Struggling Readers: Assessment and Instruction in Grades K-6

Struggling Readers: Assessment and Instruction in Grades K-6

by Ernest Balajthy EdD, Sally Lipa-Wade

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This practical book focuses on three distinct types of struggling readers that teachers will instantly recognize from their own classrooms—the Catch-On Reader, the Catch-Up Reader, and the Stalled Reader. Detailed case studies bring to life the specific problems these students are likely to face and illustrate research-based instructional strategies that can help get learning back on track. The book also illuminates the causes and consequences of literacy difficulties, giving K-6 teachers a better understanding of how to meet the needs of each child. A comprehensive appendix provides dozens of informal assessment devices, ready to photocopy and use. Other user-friendly features include annotated bibliographies of key research, descriptions of commercial materials and curricula designed for each type of learner, and information on technology resources.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781572308527
Publisher: Guilford Publications, Inc.
Publication date: 04/04/2003
Series: Solving Problems in the Teaching of Literacy
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 285
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x (d)
Age Range: 5 - 11 Years

About the Author

Ernest Balajthy, EdD, is Director of the Reading and Literacy Center and Professor of Education at the State University of New York at Geneseo. He teaches reading, literacy, and educational computing courses. His specializations include technology applications in reading and writing, comprehension processes and strategies, and secondary and college literacy instruction. He is the editor of the "Issues in Technology" column that appears in the journal Reading and Writing Quarterly and is the author of two books on computer applications in reading and language arts.

Sally Lipa-Wade, PhD, is the recently retired Director of the Reading and Literacy Center at the State University of New York at Geneseo. She continues to teach undergraduate and graduate reading and literacy courses as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern Florida. During her time at Geneseo, the Reading and Literacy Center became well known for the training provided to elementary classroom teachers and reading/literacy specialists. Rather than centering on specific reading programs or methodologies, the center stresses a "what's right" approach for individuals' reading development.

Read an Excerpt

Struggling Readers

Assessment and Instruction in Grades K-6
By Ernest Balajthy Sally Lipa-Wade

The Guilford Press

Copyright © 2003 The Guilford Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-57230-852-4

Chapter One

Helping Catch-Up Readers with Story Comprehension


Story Retellings 109 Directed Reading-Thinking Activity 110 Experience-Text Relationship (ETR) 111 Probable Passages 112 Story Mapping 115 Story Frames 116 Semantic Webbing 119 Story Previews 120 Summary 120

Catch-Up Readers vary in terms of the reading and literacy difficulties they exhibit as well as the causes of those difficulties. Comprehension is almost always a difficulty-after all, comprehension is the heart of reading. If a child has no comprehension difficulty, odds are good that few teachers or parents would be concerned about his/her progress.

Teachers can often identify underlying factors in a given child's comprehension problems. Sometimes the problems are embedded in the comprehension processes themselves. Perhaps the child simply does not understand appropriate strategies for gaining information from text and for recalling that information after reading. In many other cases, word-identification problems or poor vocabulary seem to be creating the comprehension deficits. In the case of poor vocabulary knowledge, the child may be experiencing a general deficit in world knowledge, due to adisadvantaged background, cultural differences, or cognitive limitation.

With those Catch-Up Readers for whom word-identification or vocabulary limitations function as the underlying factor in comprehension difficulties, teachers may be tempted to address the impeding factors and let comprehension take care of itself. This would be a mistake. Comprehension of text gives meaning to reading and literacy efforts. If reading real stories that are meaningful to children becomes a mere by-product of a teacher's efforts, the heart is cut out of the reading program's purpose. In Pikulski's (1994) review of research on remedial programs, reading for meaning was the central focus of those programs deemed effective. Block et al. (2002) found that one important characteristic of excellence in teaching reading is the provision of a wide variety of reading materials "so that every student can find a specific book with which to fall in love" (p. 191).

In addition to providing meaning to the curriculum, comprehension activities based on salient, engaging material afford teachers many opportunities to develop Catch-Up Readers' word-identification abilities and vocabulary knowledge. These opportunities allow Catch-Up Readers to apply their newly learned skills in the context of authentic reading. When working with Catch-Up Readers on comprehension strategies, a considerable amount of time is spent developing word identification and vocabulary.

Teacher-directed comprehension activities are only one part of the overall holistic efforts of classroom, school, home, and community for dealing with the difficulties evidenced by the Catch-Up Reader. Encouragement of recreational reading at home is crucial, for example. Not surprisingly, Neuman and Celano (2001) found evidence that students from disadvantaged homes have far less access to printed materials than do students from middle and upper socioeconomic environments. A comprehensive program must include efforts to place books and other high-quality printed materials in the hands of all students. Bear in mind, however, that access involves more than simple availability. Worthy, Patterson, Salas, Prater, and Turner (2002) found that dramatic success in improving the amount of voluntary reading by struggling readers requires materials that are interesting to the individual students and that are on appropriate difficulty levels. Books purchased by parents and relatives often fail to meet this criteria.

