If you’re a parent to a struggling middle school reader, you are not alone!

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 32% of fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders aren’t reading at a basic level. Fewer than 40 percent are proficient or advanced. Clearly, you aren’t the only parent fretting about a child who seems to be a struggling middle school reader. It only means that as a community of parents and teachers, there is a huge scope to devise strategies that can help children with reading difficulties.

Why do kids struggle with reading?

There are many factors that contribute to a lack of motivation to read. Middle school itself means more control from the teacher and less student freedom like in the earlier grades. Middle schoolers are expected to respond to a text with formally acceptable criticism rather than have their own opinions. The pressure of competing for better grades further snatches away the joy of both the leisurely and the analytical forms of reading. 

What does reading struggle look like?

Regardless of the causes, there are some common patterns that a struggling middle school reader will exhibit, viz:

  • Shying away from reading out aloud
  • Lack of attention/ very short attention spans while reading
  • Difficulty in re-narrating a story in their own words
  • Difficulty in comprehending implied meanings or literary devices
  • Mixing words or making lots of spelling errors
  • Showing nervousness or having crying fits and tantrums whenever asked to read

If your child displays three or more of the above patterns, it’s likely that you have a nervous, struggling middle school reader. The good news is that children who receive help with reading, do succeed! 

At Talentnook, we’ve worked with hundreds of students who were struggling readers and shared practical resources that are easy to understand and rewarding to use. Without drowning you in psychological and linguistic jargon, let’s get straight to how you can help a struggling middle school reader:

Also Read: Improve the Writer in Your Child, Not the Writing

1. Use reciprocal teaching and collaborative learning

Reverse the roles and let your nervous, struggling middle school reader take the lead. While reading a piece of text, news, or even a story with your child, ask them open-ended questions like:

  • What do they think would happen next?
  • How many unfamiliar words could they spot? (encourage them to look them up right away)
  • If they could rewrite the piece, what would they eliminate or add?

Reciprocal teaching is indeed a great way to allow children to observe and evaluate their own thinking processes. To add some more fun to the process, organize fun game sessions with your child’s friends. In a group of 4, assign them notecards with one of the following roles:

  • Summarizer
  • Questioner
  • Clarifier
  • Predictor

Give them a random piece of interesting text and ask them to read it carefully and take notes as per the role. For example, if your child is playing the ‘predictor’, they will be expected to share what they think the author would talk about next. Such interactive games not only improve children’s playtime quality but also help them be at ease eventually with ‘reading’.  Isn’t it a win-win?

2. Provide them enough choices

Fairytales are for everyone! Let your boys read Cinderella if they like and let your girls read Star Wars! There are no rules when it comes to reading. The fact that we bury our children unknowingly beneath tomes of what we think they should be reading is the core reason why they lose interest in reading. 

A Parent's Guide to Empower Struggling Middle School Readers

Let your child develop an organic interest in reading over time. Give them choices, take them to book stores where they can smell and enjoy books and their covers! Let them browse through Amazon for a book of their choice every month. As a parent, you must of course give them your suggestions but never shove your choices down their throat. 

3. Use real-world interactions and games to build phonemic awareness

Encourage an active use of imagination and real-world application of reading. It’s just like asking children to calculate the total of grocery bills or recipe proportions, which encourages them to use math.

Here are some real-life scenarios to help you get started, remember to use all your creativity! There are only a few examples, we want you to read:

  • Ask your child to recite rhyming words with common objects they encounter (“can you tell 3 words that rhyme with bat?”)
  • Help them build their vocabulary by using dinner table conversations (“let’s all share one new word and its meaning that we’ve learned each day!”)
  • A key part of building phonemic awareness is helping your child understand differences in sounds (“can you tell how many sounds are there in the word chocolate? Right answer gets you a bonus one!”)

Encourage your child to share synonyms, antonyms, idioms, phrases, and even spellings on the go. Make it a part of your daily conversations and watch their interest in ‘language’ increase overall. It will relay an interest in reading, sooner or later! Just remember to keep it all fun and don’t get frustrated if your child initially refuses to respond.

Also Read: The 15 Minute Reading Magic: Elevate your Child’s Reading

4. Teach them reading strategies like SQ3R and KWL charts

Teaching your child the right-thinking strategy while reading could be a key to easing their struggles. You can read up more about the SQ3R strategy and the KWL table that are aimed at improving engagement while reading. While these are designed for teachers to use for their students, you as a parent can use them too. 

Apart from the above mentioned structured approaches, there are simpler everyday strategies too, viz:

  • Encourage your child to imagine and visualize rather than consume pure facts
  • Ask your child to read aloud whenever possible at home
  • Get them to take notes or highlight important sentences that they find were new, important, or simply interesting to read!
  • Inculcate in them a habit of noting keywords and looking up additional information. Here you could lead by example! Next time while scanning through a magazine, make sure to note some keywords and look them up in detail. Also, make sure to share the habit with your child and tell them how it has expanded your knowledge
  • Encourage your child to proudly ‘cite’ what they read (“oh, I read about a similar case of herd mentality in Julius Caesar by Shakespeare”). This will help them see more utility in their reading and will motivate them to read more

5. Know the right kind of help to get 

Knowing when and where to ask for help can take you a long way in helping your struggling middle school reader. Depending on the extent of the struggle your child faces you can choose to seek help from:

  • The Reading Clinic is a not-for-profit, registered charity, founded to help students who have a specific language-based learning difference
  • Private tutors can make a big difference. Sometimes all that a child needs is some routine, practice, and personalized attention.  A private tutor specialized in providing services related to reading and writing skills is your best first bet. At Talentnook, you can browse through hundreds of suitable tutor profiles but also request interactions and free demo lessons before finalizing

A Parent's Guide to Empower a Struggling Middle Schooler Reader

  • IEP (Individualized Education Program) is available for children to help them achieve individualized learning goals. Ask your child’s school for an evaluation and a referral if you think your child has any serious learning difficulties. The programs ensure that each enrolled child follows their own learning path and gets the best of therapy and assistance to bridge the gap(s)

Above all, let your child know that you’ve got their back! Don’t put extra academic pressure on them and let them organically grow into a learner. Appreciate their individuality, interests, and even disinterests. Acknowledging, accepting, and empathizing are the key to changing any behavior. Be your child’s emotional support system while helping them overcome reading anxiety using the methods described in this article.

Discover more tips, strategies, and resources for helping students develop proficiency in English language arts (ELA), click here.


Home Schooling Author Pragya