Reading for Life: Striving Readers

by Rhonda H. Lauer on February 2, 2011

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As part of the exciting series Reading for Life, Foundations’ President and CEO Rhonda H. Lauer shares her expertise and insights about grade level reading. Join Ms. Lauer as she offers key viewpoints and commentary based on her extensive experience working in Philadelphia–and across the country–to give our children and young people the educational opportunities they deserve. 

It’s no secret that reading is crucial to academic and life success. It’s also no secret that even young children comprehend its significance: students who read below grade level frequently suffer from low self-esteem, which can snowball into behavioral and social problems.

At Foundations, we refer to students who are not reading at grade level as “striving readers.” We prefer to use the word “striving” (rather than struggling) because it connotes hopefulness, diligent effort, and a strong desire to achieve. It also reflects reality. All children want to read well; they are striving towards that goal.

To help striving readers, teachers require a toolbox of strategies. Why a whole toolbox? Because not every strategy works for every child, and not every strategy works for every teacher. One essential strategy we have developed is the individual reading plan. Just as each student is different, so is each plan. Plans not only focus on areas of strength and of challenge, but also consider family and socioeconomic factors, health, and attendance. And each plan outlines the specific interventions needed to move an individual child to the next reading level.

Stocking the toolbox is not easy. It takes leadership: principals and district officials who provide staff with the opportunity for ongoing development focused on language and literacy. We support such a culture of continuous learning at the schools we service through “communities of practice.” These regular interactions help the Foundations team stay connected with teachers even when thousands of miles away. Through webinars, conference calls, and other means, we can determine what’s working in the classroom, what’s not, and what the next steps should be to help each child read at grade level.

Given all this, have we closed the gap? We’ve made substantial progress, but not enough for me. Until we figure out how to get 100% of our kids reading on grade level, I will not be satisfied. But, like many of our young people, we are striving towards that goal. And like them, I believe we can achieve it, if we work together to make the big changes needed to get there.

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