The methods described in this chapter focus on how teachers can offer guidance and support of students as they engage them at higher levels of comprehension processing. Too often, instructing struggling readers in comprehension is limited to asking lower-level questions about their reading material-in short, to testing rather than teaching them. Instead, Catch-Up Readers should be actively engaged in (1) the meaningful endeavor of connecting story content to their own lives and knowledge, (2) making predictions based on the text, and in identifying structural elements of stories to improve recall (Scharer, Lehman, & Peters, 2001).


A natural way to help students recall story content and draw inferences and conclusions about a story is to ask them to retell the story in their own words. Retellings play a dual role for the teacher who is working with Catch-Up Readers: (1) in an instructional mode, they promote comprehension, and (2) in a diagnostic mode, they reveal students' recall processes.

Story grammar (also called story structure) refers to the basic structure of stories that includes the setting, plot complications, and climax. Providing explicit instruction in the components of story grammar helps Catch-Up Readers develop the quality and quantity of their narrative comprehension (Gambrell & Chaser, 1991).

When working with students to improve their narrative recall, planning plays a key role. Prior to instruction, the teacher should read the story and be familiar with its grammar-the major episodes, the characters, and the central theme. After the reading the story to the class or small group, students are asked to retell everything they can remember. Some Catch-Up Readers have limited unprompted recall of stories. In such cases the teacher should prepare several specific questions about the story to guide their recall. The teacher uses the story grammar that has previously been constructed as a guide to further questioning:

"Tell me more about _________"

"Why do you think that happened?"

"What other characters are in the story?"

"What overall message did you get from this story?"

"Let's reread this part of the story. You listen and try to get a picture in your mind as I read."

During the retelling and the discussion, the teacher can analyze student performance in a variety of ways to provide immediate feedback and future guidance. The checklist in the appendix (Story Retelling-General Analysis Checklist) helps the teacher keep track of general story grammar elements and how well students use those elements in recall. For more detailed and specific assessments of student performance, teachers can create retelling checklists based on some of the stories read during instruction. The Sample Story Retelling-General Checklist and the Sample Story Retelling-Specific Checklist (both in the appendix) give examples of two such checklists.


Catch-Up Readers benefit from receiving strong guidance during reading. Such lessons are often called teacher-directed, but more recently the term guided reading has become popular. A guided reading lesson pattern-the "directed reading-thinking activity" (DR-TA)-was developed by Russell Stauffer (1975) as a more engaging alternative to the lesson plan pattern used in most basal series-the directed reading activity (DRA). Teacher questions in the traditional DRA focus on simple recall of story material. In the DR-TA, in contrast, students are taught how to understand information in the text by engaging in a series of predictions prior to reading specified segments.

Stories selected for DR-TA lessons should be highly interesting and the story lines should suggest several possible outcomes. In other words, the stories should lend themselves to the use of prediction questions. In a DR-TA lesson the students predict story events and then read or listen to part of the story to verify or discard the predictions. As the story unfolds, predictions become increasingly accurate as students have more and more information upon which to base their predictions.

Predicting what will happen in a story provides a purpose for reading. Experiencing a sense of purpose is especially important for Catch-Up Readers, because they often find it difficult to become interested in the outcome of the story. Additionally, the reader who makes a prediction and then reads purposefully to check the accuracy of the prediction is better able to use inferencing and other higher-level comprehension skills. Use of the DR-TA activity teaches students to become active, strategic readers.

The DR-TA lesson pattern follows four basic steps:

1. The teacher creates a readiness for reading in the students by telling them the title of the story and asking them to examine the pictures on the first page. Then the teacher asks the students to predict what will happen in the story. These first predictions are written on the chalkboard or on chart paper.

Bear in mind that accuracy of predictions is not the emphasis at this point. Rather, focus is placed on whether the predictions are reasonable, based on the information available.

2. The students read a predetermined section of the story silently (or aloud) to check their predictions. After this initial reading, they modify the earlier predictions in light of the information they have just gained. The students discuss what happened in the selection and why it happened. General discussion of the story content follows. Then the teacher asks the students to predict what will happen next in the story. Based on the information they now have, their predictions should begin moving from divergent to convergent, as they use information to make predictions that more closely match what will actually occur in the story.

This pattern of making predictions and checking them can continue until the story has been completed. The number of prediction-check cycles depends on the story and the needs of the students. Sometimes, especially with older students, teachers use this DR-TA format to get students started in reading a story, then allow them to finish the story independently.

