Queen Rania Foundation

SUPPORTING STRUGGLING READERS AND RAISING BOYS’ LITERACY

The fifth in a series of conversations on Advancing Arabic Language Teaching and Learning explored ways to support children who struggle to learn to read, with a particular focus on boys engagement with literacy. The conversation explored the effective approaches to identify and monitor the type and level of support needed to meet students’ learning needs. This includes early screening and diagnostic assessments to identify struggling readers and develop evidence-based targeted interventions to provide students with the additional support they require so as not to fall behind.

This note summarizes and extends the key points and recommendations on these topics from the World Bank’s report on Advancing Arabic Language Teaching Learning: A Path to Reducing Learning Poverty in MENA.

Key points

  1. There may be a lack of awareness across governments and the public of the severity of the problem of low learning outcomes in the Arabic language in MENA countries.
  2. It is important to guard against the creation of a culture of low expectations for students who are struggling to read, particularly at the early stages of the reading acquisition process. It is essential that students who have been identified as struggling to read are not viewed by schools, teachers, and their peers as being unable to achieve at the same level as their peers. Educators and policymakers need to be aware of the impact of such a mistaken belief.
  3. Schools should initially focus on ensuring that they offer high-quality in-class support for the whole class. However, even when excellent classroom teaching is in place, it is likely that a small but significant number of children will require additional targeted literacy support. Depending on the level of support required, it may be offered in small groups, or it may need to be highly individualized to meet the needs of the individual student, and may be long or short term, involve working in partnership with others. Teachers may need to use a particular type of teaching approach, to differentiate instruction within the class, use small group teaching or individual interventions targeted at the student’s literacy development level, provide additional time to complete tasks, or facilitate access to specialist support staff.
  4. Key to understanding each student’s literacy development needs is for the teacher to build strong relationships with each student. This can be difficult in cases where the classes are large. Team teaching, teacher aids, and parent helpers are all strategies that can be used to enhance relationship building so that each student’s literacy needs are known and to enhance their engagement with literacy activities.
  5. In any language, students who struggle in the beginning stages of learning to read need early intervention so they do not fall too far behind and are able to keep up with their literacy acquisition and wider learning across the curriculum.  
  6. Struggling readers tend to lack oral reading fluency crucial for processing what is being read and for comprehension. Fluency requires practice by (a) modeling a teacher’s fluent reading, (b) engaging in shared reading where specific reading strategies are learned, and (c) repeated reading of texts. Students who are not fluent tend to divert much of their attention to decoding words rather than to the meaning of what is being read, which leaves them frustrated, demotivated, and cognitively fatigued.
  7. Reading comprehension is a vital skill in the developing reader, it goes beyond understanding the meaning of words to a complex set of mental representations. Reading comprehension instruction helps students learn to read, which then helps them read to learn in higher grades where the content will become quite deep, specialized, rich in academic language, and extensive, thus requiring fluency. Strategies for reading comprehension include (a) summarizing or retelling printed text, (b) filling in missing information, and (c) answering questions involving recall or higher-order critical thinking. These strategies are only appropriate at the right stage in a reader’s development.
  8. In MENA (more than any other region), struggling readers are predominantly, but not exclusively, boys, as shown by the gender differences in learning poverty rates. Relatively little attention has been given to boys’ underperformance in MENA countries.

Recommendations

  1. Encourage schools to foster a culture of reading and to set expectations that all students can be good readers.
  2. Encourage teachers to use early (light) screening to identify struggling readers.
  3. Engage and motivate reluctant readers (and boys) by providing appropriately levelled reading materials that match students’ interests, and encouraging teachers and parents to think creatively, particularly for struggling young readers and through the adolescent ages. This can include:
    1. Supporting wide and regular reading of a variety of texts related to reluctant readers (and boys’) individual interests
    2. Supporting boys’ (and reluctant readers) use of digital texts and alternative media
    3. Involving fathers and other adult male role models in programs for boys
    4. Focusing on practices for boys that promote reading engagement, and setting priorities for addressing the literacy needs of boys.
  4. Regularly review and monitor children’s progress to ensure the support enhances their learning.
  5. Use a range of whole class teaching, small group teaching, and one-to-one tutoring, with specialist support staff as needed, to meet the needs of all students. Help teachers to build relationships with students so they can understand their needs and interests and capitalize on those to foster students’ engagement in literacy.
  6. Where necessary, use diagnostic assessments to gain a deeper understanding of learners’ needs.
  7. Delay the move to unvowelized text until developmentally appropriate and give choice across the grades in which children are transitioning. For those who need more support, continue to provide vowelized text.
  8. Ensure that there are clear, staged intervention programs to address the needs of struggling readers and remediate early reading difficulties. For example, early intervention programs which include targeted screening for vulnerable populations, including children with disabilities and refugees.
  9. Ensure parents and caregivers are aware of the reading program and the role they can play in fostering literacy development at home.
  10. Further research on supporting struggling readers (including boys) in the context of Arabic language learning in MENA countries is needed. There is a wealth of information on ways in which to engage boys in reading activities from other countries, and these would be of particular relevance to MENA countries given that boys’ relative underperformance is greater in MENA than in other regions.

The Conversation