Child's face  MyRead: strategies for reaching reading in the middle years
beliefs
who
what
how
explicit teaching
scaffolding
monitoring and assessment
classroom organisation
professional development
further readings
acknowledgements

 

Underperforming readers: who are they?

The main predictor of low levels of literacy identified by the 1996 national survey of literacy performance was low socio-economic background. (Masters, G.M. & Forster, M. (1997). Mapping Literacy Achievement. DETYA.) A family history of negative experience of the education system is likely to repeat itself with the school performance of its children. There will be a mismatch between the backgrounds of these students and the culture of the education system. Learners are more likely to perform well when school culture and expectations match those with which they have grown up. Where there is a mismatch, students become disenfranchised from school, the educational experiences it provides, and the social and economic opportunities to which it is meant to lead.

Although many students are compliant and tolerate ‘doing school’, despite lack of success, other students opt for passive disengagement or active non compliance. The long term effects of such entrenched responses are educationally detrimental and likely to result in student management problems which are all too familiar to teachers.

When teaching acknowledges the sociocultural diversity of students, all are able to engage in the process of learning. Acknowledging that diversity and appreciating the resources that come with it can be challenging particularly when there is an overlay of ‘cover up’ behaviour. However, research has shown that underperforming students usually need little acknowledgement and encouragement in order to become more positive about learning.

Vignettes

The vignettes below were written by teachers as a means of highlighting some of the factors that shape the lives of individual students. They were written from a non-deficit point of view and provide suggestions for strategies that could support these students’ learning.

Ahmed

Dwayne

Ellie

Fred

Grace

Ian

Joshua

Tina

Toby


Ahmed

History/interests/family

  • 11 years old, eldest child of Kurdish refugee family
  • 4 years in refugee camp, disrupted education
  • 6 children in family, youngest born in Australia
  • family have limited levels of literacy in first/home language
  • parents still working through issues associated with coming from a background of trauma
  • while parents supportive of school, very much in background and keen to leave education to experts

Social/emotional

  • generally quiet in classroom but flares up outside – lots of playground issues
  • has responded well to starring as a soccer expert

Educational history/performance

  • disrupted education in refugee camp 4 years; 12 months in Introductory English Centre; in regular class for one term
  • numeracy skills quite strong especially in tasks not so language dependant
  • oral language well developed
  • reliant on ESL support in areas of comprehension and general written tasks

Possible approaches/suggestions

  • reading high interest, supportive texts – everyday meaningful situations to get and maintain interest
  • scaffold learning in all areas of reading and writing
  • explicit teaching in all areas of literacy once interest has been engaged
  • cultural awareness ‘training’ for regular classroom teachers and ongoing support for family in conjunction with outside agencies
  • small group structured support, eg Guided Reading
  • use specific interests eg soccer to develop understanding of new content and concepts through Frontloading
  • continue to build oral language strengths through, eg Three Level Guide

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Dwayne

History/interests/family

  • 13 year old boy
  • isolated rural community
  • 4 children (3 boys, one girl), Dwayne is the eldest
  • very interested in agricultural activities

Social/emotional

  • very quiet, seldom contributes
  • doesn’t interact with his peers outside school hours due to farm commitments

Educational history/performance

  • farm responsibilities are usually placed ahead of educational commitments
  • likes to look at non fiction picture books about vehicles, machinery and sporting heroes as well as simple instructional texts
  • prefers school work that is practical and has immediate rewards/results
  • doesn’t like others to see him reading ‘easy’ books/readers

Possible approaches/suggestions

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Ellie

History/interests/family

  • 13 years old
  • eldest of three children
  • Aboriginal background
  • family supportive toward life skills and learning
  • outside school activities – scouts, youth group, cycling
  • father on invalid pension

Social/emotional

  • determined and sometimes stubborn
  • vulnerable socially and generally quiet in classroom
  • determined to achieve if she has a specific goal
  • speaks rapidly, and this sometimes makes it difficult for others to understand her
  • self esteem is okay particularly in outdoor activities

Educational history/performance

  • parents anxious about Ellie being labelled
  • underperformance in both literacy and numeracy
  • tutor outside school – literacy, numeracy and life skills
  • finds it difficult to express herself verbally

Possible approaches/suggestions

  • combine life skills with other areas of learning
  • work in highly supported cooperative group activities to scaffold oral language development, eg pair/share in Cooperative Reading
  • discussion of reading strategies through, eg Nail That Character
  • scaffold language and literacy skills through Read Alouds