3. After finishing the story, a general discussion ensues, in which the teacher poses questions such as: "Did you expect that to happen in this story? When did you figure out the ending? What was the best part about this story? Would you have done what___________ [the main character] did? How would you change the end of this story?"

4. Typically, skills teaching follows: vocabulary development, concept formation, specific comprehension activities, or study skills. The teacher should determine the specific skills that are needed by the group and include these in relevant text-based, contextualized activities.

Stauffer's DR-TA lesson pattern was originally designed as a whole class activity. Individualized DR-TAs can be a powerful teaching tool for Catch-Up Readers, however, with questioning and skills instruction designed to meet a specific child's needs. Although DRTAs are usually used with narrative text, expository text that has sufficiently predictable elements can be used as well.


The "experience-text relationship" (ETR) instruction technique is a teacher-directed, guided reading activity closely related to the DR-TA. Developed by Au (1979) specifically for children from multicultural backgrounds, this technique can be used effectively with all students. The group teaching lesson pattern is based on two key principles:

1. The understanding that students' background experiences will help them understand what they read

2. The power of socially constructed knowledge

Prior to instruction the teacher reads the story, considers the relevant background experiences students are likely to have had, and develops several questions that will be included in the lesson to tap this background knowledge. Three steps follow:

The experience step. At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher uses the previous prepared questions to elicit predictions from the children about what will happen in the story.

The text step. The students read a section of the story to check the predictions. The story should be read in segments, so that new predictions and comprehension clarification can be included throughout the story.

The relationship step. General discussion of the story follows completion of the reading. The relationship step connects the key ideas in the text to the students' experiences. A key goal in this step is to show students that they can use their background knowledge to help them interpret and understand stories. The teacher and children summarize the main relationships after the discussion is complete.

Au(1993) likens the ETR lesson to "talk story-like lessons," in which children talk among themselves to construct meaning. Lessons such as these are based more on collaborative conversation than recitation. The teacher's role includes providing a high comfort level and structuring participation so that students think about text at higher cognitive levels.


The "Probable passages" instructional method was developed by Wood (1984) to teach reading through prediction, discussion, and writing. Prior to reading, several key words from the story are selected by the teacher. The words are presented to the students, who are directed to place the words within categories that are related to the elements of story grammar. After the words are placed in categories, the students are asked to create an "incomplete probable passage," by using the words they have categorized to form a story.

Next, students read the actual selection or listen to the reading by the teacher to check the accuracy of their original predictions. After reading, the students discuss what happened in the story and compare the author's version to their own predicted stories. Then they write a "revised probable passage" that tells what actually did occur in the story.

Wood (1984) developed this strategy to be used with stories from basal readers, but it can be used with almost any story. The one caveat: The story contents should not be readily evident from the title or the words the teacher selects for the probable passage.

There are four stages in this strategy: preparation, prereading, reading, and post-reading. We have modified these stages to accommodate the needs of the Catch-Up Reader and have found that this modified strategy is an excellent way to help such readers comprehend stories and improve sight-word vocabulary.


Excerpted from Struggling Readers by Ernest Balajthy Sally Lipa-Wade Copyright © 2003 by The Guilford Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part I: Catch-On Readers
Chapter 1: Who Are the Catch-On Readers in Your Classroom?
Chapter 2: Helping Catch-On Readers with Basic Print Concepts
Chapter 3: Helping Catch-On Readers in Word Recognition
Chapter 4: Helping Catch-On Readers Using Language Experience Approaches
Chapter 5: Helping Catch-On Readers by Integrating Reading and Writing
Chapter 6: Thinking through Case Studies of Catch-On Readers
Chapter 7: Additional Resources for Helping Catch-On Readers

Part II: Catch-Up Readers
Chapter 8: Who Are the Catch-Up Readers in Your Classroom?
Chapter 9: Helping Catch-Up Readers with Word Recognition
Chapter 10: Helping Catch-Up Readers with Vocabulary
Chapter 11: Helping Catch-Up Readers with Story Comprehension
Chapter 12: Helping Catch-Up Readers with Content Area Reading
Chapter 13: Thinking through Case Studies of Catch-Up Readers
Chapter 14: Additional Resources for Helping Catch-Up Readers

Part III: Stalled Readers
Chapter 15: Who Are the Stalled Readers in Your Classroom?
Chapter 16: Helping Stalled Readers with Word Recognition
Chapter 17: Helping Stalled Readers Using Context-Based Approaches
Chapter 18: Helping Stalled Readers with Reading Comprehension Difficulties
Chapter 19: Thinking through Case Studies of Stalled Readers
Chapter 20: Additional Resources for Helping Stalled Readers

Appendix: Assessment Devices


Reading specialists and classroom teachers in grades K-6; teacher educators; advanced undergraduate- and graduate-level students. Serves as a text in elementary reading methods and remedial reading courses.

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