June 17, 2024
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Literacy and Bathroom Breaks

Reading is more than a set of skills. A key element to help middle schoolers overcome literacy issues is for teachers to create strong relationships with their students. Technology may assist content assessments, but the best and most effective teachers are the ones who develop meaningful relationships.

Students who are embarrassed about having a hard time reading may participate in evasive behavior and hopelessness. Similarly, many tweens who play competitive sports quit that sport and try a new sport because they stop winning or think that they aren’t good enough. The same goes for reading.

If teachers can identify struggling readers and keep them motivated, they can be turned around. The challenge facing teachers is that, by seventh grade, students might be hiding their deficiencies behind coping mechanisms that keep them from being exposed. Teachers need to identify and help middle schoolers who have trouble with reading both in Hebrew and in English.

Any good educator understands that language matters. The term “remediation” should be eliminated. No student is remediated. They are not sick or broken. We need to advance all learners. Our children don’t want to be labeled as “dumb” or incapable. When they are assigned to a “remediation” class, they are often likely to lose hope and become withdrawn.

We need to keep these students motivated, not frustrated. Drop the category of remediation. Talk about advancing toward excellence. That resonates with students (and their parents). If teachers are committed to that, they can turn around struggling readers. First, though, they have to identify them.

The first task is to determine how well a student is doing with assignments or group projects. There are reading-assessment programs to help teachers identify students’ reading patterns to see if they might have dyslexia or another developmental issue. It’s not a formal diagnosis, but if a teacher notices the red flags and has reason to believe a student is struggling with reading, this data is sufficient to recommend further testing to a parent.

Another way to identify and help struggling readers is simply keeping a bathroom log. Students who are always going to the bathroom, every single period, are calling attention to a problem in that class when bathroom visits and reading coincide. Studies done in Oakland, California, demonstrate the validity of this thesis as well as the successes that came from heavy intervention in reading using assistive technology for these students. It also turns out that parents were aware of their child’s inability to read at grade level.

Teachers can also learn a lot by simply listening to a student read and then asking them about what they’ve read. Asking a student to recall three facts from that paragraph will tell you if a kid knows only how to make “reading noises” or if they also know how to recall, retain and process the information they’ve read.

There are many methods that not only give students a way to get unstuck, but they create a bond with a teacher. If a teacher has a relationship with a student, he/she is building a level of trust, and that student will be less reluctant to read out loud. No matter what subject is taught, a teacher can act as a reading coach.


Dr. Wallace Greene has had a distinguished career as an educator and administrator.

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