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Fred

History/interests/family

  • 9 years old
  • moves school frequently
  • enjoys swimming, wrestling, football and boxing
  • Dad – no work, boxer, caring and supportive, not strong in parenting skills
  • one sister also underperforming

Social/emotional

  • a loner
  • rough play which can be disruptive
  • taunting adults
  • swearing/confronting/defensive
  • low self esteem and under developed social skills
  • has difficulty communicating appropriately

Educational history/performance

  • underperformance in both literacy and numeracy
  • short attention span
  • easily distracted from tasks
  • responds well to short term goals and positive reinforcement

Possible approaches/suggestions

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Grace

History/interests/family

  • 12 years old
  • second eldest in family of 8 girls
  • lives with mum and step-dad
  • below poverty line
  • interest is all based around her family
  • looks after all younger sisters at primary school, eg gets lunches ready, walks them to and from school

Social/emotional

  • quiet child in and out of the classroom
  • finds it difficult to make and maintain friendships except for one close friend
  • is self reliant

Educational history/performance

  • finds reading and writing difficult
  • has repeated one year level
  • enjoys drama scenarios but not writing plays
  • has difficulty meeting deadlines but responds to teacher assistance

Possible approaches/suggestions

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Ian

History/interests/family

  • 12 years old, first year high school
  • two elder sisters, twin sister, older and younger brother (small house)
  • Mum – Indigenous
  • Dad – left family when Ian was 9
  • loves animals (chooks, geese, dog, fish at home) – tropical fish is hobby
  • Mum studying at Uni (artist)
  • internet access
  • twin sister is a high performer as are other siblings

Social/emotional

  • high self-esteem
  • quiet, reserved child
  • polite, does his chores
  • connected to strong Koori network
  • family network friends rather than school friends

Educational history/performance

  • reads confidently about topics that interest him
  • below 20% benchmark in system testing
  • school work avoider/disorganised with equipment
  • loves ‘home projects’: science/SOSE
  • able to write when not focused on ‘detail’
  • focus on spelling inhibits the flow of ideas

Possible approaches/suggestions

  • concrete, real world challenges,
  • collaborative tasks
  • use talk to scaffold learning
  • valuing ideas before focusing on spelling/grammar
  • provide ongoing feedback
  • provide choices and follow up interests through, eg Interlinks: Annotated Learning
  • when appropriate provide specific approaches to spelling, eg Phonemic Awareness
  • provide structured interactive strategies, eg Nail that Character

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Joshua

History/interests/family

  • 11 years old
  • working parents
  • two older sisters
  • has lots of material possessions
  • likes TV and computers

Social/emotional

  • high self–esteem
  • prefers to work alone rather than in a team
  • isolated, something of a loner
  • very quiet, contributes sometimes

Educational history/performance

  • numeracy quite strong
  • prefers to read non-fiction texts
  • withdrawal intervention programs for past two years
  • resists writing tasks
  • well developed avoidance strategies

Possible approaches/suggestions

  • focus on in-class support and working in supportive groups
  • explicit teaching with teacher direction, eg Guided Reading
  • engage with range of texts through, eg Frontloading
  • develop structured interactive strategies through, eg Three Stages Of Reading

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Tina

History/interests/family

  • 14 years old
  • middle child, older siblings are high achievers
  • split family – shared time with either parent, predominantly with mum
  • step-parent (father)
  • both parents career focused
  • talented in sport especially netball and swimming
  • good at computer games

Social/emotional

  • strong but not coping with ‘split’ and new partner
  • parent relationship volatile
  • parents both support child
  • reacts angrily in difficult situations, eg when classroom work is too difficult
  • popular at school both with boys and girls
  • will accept counselling and 1 – 1 support

Educational history/performance

  • prefers outdoor activities (athletic) to quieter activities such as reading
  • often represents school in sporting activities
  • underperforms academically except in numeracy
  • prefers information texts with lots of illustrations during class silent reading time

Possible approaches/suggestions

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Toby

History/interests/family

  • 15 years old
  • supportive mother who works in classroom
  • father focused on basic skill attainment and has high expectations; disciplinarian
  • single child family
  • family supportive of child’s pursuits – cars and motorbikes

Social/emotional

  • relates very well to others and is popular with peers
  • concerned with equity of treatment of others – likes things to be fair
  • starting to enjoy company of female students

Educational history/performance

  • enjoys non-fiction texts
  • starting to explore and be a risk taker in language
  • avoidance of reading and writing tasks in class as a survival strategy

Possible approaches/suggestions

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