Stuck in the Middle: The Principal's Role in Reading Groups
One of the strategies that we use at NSMS to help reluctant readers continue to improve their literacy skills is giving them the opportunity to participate in a small reading group. These small groups usually meet twice a week to read aloud. Hearing students read orally allows us as educators to focus them on the areas that they struggle with in their reading.
Some students need to work on their vocabulary development, so we pre-read the sections in advance and we discuss the vocabulary they might find challenging before we start to read. I facilitate a grade 8 group and we read together every Tuesday and Thursday during advisory.
I, personally, find reading aloud significantly more challenging than reading silently. First, you hear your voice in the room, and as a result, you have to focus on your fluency so that the sentences that you are reading flow for the others listening. This really forces readers to pause for punctuation and reread sections that they have misread or stumbled on. What I like about the reading aloud is that we get instant feedback. I try to give feedback either when I notice a student making a repeat error or when they ask for help, otherwise, I like to wait for a natural break.
In one of our recent sessions, one of the students was reading the following passage. He read, “The tracks coming toward the cabin were far apart and dug in hard, as if the bear had been running, running to break in?” I was tracking (reading) along with him, but I was a little behind him and I was just getting to the question mark when he said. “That didn't make sense.”
So I quickly jumped in to explain how the bear tracks must have looked. I thought I did a great job recreating the image the author was trying to describe in my own words. However, my four reading partners all glanced up from their books and looked at me blankly. There was an awkward silence in the room and each group member stared at me with a look of confusion. So I went back to the start of the passage and tried again to explain what I thought was going on. Once again only blank looks and silence. This was our first stumbling block as a group. I was confused. We had been moving along so nicely. Why were we stuck on this simple descriptive sentence?
Then one of the students finally spoke up for his buddy that had been reading. “Mr. Russell, ‘That doesn’t make sense.’ is the next sentence in the story.”
Of course, it didn't make sense, because the story went on to say, “And then he saw the boot prints as well, running towards the cabin on the same line as the bear, and it made more sense.”
Of course, it made more sense. It makes sense to read the whole passage before commenting and it also makes sense to read aloud regularly with middle school students and principals, because we can all improve our literacy skills with a little help from our friends.
PS - In school, my son was a reluctant reader until he found books he loved. Here are his favorite three authors and books from Middle School.
3. Alex Rider Series - Anthony Horowitz
2. Percy Jackson & the Olympians Series - Rick Riordan
1. Calvin and Hobbes - Bill Watterson