Despite our best efforts, we still have students who struggle in reading. Approximately 33% of our 4th grade students read at a level considered “below basic.” Clearly, we need new ways to think about delivering effective reading instruction for struggling readers. Reading is highly correlated with academic success. Poetry is often overlooked as one engaging way to boost literacy in the struggling reader. The brevity, predictable and rhythmical structure, and rhyme embedded in most poetry allows even struggling readers to learn to read an entire poem easily and in a relatively short period of time. The confidence that comes from mastering a text and performing it for an audience can help develop in students the sense of self-efficacy that is also associated with proficient reading.
And although we recognize that many teachers continue to use poetry regularly in their classrooms, we see less and less time devoted to poetry as the instructional emphasis shifts in the elementary grades to narrative and informational texts. Perhaps it is time to revisit poetry – especially with struggling readers.
Working with Struggling Second and Third Graders
One way to utilize poetry as a supplemental intervention during the academic year and the summer break is to provide additional exposure to poetry. This use of poetry was explored as a main text for providing supplemental summer intervention for 10 second and 15 third grade students previously experiencing significant difficulty in achieving proficient levels of reading. Groups of two to four students worked with one teacher during a 90-minute instructional block. The primary goal of the instructional block is for each child to learn to fluently read a new poem each day. Developing literacy through poetry instruction was built around the Fluency Development Lesson (FDL).
(Rasinski, 2010) which is a daily lesson that integrates research-based elements of fluency and word identification instruction into an authentic purpose for reading. Each lesson involves the teacher modeling the poem for students, students reading the poem chorally with the teacher, practicing the poem independently with a partner or two, and then performing the poem for classmates and other audiences.
Did Poetry Help Students in Reading?
Over the course of our 5-week (19 instructional days) summer reading clinic students learn a poem each day resulting in improved word recognition from 90 .2% to 94 .6%; fluency improved from 65 .8 words correct per minute to 78 .4 wcpm . Similar gains were also found in comprehension. Clearly, one small-scale study such as this does not provide conclusive evidence that practicing and performing poetry leads to improved reading. Still, the results are compelling. (For the complete article and further references, please contact Dr . Rasinski: trasinsk@kent .edu).
Timothy Rasinski & Belinda Zimmerman, Kent State University
Reference: Rasinski, T . V . (2010) . The Fluent Reader . New York: Scholastic .