Help they can't read!!!

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-04-2003
Help they can't read!!!
Fri, 10-01-2004 - 6:03am
Okay, so here's the scenario. I was switched to the Fifth Grade because there weren't enough Fourth graders enrolled. I was very angry about it because I am the Fourth grade teacher with the most experience and I should have kept my kids. But, the Fifth grade classes were overflowing, so they gave me the Fifth Grade. Well...

First of all, they gave it to me, cause the other teachers refused, and because they have been working there a year longer, they got preferential treatment. So I did express my deep dissatisfaction and I was point blank. I told my bosses, "you all know you're playing me right." I have a repoire with them and we were in private, but I told them how I really felt. It's like I get stuck with the do this or no job option, while the others can walk around and say what they "aren't" going to do. So....

Here I am with a Fifth grade class who is so low, I had to go back and teach phonics yesterday. I mean. My GOD!! I have had them for two weeks now and I am exhausted. Not because of misbehavior. I am the "benevolent dictator" of my classroom. I am exhausted because I have 12 students out of 16 WHO CANNOT READ. I am talking can only read "three and four letter basic sight words." You know, "is, can, what, who, you, me, them." Guided Reading takes FOREVER because I can't keep calling on the four to read all the time, and even they read with little expression and stutter sometimes, but they can get through it. The rest of them are just guessing at words. Please help. I am worn out....

I read to them all the time, I read the chapters, I read the directions, they ask the same questions over and over again. They ask for re-explanations over and over again. Hardly anyone ever understands an assignment, cause they can't read it well enough. I mean I do have 2 kids in this room with IEP's and they get supplemental help. I also want to reccomend some for Title One. Fact is, THEY ALL NEED TO BE IN TITLE ONE AND I DON'T KNOW IF I COULD DO THAT. I am sure I can't do that. Anywhoo...

In my class library of books, I have books on every level. I read to them and for the next couple of weeks, we are going back to phonemic awareness and decoding. I send home reading logs every week and none of them send it back completed. I have put in the newsletter for parents to insist their kids read all the time, but noone does. I have never had a class who was almost illiterate. Sorry, I haven't. The only class I taught where the kids didn't read well was KINDERGARTEN.....

Here's what I do with a story. We have to read a story a week. So, they read silently for a bit, which of course they don't really do because they can barely read, but I make them try anyway. Next, I will read and then have someone "pick it up" (we don't round robin) and then we choral read. Choral reading always goes terribly because you can heard the bad readers waiting on the good readers to say the words and then repeating them. UGH!! Then I have them also "shadow me" when I read and they repeat. What else can I do????

I also have them read a book at their own level to the class so they could feel like they have some success at reading. But these kids are ten and eleven. They shouldn't be this bad at reading. Now I can understand if the text is a tad complicated, but these kids mess up on words that are simple like, "crisscross or zigzag" or the fact that they don't know what "tion" says. They say it says "ton" but it says "shun" Also...

We were reading in the Social Studies book and they couldn't recognize a copy of the Constitution. During Math, I walked them through 3 examples of how to do exponents and when I said "do the next four on your own" I had kids just sitting there. Then...

They ask some of the silliest questions. I will say, "all assignments are written in cursive class" Someone will raise their hand, "we gotta do this in cursive" right after I said it. Or I will say, "please open your text book to page eight." Hand goes up, "we gotta turn to page eight?" It's driving me batty. Oh....

And don't get me started on DOL??? They just recopy the incorrect sentence because THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO CORRECT THE ERRORS. Yes, I have gone over this and the teachers they had last year went over it. We all do DOL's, so they really shoud be used to it. Anywhoo...

Please help ladies. I have flashcards, reading games and different level books in my class. What else can I do. I am wiped out. I am always out of breath because I am reading everything and I have to stop if I want them to get better. But I get tired of lessons lasting so long because they are "muddling" through everything.




iVillage Member
Registered: 01-06-2000
Fri, 10-01-2004 - 7:10am
Choral reading.

Every body reads all the time, out loud, together.

In my district, any teacher that is "caught" doing 'round robin reading' (kids reading one at a time) is in trouble. That cuts the reading practice each child gets dramatically. They can vegetate and listen while someone else reads.

So, try every kid in the room, pointing to each word as you all read it together.

