Considering school context for struggling readers

As pediatric and school-based SLPs, we are in a position to not only provide therapy for children who struggle to read, but to serve as advocates for them as well. This article is one that will make you want to raise your advocacy sign and say something about how secondary students who struggle to read are being supported. The paper points to data from Dr. Learned’s larger dissertation, found here... and it’s 314 pages, so those who read that get to pick from the prize box ;)
This article is truly an enjoyable read, and presents almost as a position statement to enact change. For the study, Dr. Learned shadowed eight high school students identified as “struggling readers” throughout their school day. She saw them with different teachers, in different reading situations, and analyzed how these various contexts framed the students’ feelings about reading and skill demonstration. She compared data from these students to peers identified as proficient readers.
Learned starts by suggesting that, “Identification as a struggling reader is problematic because it can lead to narrow skills-based literacy instruction and deficit reader identities.” Further, she found that students’ behaviors and reading data were often blended to label them as “unengaged”. Struggling readers had nearly four times as many behavior referrals. It’s disheartening to read that “by the end of the year, only four of the eight focal participants were still attending ninth grade.” These students overall feel demoralized and disrespected. But not just because the reading is sometimes difficult for them, but because of how they are treated and how they are taughtIn certain school contexts (heavily influenced by their relationship with their teacher and learning environment), these same students expressed positive feelings about themselves at school and demonstrated “proficient or improving reading”. There is a lovely case example in this article to illustrate what this looks like, both from students’ and teachers’ perspectives. Read what “Mr. Henry” does to support his students in the study.
Ultimately, this article has “implications for not only the reconceptualization of adolescent reading difficulty, but also the reorganization of secondary literacy programs.”

See: Learned, J.E. (2016). Feeling like I'm slow because I'm in this class: secondary school contexts and the identification and construction of struggling readers. Reading Research Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1002/rrq.157.