3 Ways to Help Struggling Readers and English Language Learners


3 Ways to Help Struggling Readers and English Language Learners

For students who struggle to read, school can be a frustrating place. When we try intervention after intervention and nothing seems to work, it can be frustrating for the teachers, students and parents.

If we fail to provide the right supports for students in need, schools can struggle, too. In 2011-12, the Louisiana Department of Education rated Aucoin Elementary as a “C” school. By 2014-15, however, this underperforming Title I school had climbed to an “A.” What changed? James Aucoin’s approach to reading interventions, his attitude toward technology, and students’ brains.

Here are 3 ways they have helped struggling readers and English language learners (ELLs) address the root causes of their difficulties and make lasting gains.

  1. Build students’ cognitive skills.

One of the reasons that many students struggle, despite months or even years of extra support, is that traditional reading interventions often fail to address the underlying difficulties that keep them from making progress.

They tried Fast ForWord to target core areas of weakness, starting in the brain. It helped students work on the building blocks of reading while simultaneously exercising their working memory, attention, grammar, vocabulary, and listening skills.

The key is to start early. Shift focus to kindergarten through year/grade 3.

  1. Prepare students’ brains to hear English.

The challenge is for students to  learn the content we’re teaching while still developing their English skills.

Through sound training exercises, however, we can help students’ brains become “wired” to hear and quickly process the 44 phonemes of English. Computer-based exercises that use exaggerated phonemes can speed up the brain’s capacity to distinguish and lay down these new speech sounds. As a result, perceiving and sounding out English words becomes easier and more automatic. These exercises can also correct imprecise speech sounds in the brains of struggling readers.

  1. Have students practice reading aloud, with support.

Practice reading aloud is key to reading and language success. However, it can be difficult to provide each student with a supportive listener every day or even a few times a week. To overcome this challenge,  Reading Assistant, uses speech recognition technology to correct and support students as they read aloud.

“As we rolled out the technology, I must admit I was skeptical this approach would work with our diverse population. That changed, however, when I saw a student from Vietnam working in our computer lab. He had come to us in the third grade, with no English. He had been at our school only four months when I saw him reading aloud into the microphone — and correctly pronouncing words in English. That student continued to participate in both intervention programs and went on to honors classes in high school.”

Improving school performance

Reading intervention needs to focus on root cause issues, rather than providing accommodations,

See how Aucoin Elementary has improved its school performance score each year.

In 2016 Aucoin was rated an “A” school and was named a “Top Gains School” for achieving its growth target and meeting Adequate Yearly Progress within tested subgroups. What they have learned from their experiences is that by providing the right supports to students at an early age, it has a tremendous impact on their language and reading skills, which plants the seeds for their future success.

Click here to see what Joseph Stadalis principal of J.S. Aucoin Elementary in St. Mary Parish Public Schools says about their progress.

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