That will eliminate some of the stumbling as hopefully someone keeps it moving.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-24-2003
Fri, 10-01-2004 - 10:02am

I like the choral reading suggestion. I'd also start with basic reading instruction using things like the Working with Words materials from 4Block.



iVillage Member
Registered: 03-23-2003
Fri, 10-01-2004 - 4:38pm
I agree with Sherry. If they are working that far below grade level refer them for evaluation and special programs. You need support!

And, if they are working at a first grade level you need to teach them the next skills not the 5th grade skills. Use the strategies for teaching second language learners for academics. Pre-teach vocabulary, provide a framework for the knowledge, etc. etc. etc. I'm sure once you take a breath you'll see what to do.

Best wishes,


iVillage Member
Registered: 05-17-2001
Fri, 10-01-2004 - 7:51pm

I am totally with you. I teach fourth grade and 15 of the students are on the first grade level. Only 4 of them get special ed help. The others I have to deal with because the other" teachers" from last year did not feel like doing the paper work to bring them to team. Now, my principal does not want me to bring up the rest because it will back log the system. I thought my job was to teach, but if I wanted to teach 1st grade, I would be doing it!

Here in Maryland, our reading program is Open Court. Everyone reads from the same text, but the independent work is different.Of course those students can not read the text, but they are allowed to listen to the stories on the cd. We have a reteaching book for the below level students, and an English language book for students whose first language is not English. All of my students are from my area, and the English language book is still too hard! You mention cursive- those students cannot read cursive, so I have to write everything in print. I also teach social studies-EVERYTHING has to be modified to their level. I am having a lot of trouble doing that since all of the reading material is on the fourth grade level. I feel bad for my students, but I am really mad at the other teachers who passed them on. In my case, the parents of these kids never sign their agenda books or make sure that their homework is completed. I feel that I am losing a never ending battle. Last Friday, interims went home to these students telling the parents of their difficulties and how they can help them at home, and I still do not have them back yet.

I don't really have any advice besides getting a first or second grade book that goes along with the theme that you are teaching. Spelling words should come from this level as well. My students don't volunteer in class either. I just try to tell myself that the teachers from last year must have made them feel terrible about their ability levels and just left them to themselves.

Good luck and keep up posted!

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-04-2003
Sat, 10-02-2004 - 12:07am
The reason I can't is because of space limitations. The Title One room is so small and the people who run it work with 4 students per grade, per day. For example, today she will work with 4 students from each of the fifth grades. So, there are four fifth grade classes which would mean she would have sixteen kids in a small room only built to hold about ten. Plus, so many students in our school need this assistance, they only see my kids twice a week. It's mainly a space issue. The students I have need the assistance every day, not just twice a week. Bottom line is I can't send them all at once and even if I break it up, they need more than one day a week in that room. I am going to sign up my absolutely low students, but I am just in shock at the limited ability. Oh well, back to the drawing board. Thanks Sherry. Love ya!!


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-04-2003
Sat, 10-02-2004 - 12:37am
Well our reading series is "Explore" Houghton Mifflin Series. I love the diversity of this series and the many wonderful lessons that go along with just one theme is awesome. The spelling words from the series aren't that hard, so I am lucky there, but the stories in the anthology is fifth grade level and they can't read it. There are usually tapes to go with this series, but noone can seem to find them. My friend teaches the same series in another school and she is going to give me a copy of her tapes. But...

Choral reading sucks because the low readers stop the flow when they mess up on every word. There are many things that I do with a lesson. We read the story, answer comprehension questions aloud, complete story frames, define vocabulary words, rewrite the endings, work on grammar and spelling related to the story, catergorize and classify, synonyms, antonyms, etc. We do a million and one lessons related to just one story. Also..

I explain things dozens of times. I have one of the "average" students re-explain the directions. I make sure they know what is expected of them everyday and yet they still sit and ask, "what to do" It is making me nuts!!! Then...

They have the nerve to sit in my class and try to insult each other. You can't imagine how tough it is for me to sit there and listen to them try and tell someone off, when this person can't multiply two simple numbers. Other things we do...

I have a morning routine that I follow every morning. Rules, pledge, recite spelling words, sign language and spanish (just a few sentences). These things are recited and done daily. These kids know what is expected of them and some of them try hard, but they just don't know it. Then they would have the nerve to play and talk and ignore me. HUH!! I told them...

