or give an opinion on a character’s motivation can be powerful.

For Students with Dyslexia

Analyze the amount of support they need: Teachers and parents will need to consider how involved each will need to be in supporting a student with dyslexia. Can the student access audiobooks to help with gaining content for longer reading assignments? Is there access to assistive technology tools in the classroom and at home to provide pronunciation and definitions for unknown words? Having a student read an assignment aloud will determine if the text is too difficult so that appropriate accommodations can be provided.

Find an alternative to reading: There are plenty of ways to help students with dyslexia connect with content, especially if the topic is more complex. Watching a YouTube video or a movie about a historical event or a science concept can be just as valuable and will help them to be much more independent. If an internet search produces resources that are too complex for the grade level, try the topic with the additional keywords “for kids” to improve the results. For example, “osmosis for kids” or “WWII for kids” can yield information that is much more targeted.

Discuss strategies for organizing and completing work: Students with dyslexia may have difficulty with executive functioning. Keeping track of multiple assignments or projects can be overwhelming. Having an organizational system with a list of assignments, deadlines, and an estimate of the time the tasks will take to complete can help students focus on what is most immediate. Include a place to check off completed tasks. Support your student in brainstorming and planning different options to complete assignments within the given timeframe. For example, could they complete half of an assignment in the morning and use a later session to finish up? Having the student reflect on their choices and level of productivity will help make undertaking future assignments easier.

With so much in flux when it comes to education, both teachers and parents can take comfort in a few truths: You’re not alone. Technology can help. And if you keep the dialogue open, learning will come from unexpected places.

Jillian Kaster is an implementation coach and former classroom teacher and Laura Axtell is an education specialist and former special education teacher for Reading Horizons.

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