January 11


Are Your Striving Readers Helping Others? by Tammy Mulligan

I think we underestimate the power of helping when it comes to teaching striving readers.  In schools, striving readers are typically the ones who receive the most help. Striving readers see multiple teachers for instruction. Striving readers generally have reading buddies who help them figure out the words. And striving readers get lots of support choosing texts they can read.  All of these supports may be well and good, but when do our striving readers get to be helpers?


For a moment, let’s consider the times in our lives when we need help.  We typically ask for help when we are ill, when life gets overwhelming, or when there is a problem too complex to solve by ourselves. We receive support when we are most vulnerable.


I wonder what would happen if striving readers had opportunities to be helpers.  How might it change his or her disposition toward reading?


Imagine the reactions of a group of second graders who read six months below grade level when asked, “I’m not sure which of the books in this pile the first graders will like.  Would you mind reading these books and pulling out the books you think first graders will love?”




Or, what if these third graders were asked, “I need help with the bins in the bookroom. I want to put them into categories by topic.  Would you read these books and organize them into piles? I’ll leave you some sticky notes so you can label the piles.  Some might go into categories like – LOL, Scary Books, Surprise Endings, or Cool Facts.  You will know which categories to create.  Let me know what categories you decide.  Thank you so much.”




“There are so many kids in the nurse’s office, and she has a long waiting line.  Could you help find books that you think students will want to read as they wait?  Here is an empty basket, a marker, and a label.  Can you put the books in that you think will work and create the basket label?”




“I want to put a book basket outside of my office for kids to read.  Can you read these and tell me which books you think kids will want to borrow?”




“The Kindergarten classrooms need more books in their listening center.  Do you mind reading this book a few times?  Once you’ve got it, can I record you reading the book?”



Yes, striving readers have lots to learn.  We also know that when a child doesn’t read as well as her peers, her self-concept can be fragile.  Let’s find authentic ways for striving readers to be helpers.  The possibilities are endless.


Tammy Mulligan is the co-author of It’s All About the Books and Assessment in Perspective. At work, you can find her teaching and thinking alongside elementary teachers and kids. On other days, she is in her garden, hiking in the woods, or hiding behind a pile of children’s books. Connect with Tammy on Twitter @TammyBMulligan and follow her collaborative blog at www.teachersbooksreaders.com