Differentiated Instruction for Students With Reading Difficulties

By differentiating instruction, teachers can help individual students with reading difficulties.
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From the first kindergarten lesson on letters and sounds, some students learn to read with ease while others struggle. Because children acquire reading abilities at different rates, teachers often need to support struggling students with individual or small group lessons aimed at overcoming the obstacles they face. Teachers can use this method of differentiated instruction at any grade level to help students with problems decoding words and comprehending the ideas in a text.

1 Assessing Reading Difficulties

Before differentiating instruction, a teacher should determine which students have reading difficulties and types of difficulties they face. To do that, teachers need a wide range of data including standardized test scores, results of diagnostic tests from a reading series and teacher-made formative assessments. Reading inventories can provide valuable information about how students feel about reading and what they like to read. A learning styles inventory will help the teacher match the student with a learning method that will work best for the child. Armed with test scores, reading levels and other data, teachers can start to determine where a struggling reader needs help.

2 Reading Workshop

A reading workshop approach offers built-in opportunities for differentiated instruction. In a reading workshop lesson, a teacher models a particular reading strategy or thinking skill for the whole class and students practice and apply the learning in their own self-selected books. Giving students the ability to choose books at their own reading and interest levels offers one avenue for differentiation. Often whole-class instruction doesn't reach every child in the class. During reading workshop, students have time to read independently, while teachers hold one-on-one conferences with other children. The conferences provide time for teachers to help the students who need help with the specific skills and strategies.

3 Small Group Instruction

To differentiate instruction, teachers can divide the class into smaller groups of three to five students who face similar reading challenges. For example, a teacher might group together students who need help with decoding and provide that group with appropriate lessons and activities while another group of students works together on making inferences from the text. At other times, the teacher might partner struggling readers with strong readers to provide positive models for the students who need the most help. Teachers can create groups around students who like the same genre or are reading the same book, which is known as the literature circle method.

4 Differentiated Assessment

Instruction isn't the only element of a reading class that calls for differentiation. Teachers should also differentiate assessment, providing students with choices for how they demonstrate comprehension. Schools tend to favor paper-and-pencil assessments. However, some students may perform better if they are allowed to respond to a text verbally. Others will write about the text more successfully. Visual learners may need to work with charts or graphic organizers to show their understanding. When students are more comfortable with the way they are going to be assessed, they may become more comfortable reading the text itself and they achieve deeper levels of comprehension.

David Raudenbush has more than 20 years of experience as a literacy teacher, staff developer and literacy coach. He has written for newspapers, magazines and online publications, and served as the editor of "Golfstyles New Jersey Magazine." Raudenbush holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in education.