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How to Help Struggling Readers in Your Classroom

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Show Notes:

One of the most challenging parts of teaching is knowing how to support your students who are struggling with reading. This is especially prevalent right now, as we’re all experiencing massive learning gaps because of everything that children have been through with COVID. There has been lots of virtual learning from home, and that means that kids may not have gotten the level of support and reading instruction that they need.

So if we have these huge gaps, how can we plan our  literacy instruction to meet the needs of all students, especially our struggling readers? As our guest Alison Ryan explains, the first step is believing you can.

Alison Ryan, M.Ed, has been working in schools since 2005 as a classroom teacher, reading interventionist, reading specialist, and Director of Curriculum & Instruction. She is trained in the Orton-Gillingham method, has extensive experience working with struggling readers, and has a master’s degree in literacy leadership.

Even though I specialized in literacy in University, I remember how hard it was for me to support struggling readers when I first started teaching. Despite all of my education, I felt completely unprepared to support them. I honestly did not know what to do or where to even begin. Maybe you feel the same way. That’s why Alison and I are going to be talking all about what to do when you first notice that one, or maybe many, of your students are struggling with reading.

Alison points out the importance of trying to identify the root cause of the child's reading struggles. This alone can be a very difficult task to attempt on your own. That’s why it’s so important to not be afraid to ask for help. 

Whether it’s help from a reading specialist, veteran teacher, or someone else, having multiple heads working together can be so helpful as it gives you the opportunity to look at things from a different angle. While it can be difficult to ask for help sometimes, it’s ultimately what is best for your students.

The next best action step to take is to look at where the student is in terms of their phonics, fluency and comprehension. These three foundational skills are key in reading, and they all connect in very important ways. 

A helpful analogy that Alison uses is imagining a line of dominoes. When you hit the first domino, everything else falls. We can think of phonics as the first domino, fluency as the second domino, and comprehension as the third domino. 

If you knock over the phonics domino, then students are going to be able to recognize a lot of words automatically and decode words with ease. This contributes majorly to fluency, since part of fluency is being able to read words accurately. Next, the fluency domino knocks over the comprehension domino because if a child is reading fluently and accurately, it’s going to free up their working memory to better comprehend the text. All of these skills build upon each other, and Alison gives specific examples of how you can strengthen each one.

I hope this episode gives you a solid plan for where to start with your struggling readers. Every child is different, and improving reading skills takes time, but these strategies will help you to take action and help your kids confidently move forward.

Be sure to download Alison’s free phonics diagnostic assessments so that you can pinpoint the exact phonics skills that your students need to work on. 

Inside this week's show, you'll learn:

  • What to do when you first notice that a child is struggling, and who to reach out to for help.
  • The definition of phonics, fluency, and comprehension, and how they are all intertwined. 
  • Why fluency practice is so incredibly helpful, and how you can build this skill.
  • The many benefits of having students track their progress, and how you can implement this practice.
  • How repeated readings can help with fluency and comprehension, and when to know if a student needs an assessment from a specialist.

 Connect with Alison:

Links & resources mentioned inside this episode:

I hope this information is helpful as you prepare for your first, second, or third year of teaching. Until next time, remember, just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one.

πŸ’› Lori

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at and at

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