Coming from a poor background myself and relying on free school lunches throughout my school career, the correlation between socioeconomic status and reading success is especially intriguing to me. I have always loved reading and learning, so I have often thought about how I was able to overcome the obstacles that leave so many children struggling to excel. One explanation I have for this is the fact that I was raised in a home with both of my parents. Children receiving free or reduced lunches, at least in my experience as a teacher, tend to come from single parent homes. This is not always the case of course, but frequently enough to make a generalization. The fact that these children do not have both parents at home may be a contributing factor to the lack of vocabulary acquisition in low income students. Another explanation for the disparity between free and reduced students and non-free and reduced is the attitude in the home towards education. Typically people in low paying jobs do not have a higher level of education, while people with higher paying jobs typically have at least some college or trade school experience (US Department of Education). People who are willing to seek out higher education and end up earning higher paying jobs value education and pass this viewpoint onto their children.
While I have only been teaching for six years, I have been able to have two very diverse experiences, allowing me to work with a wide variety of learners. My first experience was in rural South Carolina. I worked as a third grade teacher in a failing Title I school. Poverty was a huge problem and most students came from broken homes. Reading and writing were not priorities, survival was. Unsurprisingly, the incoming third graders lacked the skills you would expect from the average incoming third graders. Just as mentioned in the Torgesen piece, the students often came into my class with a negative attitude towards reading, typically because reading was hard for them and they had not been given ample time to practice the skills needed. The other factors mentioned, including fewer opportunities to acquire a richer vocabulary, fewer chances to improve reading comprehension, and less time to practice reading, were all factors that had to be taken into account when planning literacy instruction in my class. In reading the list, it was almost as if someone was observing the students with which I worked! To help the struggling linguists, I adopted a workshop approach for both reading and writing instruction, allowing me to work in small groups and focus on the specific needs of my students. I found that not only did this help fill in the gaps with reading comprehension and vocabulary, but it also gave the students ample time to practice the specific skills that we worked on since they were to read independently or with partners while I worked with the small groups. While this approach did provide improvements for most of the students, most where still not performing at grade level, likely because by the time a student reaches third grade, reading habits have already been established. Torgensen references several studies in his article that point to the idea that those who struggle to read in first grade stay that way meaning that interventions in third grade are often too little, too late. In my situation, the school system did identify students needing extra help early in their educational careers, but due to the shear number of students in need, many students, in my opinion, were overlooked. Providing special education for that many students would most certainly be cost prohibitive due to the need for smaller classes and increased numbers of teachers and aids. In situations like this, where most of the students in the school could probably qualify for special education services of some kind, how are we as educators supposed to make these students successful?
In my current job, I teach upper elementary language arts and science at a private school. Most of the students are generally good readers, but there are always those students who find reading and writing more laborious than others. After this week's readings, especially the article by Hock et al, I am left wondering what I can do as an educator to help students that still struggle to read when they reach the upper elementary grades. According to the articles, early intervention is key. That seems fairly obvious. To me, even more than knowing the value of early intervention is knowing what to do with students that do not receive those interventions.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics. (n.d.). Income of young adults. Retrieved from website: http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=77
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!