Transforming Struggling Readers into Engaged, Enthusiastic Students

build a belief system to support struggling readers


With 10 million students in grades K-12 struggling to read, taking those struggling readers from disengaged to enthused may seem like a huge feat. However, doing just one thing to take action can cause a wave of reaction throughout the entire school. In a recent edWebinar, Nelda Reyes, a dyslexia interventionist at De Zavala Elementary in San Marcos CISD, TX, shared how she was able to establish a culture of reading at her school by creating a sense of belonging, building awareness, and never taking no for an answer.

Before Nelda started any initiatives at De Zavala Elementary, the general feel in her classroom regarding reading was a lack of enthusiasm, interest, or any conversation about books and authors. Promoting a school-wide reading culture, as well as recognition for the struggling readers (many who have never had that feeling before), was crucial to curbing these negative feelings. It was all about baby steps, “I will guarantee you that if you do one thing, I promise you, it will lead to some other wonderful things,” Nelda said. She successfully created an atmosphere of reading and literacy at her school with the following strategies:

Be a reading cheerleader – Make sure all teachers are becoming their students’ reading cheerleaders throughout the day. Motivation in class and the hallways, through notes, and over announcements will give students the boost they need to start believing in themselves.

Create an inclusive environment – Create an inclusive environment, not just in the intervention classroom, but in students’ own classrooms so they feel like they can participate with the rest of the class. Emphasize that they each have their own beliefs and opinions which they can bring back and share in their classrooms.

Build students’ self-esteem – Instill that attitude is just as important as ability to achieve success. “Sprinkle” positive visions of the future by telling students about famous dyslexic entrepreneurs, scientists, and actors. They will see that they can achieve success too.

envision the future of your struggling readers


Build dyslexia awareness – Create pins to spark conversations for Dyslexia Awareness Month in October, and provide professional development for staff. Teach staff that dyslexia is often referred to as “hiding in plain sight” and what they should look out for in their students.

Initiate programs – If possible, bring in therapy dogs for monthly reading sessions. Other students will want to participate in this too, further boosting the morale of struggling readers. Recruit members of the community (doctors, police officers, firefighters, board members, etc.) to participate in a “Read with a Hero Day” at the school. Local elderly and retired teachers may also be interested in coming to read to the students during class.

Listen to the students – The students will have their own ideas. Personalize the learning for them as they begin to discover what they want and need and become more interested so that they can take charge and drive their own learning.

Have an objective – Define a main goal. Nelda strived to promote literacy throughout her entire school, but her main objective for the year was inclusion for all, focusing on primarily creating effective learning environments for struggling readers.

After initiating these ideas at her school, Nelda’s classroom transformed into a classroom full of enthusiasm, engaged readers that felt a part of the school community, and many conversations about books and authors. Despite any hurdles or roadblocks when asking for help, it’s important to keep pushing for what the students need. “Sometimes, you have to remember that you have to be these kids’ advocates, so you have to do what you have to do, and don’t take no for an answer,” she said.

This broadcast was hosted by and sponsored by Learning Ally.

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This article was modified and published by eSchool News.

About the Presenter

Nelda Reyes has been teaching for 22 years. She has taught grades kindergarten through fifth in regular, bilingual, and special education. She is currently a dyslexia/interventionist teacher at De Zavala Elementary, San Marcos CISD, TX. She is a Wilson Level 1 practitioner and is currently working on Level 2 to become a therapist. Her number one initiative is to advocate and create dyslexia awareness for parents, educators and students. She is on the board of directors for IDA, Austin Branch, in Texas.

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Empowering Struggling Readers is a free professional learning community that provides educators, administrators, special educators, curriculum leaders, and librarians a place to collaborate on how to turn struggling readers into thriving students.

learning ally Learning Ally is a leading ed-tech, nonprofit proven to transform the lives of struggling readers. We provide access to grade-level content to bridge the gap for students with learning differences who can cognitively comprehend the information but read below grade level. Our high-quality, human-read audiobooks coupled with a suite of teacher resources is a cost effective solution for your school.