The Stenhouse Blog

Turn Reluctant Readers Into Independent Readers

Posted by admin on Dec 10, 2018 12:52:28 PM

By reframing difficulty as opportunity, children begin to see the connection between their effort and their success.” Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris from Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More

The relationship between reading volume and reading proficiency is well documented (Allington 2011). The more time children spend engaged with text, the more exposure they have to problem-solving opportunities, new vocabulary, and information, all of which contribute to growing proficiency in reading.

Who’s Doing the Work? Lesson Sets (WDTW) guides teachers to offer a wide variety of literacy opportunities to young readers through engaging lessons that align with a balanced literacy framework (Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Independent Reading). Using high-quality art and literature along with “next generation” reading instruction strategies, teachers will gain the tools they need to empower reluctant readers to become independent readers.

Next Generation Reading Instruction

The lessons in WDTW Lessons Sets were created around the idea of next generation reading instruction, which is defined as responsive teaching in the 2016 professional book, Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More. Instructional decisions are made based on carefully observing how students identify and manage the challenges they encounter in a text. The lessons are designed to show students their power as learners; reflect grade-level instructional standards; make learning deeper; and engage students in ways that make them forget that they’re working.

Engage Readers Through Art and High-Quality Books

In the WDTW Lesson Sets Reading Art lessons, teachers introduce a piece of art to students and encourage them to make observations and ask questions to determine what’s going on in the piece, thus practicing a skill or strategy they will be learning to apply when reading. A favorite among users of WDTW Lesson Sets, the Reading Art lessons allow teachers to ensure that students of all ability levels are able to participate and understand the lesson’s objective. WDTW Lesson Sets also include carefully selected fiction and nonfiction children’s trade books for each Read Aloud and Shared Reading lesson. According to Patti Austin, a second-grade teacher from Islip, NY who is currently using the WDTW Lesson Sets, “These books are such crowd-pleasers for the children, and for us as teachers, because they speak so well to what we’re trying to teach. The kids rave. They want to read them, they want to borrow them, they get very excited, and they want to hear them again and again.”

One Teacher’s Success Story

Take a look at this success story from Valinda Kimmel, an educator from Houston, TX, about a reluctant third-grade reader she worked with outside of the regular classroom using WDTW Lesson Sets.

“My planning and support for her was in large part guided by WDTW. . . We met every day from October until late May. Today her teacher sent me a text saying that she (the student) had passed our state assessment. She had a 37-point improvement from the benchmark she took in February until the ‘real’ test in early May. The last GRL she assessed as independent was a level G. The texts on the test were way beyond that. I’m believing that because she was empowered day after day to use the strategies she knew and had internalized, she was able, on the day of the test, to ‘gut it out.’ I know that she still has a long way to go, but the work she’s done and the fact that she passed should give her the much-needed confidence required to keep improving.”

A Gradual Release of Responsibility

At the heart of this student’s journey is the gradual release of responsibility, which supports a teacher’s shift from over-scaffolding a student’s development and allowing students to assume responsibility for their own reading progress by tapping into learned strategies on their own. According to Stephanie Harvey, the gradual release of responsibility is not a linear process, but rather a recursive and dynamic one (Harvey and Goudvis 2017). So, through repeated practice, with multiple texts of varying difficulties, reluctant readers can internalize new learning in ways that help them access it when working independently and transfer these skills back into their mainstream classrooms.

By presenting challenges as opportunities for growth, readers begin to see the connection between their effort and their success. As reading becomes its own reward, students are primed to become independent, proficient, joyful readers for life.

To learn more, download a sampler.


Allington, Richard. 2002 “What I’ve Learned About Effective Reading Instruction.” Phi Delta Kappan (June): 740-747

Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. 2017. Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding, Engagement, and Building Knowledge. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Topics: Uncategorized