Mistakes I Have Made as a Reading Teacher

Although all reading teachers want the best for their struggling students they may not always be following best practices.   One reason that I have made certain ineffective teaching decisions, as a reading teacher, is that I can only do what I know.  I have come to see how extremely important it is that we have continuous professional development.  Without on-going professional development, we are not able to grow in our understanding of the reading process.  School districts offer many opportunities for professional development, but sometimes not in areas that would help us to grow as a literacy specialist.  Professional development does not always have to be driven by your school district.  You can initiate your own professional development.  You can start a professional book club with other teachers in your building or through social media.  You can look for articles in areas of reading that interests you, reflect on your learning, make some goals for yourself and plan a time to check-in with your progress toward your goals.

I have strayed away from best practices when I have had a “tricky” student that really puzzles me.  In my desperation, I have gone in directions that in hindsight I realized wasted precious learning time.

I hope that you won’t think badly of me as I share the mistakes I have made as a reading teacher.  My reflection on these mistakes helps me to hold myself accountable for not repeating them.

Mistake #1:  Continuously testing comprehension

Have you ever found yourself in a comprehension “conversation” that sounded like this:

Teacher:  Asks question.

Student: Answers question.

Teacher:  Asks question.

Student: Answers question.

Teacher:  Asks question.

Student: Answers question.

Unfortunately, I have found myself falling into the comprehension test trap many times.  The comprehension conversation is not the time for me to test my students on what they just read.  I already know how my students are doing with comprehension from the on-going assessing I do when I take a running record at the beginning of the lesson.   There is absolutely no reason for me to give them a mini-quiz after they read the new book.  Instead, I should be guiding the conversation to help them deepen their thinking.  I can choose a reading behavior in the areas of thinking about or beyond the text for one of my teaching points.  I may even use the think-aloud strategy to model the thinking.

Chapter 20, Teaching for Comprehending:  Helping Students Think Within, Beyond, and About the Text, in Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades 2nd Edition is helpful in thinking about how to facilitate thoughtful conversations about books.

Mistake #2:  Spending too much time on letter, word work, phonics, “skills” in isolation

When a child starts working with us and they have a small core knowledge of letters, letter sounds, and words it can be tempting to extend the amount of time we spend on item knowledge in isolation.  It is very important to know letter names, letter sounds, and words when learning to read and write,  but spending large amounts of time during your lesson focusing on these skills in isolation is not going accelerate your students progress.  Here are a couple of my favorite quotes regarding teaching skills in isolation from Best Practice:  Bringing Standards to Life in America’s Classrooms :

  • “Reading is not phonics, vocabulary, syllabification, or other “skills,” as useful as these activities may be…This means that the main goal of reading instruction must be comprehension.”
  • “It is important to remember that even the very conservative National Reading Panel (2000) prescribes just ten minutes a day of phonics activities.”

Quotes on this topic from Marie Clay’s Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals:

  • “…you need to get the entire set of letters known as soon as possible…The child cannot afford to waste too much time on letter-learning activities when he could be reading well-chosen books” (p. 62).
  • “Any work that children are asked to do with letters or words should arise from the texts they are working on…” (p. 69).

Mistake #3:  Waiting too long to ask for help

Sometimes we wait too long to ask for help.  We do not want to teach day after day and suddenly realized that our running records and anecdotal notes are showing us that a student has not been taking on new learning for three weeks!  Our struggling readers need us to teach them with a sense of urgency.  These students are already behind.  They need to make continuous accelerated progress if they are ever going to have a chance to catch up.  If we are staying on top of analyzing running records and using what we learn to make moment to moment teaching decisions and a student is still not progressing we need to reach out for help right away.

Mistake #4:  Having students read text that is too easy/hard

Sometimes I have been hesitant to move students into a more complex level.  I want to be sure that my student is really, really ready for the next level.  If you are looking at your running records and you see very high accuracy rates (99%-100%) with lots continuous reading and minimal problem solving you may be keeping your student at a text level that is too easy.  We know that students can benefit from reading easy texts, but during our teaching time with our students, they need texts that are at their instructional level, so that they can learn from their encounters with problem-solving opportunities.  When texts are too easy for our students we can’t teach for more complex reading behaviors and they will have minimal opportunities for more complex problem-solving.

Reading Teachers have a lot of pressure to “fix” a child’s reading struggles.  We know where the child should be reading and how little time we have to get them there.  We might lose sight of the child and become more focused on text levels.  I admit this has happened to me.  Suddenly I am noticing that I am having to provide my student with a lot of support to “get them through” the book. A book that is obviously too hard for them.  Unfortunately, the child can’t read the text just because that is the level we wish they were at.  If only teaching struggling readers to read was that easy.  When the text is too hard it is frustrating to everybody.  If we’re finding ourselves dragging the student through the text with a lot of prompting – it is too hard.  Our students should have mostly continuous reading the first time through the text with only a few spots where they might need support from the teacher.

Mistake #5:  Waiting too long to teach for fluency

I was recently lucky enough to attend a workshop led by James Schnugg (Reading Recovery Trainer at Ohio State University).  He brought us to a place in Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals that addressed when to teach for fluency with your students.  Marie Clay writes that as soon as the child shows us that they have left to right directionality we can start to work on teaching for fluency.  We can use students’ familiar books to demonstrate two-word phrases, rather than jumping right into 4-5 word phrases.  We should model explicitly how we want the child to sound and also direct the child’s eyes to the groups of words they are reading.

We are only human, so we’re going to make mistakes along the way.  I have made a commitment to myself to learn from my mistakes and to find continuous opportunities to learn about the reading process.


2 thoughts on “Mistakes I Have Made as a Reading Teacher

  1. Rosie Hernandez

    I have often been in a maze of trying to implement the most effective reading strategies to my students who are not demonstrating growth. I try so many strategies that sometimes don’t know what is working long or short term. The continous fluency checks, running records etc., that sometimes is not enough. What is the most effective strategies that need to be implemented to reach my kids who are not being very successful in reading.


    1. Hi Rosie,
      The job of a reading teacher is very challenging and it can be difficult to know what to do. It’s great that you are using formative assessments such as running records because they allow you to see your students’ strengths in processing text so that you can build on to what they are able to do. The important thing we can do to help all of our students is to become more knowledgeable as educators. When I was trained in Reading Recovery, I became grounded in theory. I became more confident when working with students because I understood the “why” behind every decision that I made. Sometimes our schools aren’t offering us what we need, so it is up to us to seek out high quality professional development experiences. This post might be helpful to you. There are some of my favorite resources listed at the bottom.


      Thank you for visiting, taking the time to read our content, and commenting.


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