Finding a Niche for Reading: A Key to Improving Underachievers' Reading Skills

By Coats, Linda Tuggles; Taylor-Clark, Pamela | Reading Improvement, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Finding a Niche for Reading: A Key to Improving Underachievers' Reading Skills


Coats, Linda Tuggles, Taylor-Clark, Pamela, Reading Improvement


This article explores the benefits of under-skilled readers' participation in a summer reading program. Twelve middle school students who scored in the lowest percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) participated in a summer reading program designed to improve these students' reading skills and to assist them in becoming focused and motivated readers. This summer reading program utilized the expertise of community professionals as reading team leaders. Results revealed that the summer reading program provided the necessary stimuli for the participants to develop an appreciation for reading, improve their vocabulary, and develop critical thinking skills.

Although educators recognize the importance of students possessing adequate reading skills, many fail to take extra steps to ensure that students who are underachievers succeed in school (Zemelman, Daniels, & Hyde, 1998). Remedial programs in reading and mathematics are provided for students who score in the lower percentile on standardized tests in elementary school, but beyond this, no other incentives are used to encourage these students to read or to diagnose the origin of their reading deficiencies (Kirk, 2000). After-school tutorials are provided for students who are experiencing difficulties in courses, but summer enrichment programs are designed for students who excel in the classroom and usually in science and mathematics. Society can no longer look away, efforts must be made to help students become effective readers.

Reading is essential to success in education. Good reading skills are the basis for all levels of understanding. The more students read, the better readers they will become. Reading skills affect students' ability to comprehend, think critically, and express their thoughts and opinions orally and in writing. When students cannot read, they are unable to understand and unable to communicate effectively (Kirk, 2000). Traditionally, students who are performing poorly in school are offered little or no opportunity to improve their skills beyond the school environment or school year. Very few summer enrichment programs are designed to meet these students' learning needs. Reading during summer months aids students in maintaining and enhancing reading skills ("Read, Write," 1997). Reading partnerships, on the other hand, allow concerned citizens to mentor and motivate students to read more. Giving students books to read and establishing an environment for them to read helps to improve students' reading skills. Providing multiple opportunities for students to read helps them to become better readers (Bishop & Larimer, 1999)

Purpose of Study

"Niche Reading," a two-week summer reading program targeted a nucleus, twelve, of the seventh grade students whose Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) scores were in the lowest percentile. The purpose of this reading program was to help develop focused, motivated readers and to provide a forum by which students would have the opportunity to read and express their views about what they read under enjoyable circumstances. The specific objectives of this reading program were to ensure that all fourth through ninth graders' reading scores increase and to ensure that students demonstrate a growing proficiency in reading and reach or exceed the national average in reading within the next decade.

Methods and Procedures

With the assistance and approval of proper school officials and parents, twelve students whose reading scores were in the lowest percentile on the most recent standardized test (ITBS) were randomly selected to participate in this summer reading program. Because it was anticipated that a significant number of these participants would come from inner city and low income families, and that transportation to school facilities may prevent them from participating "Niche Reading" was housed at the local family center, located in one of the city's inner city neighborhoods. …

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