EdCuration Blog: Learning in Action

Strategies and Support for Reluctant & Non-Proficient Readers

Apr 15, 2021 6:15:58 PM / by Kristi Hemingway

Reading Plus April Blog Image

Given the myriad of potential obstacles and complications, the fact that anyone becomes a proficient reader is a small wonder.

Reading is a highly complex brain activity. So many things can interfere, making it virtually impossible for the average classroom teacher to choose just the right strategies and interventions for thirty different students.

Merely reluctant readers might just need the opportunity provided by a robust independent reading program. However, independent reading is not proven to help build fluency in struggling, non-proficient readers. According to the National Reading Panel, asking a struggling reader to silently read is demotivating. Those students need targeted strategies and evidence-based interventions, and they need them early.

According to Shaywitz (2003), a student who has not received the necessary reading assistance before 3rd grade may need 150 to 300 hours of intensive instruction over a one-to three-year period to close the gap between himself and his peers. Research shows that 70% of non-proficient readers process text inefficiently, so regardless of the cause or diagnosis, instruction that addresses inefficient reading will bring success for 70% of non-proficient readers.

Reading Plus is an adaptive literacy program that improves silent reading fluency as well as comprehension, vocabulary, stamina, and motivation. It meets the highest levels of evidence needed under ESSA, and has been shown to significantly improve reading achievement for diverse populations of students in grades 3-12. During the 2018-19 school year, students receiving special education services who used Reading Plus significantly increased comprehension of complex texts, developed higher levels of general academic vocabulary, and improved their reading proficiency. Typically students receiving tier-3 interventions are able to close their reading gap after only 60 hours of use--in contrast to the 150-300 hours from Shaywitz's data--making two and half years of gains in one year.

The program is simple for general education teachers to integrate, as it provides differentiated and adaptive reading instruction based on student data, all automatically.

"I don't read like a robot anymore. I don't read word by word anymore," reports Christopher, a student from Meridian Public Schools in Connecticut, talking about Reading Plus. " I can read out loud with no problem now."

When combined with a powerful intervention like Reading Plus, the following strategies better support non-proficient readers and amplify learning for all.

Growth Mindset

We are all motivated by a culture where failure and struggle are affirmed as inevitable obstacles on the road to success. People stay motivated when they expect to be successful at a task eventually, and when they place value on that success (Wigfield & Asher, 1984). Struggling readers need to believe they will eventually succeed, and that their success will result from effort, not luck or talent (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). To place value on their success they need to see reading as a bridge to learn about things that matter to them.

Text Selection

All readers benefit from exposure to a wide variety of texts genres and types, but especially struggling readers and ELLs. Genre specific text features help train readers in what to expect in terms of vocabulary, the type of information contained and how it will be presented. While "high interest, low vocabulary" books are helpful, struggling readers should not be limited to hi/lo books only. Most of us can read material well beyond our measured instructional level if we are interested in the topic. Pairing multiple types of texts on a topic, and designing carefully scaffolded and collaborative tasks weaves the biggest net to catch all reading levels.

Student Choice

Text variety goes hand in hand with student choice. Eliminating independent, free-choice reading time to accommodate assigned reading is counterproductive. Students build confidence, fluency and a personal reading identity when allowed to choose high-interest books at their proficiency level. Two helpful sources are the Young Adult Library Services Association's Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and The Books for Reluctant Readers. In a study of 2,000 middle school students, Ivey and Broaddus (2001) found that the students' favorite in-class activity was free reading time—and their second-favorite activity was read-aloud time.


Students are more likely to achieve fluency if they have an understanding of what constitutes fluency: flow, pausing, intonation. Hearing a fluent, expressive reader puts all students on even ground by giving them the exact same initial experience with a text. Students can then go back and re-read with a head start on decoding, language flow, storyline and message. Middle and high school students report read-alouds to be among their most memorable and enriching reading experiences (Rasinski, 2003, p. 19), and read-alouds provide an ideal opportunity for explicit modeling.


Modeling good oral reading shows that meaning is conveyed not only through words, but also through the way those words are expressed, grouped, and emphasized. Word solving and comprehension strategies are so automatic to proficient readers we forget that they need to be taught. Reading a passage aloud and pausing often to clearly explain strategies being used, as well as the kinds of questions readers ask, demystifies the process and sends the message that "good" readers are just readers who have learned to use strategies.

Choral Reading

Just another way of modeling, reading aloud together as a group takes the spotlight off of struggling readers while encouraging them to participate. Research suggests that it improves reading fluency, expands vocabulary, and increases students' confidence, and has applications at all grade levels. Change it up by starting with a single student and gradually adding more voices, or vice versa. Experiment by dividing the reading into a call and response format, reading by rows, gender, or any categories that you and your students decide on. Choral reading works best if the teacher directs all students-regardless of age or ability level-to use a marker or finger to follow along in the text as they read.

Collaboration and Verbalization

On that note, classrooms are becoming increasingly collaborative, interactive spaces, mostly based on the work of Lev Vygotsky (1978) who helped us all understand learning as a social process. Vygotsky says that what we know and are able to do independently can be increased significantly through peer interaction and strong teacher modeling and support. In a social classroom the focus is shared between the reading itself, and the process of making meaning through collaboration and discussion where students test out thinking and verbalize their ideas and questions. Struggling readers are empowered by this shared focus. 

Book Clubs

Speaking of socialized learning, a book club format is a great way to structure that shared focus. It gives struggling readers the opportunity to verbally process, build understanding with the help of peers, and to feel reading-related success during discussions. This article has detailed suggestions about how to structure book clubs in your classroom and mentor students for success.


While not all of these strategies are feasible during remote or hybrid learning, you can still support struggling readers and address the mounting concern over learning loss. Reading Plus integrates easily into remote and hybrid formats and implementations. Students and educators can log in on any compatible device with internet access, ensuring rapid MTSS results, to keep readers motivated and making reading gains from home or in person.


Topics: Literacy, Student Agency, English Language Learners, special education

Kristi Hemingway

Written by Kristi Hemingway

Kristi is a lifelong educator, published author, national award winning journalist and a writing/literacy teacher and consultant. After working with international and European schools, as well as the US, Canadian, and British militaries, she managed programming for a large Arts and Humanities non-profit. Most recently Kristi worked for a curriculum company as a literacy consultant, instructional coach, and professional developer prior to joining EdCuration in 2019.

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