Distinguishing Reluctant Readers from Struggling Readers

How do you distinguish reluctant readers from those who struggle?

How great is the overlap in the venn diagram that represents these readers as they present in your world?

Which type of reader do you have the greatest success serving?



And most importantly: how do you know?

In my world, reluctant readers are those who can read but who, for many reasons, prefer not to. In order to intervene well, I need to help everyone figure out why that may be happening. Intervention looks like attending to the why.

Struggling readers are those whose comprehension and fluency skills prevent them from engaging with texts as comfortably and proficiently as they would like. Often, this discourages them as well. Without skilled support, they will typically exhibit increased reluctance to read.

Distinguishing reluctant from struggling readers is critical, if we’re to provide them the right support, and I often find that this is where things get very interesting. For instance, if a reader presents as reluctant, is it enough to assume that providing choice and matching that reader with a just-right text will be sufficiently motivating? And if a reader presents as struggling, is it enough to assume that attending to guided reading levels and relying on other measures of fluency or even comprehension will sufficiently inform the interventions we test? We don’t know until we try and pay close attention to how our efforts influence progress.

Interventions are not one-size-fits-all, and I’ve yet to watch a teacher lift a best practice out of a text or a workshop and drop it into the classroom successfully. We need to study what we do and shift it in response to what we learn.

I’ve discovered that providing a balanced diet of text types, levels, and experiences has been critical to the success of the readers that I support. Often, teachers or even whole buildings invest significant time, resources, and effort rounding out one “food group” while neglecting the rest: kids are engaged in guided reading with leveled text OR independent reading workshop OR shared reading with complex text. And no one is really touching read aloud in my world, truth be told.

I’ve known struggling readers who are highly motivated by the numbers of words they can read per minute. They comprehend little of it, but someone has told them they are successful because they can word call. Fast. I’ve known reluctant readers who are incredibly fluent and who comprehend well, but who are completely unaware of who they are as readers, where their passions lie, or how to find texts that interest them. They know they can read. They don’t really want to, though. I’ve also known highly motivated readers who choose everything they read, talk about it with enthusiasm and zeal, and completely fall apart when faced with rich, complex text because they’ve been steadily ingesting the literary equivalent of McDonalds. And also? What are the unintended consequences of never assigning or expecting a kid to read something that he or she may not like? Talk about food for thought and conversation….another post for another day, perhaps.

I turn to assessment to help me distinguish reluctant readers from struggling readers. There are a pile of options out there for assessing fluency and comprehension. Tools like these help us identify and appropriately intervene with those who may be struggling. But how do we assess motivation? What are the indicators of that? How do we measure it? How do we help readers understand what it means to be motivated? How do we help them set goals that can foster this kind of growth? What does intervention look like?

These are the questions I’ve been asking over the last several years in a number of schools that I support closely. The responses that emerged inspired tremendous shifts in thinking about what assessments and data were and how we might use them to support readers best. We gained a great deal of insight that lived beside the piles of data we had about fluency and comprehension. This balanced our perspectives and informed our interventions in critical ways that seemed to make a real difference.

Turns out a balanced diet improves our data dialogue too.

How do you distinguish reluctant readers from struggling readers?

How do you assess readers in ways that empower balance?

How does this inform the data you are using to guide intervention?







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