Should high schools employ reading teachers to ensure success in reading for students who score low in reading on standardized tests and exhibit reading problems in other high school courses such as history and science? That is a very good question that could have a direct impact on the ability of schools to meet the AYP goals and improve the graduation rates for at-risk students. For four years, I worked as a reading coach in high school dealing with students reading below grade level. All the students had several traits in common which in turn affected their ability to function well in their other classes. For a student whose reading skills are very low, high school can be very frustrating; frustration leads to behavioral problems and, eventually, dropping out of school. Time must be taken to analyze the specific problems of the individual student; many times, individualized plans must be developed for the skills needing improvement. The regular classroom teacher must deal with many different learning styles and problems in the classroom without having the need to complete detailed analyzing and planning for students with severe reading problems. In the end, many of these students fall to the wayside because of a lack of time and experience in teaching and analyzing the fundamentals of reading. High school reading coaches could be part of the solution to this problem that not only influences a student’s ability to function in Language Arts/English classes but in history, science, and technical classes.
What type of experience and education should a high school reading coach possess? First, detailed classes in the process of reading and teaching reading from the lowest level should be a must. Early Childhood Education teachers are very well trained in reading skills because the levels of reading taught are fundamental and the mechanics of reading are put in place at these levels. Elementary teachers are also good candidates because of the number of reading courses required and the amount of time devoted to teaching the reading skills in the classroom. Both groups are extremely well versed in the art of incorporating reading skills taught daily into all the subjects taught during the day. On the contrary, high school teachers have the focus of their education devoted to the subject matter being taught, with one or less courses required for their degree. In addition, high school teachers expect students to come to class equipped with the basic skills for success in their course.
Secondly, reading coaches in high school would have the time and ability to make a detailed analysis of the problems a student was experiencing, match these problems with the state standards and objectives, then work out a detailed plan for developing the needed skills and collaborate with the teachers involved with the student in developing methods to help that student improve in the classroom as well as advance in reading until he/she reaches the level capable of achieving. This individualized help in a separate class gives the student the opportunity to develop reading skills in an environment specially designed to meet his/her individual needs and is non-threatening. Key to the process is the collaboration between the reading coach and the teachers. Reading coaches can devote their time entirely to reading skills which can be incorporated into the course work the individual student is responsible for in other classes.
Reading coaches are another approach to the reading problems present in classrooms today. If the student does not comprehend the material, is incapable of organizing material, incapable of identifying key points in the text, and unable to use the information gathered from reading in other formats; that student will become frustrated and become a strong candidate for dropping out. Education has been constantly changing and will continue to be oriented toward the use of technology in classrooms in the future. Reading a book for pleasure is a lost art that is necessary for students to appreciate the advantages that being a literate reader can offer. As teachers, we can utilize technology to help promote reading and reading skills in the classroom but the basic fundamentals of learning to read must still be learned at an early age or retaught in high school in order for students to succeed in this global economy. Technology is wonderful, but if the basic skills for reading and understanding what has been read are lacking, technology becomes just as frustrating as the textbook. Someone skilled in detecting and teaching reading skills, from the basics if necessary could be the answer for the frustrated high school student.