If you have never worked with developing readers in a small group or one-on-one situation in your class as an educator, you really, really need to at least once. We often make assumptions about our students when they come to us, and we do not frequently enough actually seek to know if those assumptions are correct. Primarily we believe that our students, for the most part, have come to us with a base knowledge built on from their previous years, so they are ready for our content and instruction.
We know that some students may have "gaps" or "holes," which are basically little pockets of content that they may have missed for some reason or another along the way. And we often can tell which students that we see daily that really experience some significant difficulties, though we don't really know the depth of it. It's time to strap on some scuba gear though, because we can't continue to make assumptions that are routinely false.
Now I know that teachers have a bazillion things to do, and already don't have enough time to do it in. So we prioritize based on how we can reach "the most" students, and do our best to help the others in some way, usually by calling in another professional to assist with the ones who need the most help. We tell ourselves things like "there's just not enough time" or "there will still be a plan for them to be successful in high school," or my least favorite phrase--"they are just going to be passed on anyway." I absolutely understand that, and have even uttered those phrases myself before. But saying those things doesn't absolve us from doing everything we can for our students. Reading is important. It is the most important. The ability to read, or lack thereof, can make an extraordinary difference in a child's life and future, and then in their own children's future. It's not just a skillset. It's a measure of confidence and real-world savvy. And hopefully, for most, it's a pleasure. So when you cannot read at a level comparable to those around you, it can be tough.
Have you ever tried to do something that was new or difficult for you, and when you finished you were just so tired? I recently taught myself how to type some code into google sheets to get the cells to do things I wanted them to do. It took a while, and when I finished my eyes and brain and self were just so tired. We expend so much mental energy learning about challenging or unfamiliar things that we are often unusually fatigued, maybe even exhausted.
We need to think about this idea in terms of students who are developing readers. If you are unable to read words with more than one syllable, how do you get through a day where you are expected to know and understand a host of them? If I, as an intelligent, grown educator, get fatigued by reading things when I can actually read them, how does a thirteen-year-old feel who reads on an approximate second grade level? They are frustrated, exhausted, drained, dog-tired, and not nearly as successful as they, or we, want them to be.
So here are my pleas:
1) Take some time and listen to one of your students read aloud, especially if they are a developing reader. It is more than worth the time it takes out of your class. You may even find a way to help them understand your content better.
2) Remember that your developing readers have more obstacles on the path towards comprehension than others, and an entire day fighting what they struggle with is hard. If you get frustrated in class trying to help them, imagine how they feel.