Noone in this room can afford to tune me out. You have been tuning out for too long and that's why we are all having difficulties. Listen and you will improve, I promise. I try to say things with love and respect, but how dare any child sit in my class and play with a pencil while I give instruction and then say," I don't know what to do." UGH! As for..

My colleagues, they refuse to reteach concepts that should have already been taught in previous grades. I understand how they feel, but they keep teaching to the few who get it and not adjusting to the lower students. I on the other hand have always retaught the previous grade to get my kids up to speed. However...

I have NEVER, I REPEAT, NEVER had a class 2 or more grades below level and had to modify all the way back down to 2nd grade. This is a new one for me. I am just wiped out. Anywhoo...

I am going to the teacher store tomorrow and I will find some ideas to help me. I did teach a phonics and decoding lesson today and we had a lesson on writing mechanics. I hope my modifications will help, but these kids have to take the state test (except for the ones with IEP's)and I am very worried. HUH!! Thanks ladies. I am sure I will work it out. Take care.


Avatar for sharlene1
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Sat, 10-02-2004 - 2:46pm
Oh, big hugs for you! I teach first grade so I know how hard it is to teach this but I can't imagine having to teach all the basics and all the content area expected to be covered on state tests. I agree with the others who said to back up and concentrate on the basics skills. We also use Open Court and fit it in a modified version of 4-block. Do put up a word wall and use some of the words in addition to their spelling words to be sure they can spell the basic words. Review site words covered in the previous grades and introduce 5th grade words a few at a time in addition to the old ones. You can also use word books. Everytime my students ask me to spell a word they bring me their word book open to the letter page the word starts with. We also add our spelling words to the word books. If I correct spelling on their papers they also have to write those words in their word books. Can you set up guided reading groups so you have a group of kids at the same level and do choral reading that way? Is there any time in the day to listen to individuals read? (I try to hear 1/5 of my students every day so they read to me alone once a week. The others might be reading silently, finishing seatwork, or doing center based activities.) Are there older students in your school that could come in and read with them? I know they are older and this would be hard. What about volunteers from the community (like grandparents, police officers, community workers, etc.) It's a good role model for them and I assume they are not getting this at home. As far as chapter 1 help we are in the same situation. I can have 5-6 students go for 30 minutes 3 times a week. Is doing push-in an option? In the past we had a chapter 1 teacher come in and team teach for an hour each day. We set up groups so they had small group instruction from the Chapter 1 teacher for 20 minutes, instruction from me for 20 minutes, and independent work/centers for 20 minutes. If space is the only limitation, why can't the chapter 1 teacher take all the kids from your room who qualify and you take the rest to the chapter 1 room, library, or another location. Is the chapter 1 teacher available as consultation to give you ideas and perhaps share materials? Is there money in your school budget to get reading material that is on the interest level of your students but written at a lower reading level? I know we have some books in our special ed classes so kids can read materials that interest them but aren't too difficult. I know a friend of mine who used to teach chapter 1 swears by Read Natually. Students read along with stories on tape and receive instruction on improving their reading skills. She brought most of our chapter 1 kids up my a grade level or 2 in a year and had fantastic success with many kids she privately tutors.

Do you have access to computer programs like STAR (it gives individual students a test and determines their grade level), Accelerated Reader, or anything they can work on idependently while you teach small groups? I know that we use in our first grades, but most of that would not meet your students' interest levels. We also have Leap Pads in my class that I let my students use to practice reading. We are also in the process of getting more leveled readers so kids can easily find books that are on their level and books that will challenge them.

How about doing a Reader's Chair time. You assign 1/5 of your class to each day of the week. Every week they are to choose a book, interesting article, or something else appropriate to read. Assign a small group of students to each reader and have the reader read to the group, ask questions, etc. You can make this part of their grade.

As for the irritating questions, first graders are the champs at this! When I just say take out a pencil and someone replies "do we need a pencil" I say "no, you need an elephant" and turn and walk away. If they respond again, I reply "ask a silly question, get a silly answer." Sometimes they just talk to hear themselves talk. Their favorite question is "can we use markers" and when I couldn't stand answering it anymore I developed a rule--if it is plain white paper with nothing on the back you can use markers instead of crayons. Now when they ask I just tell them to think of the rule. They almost never ask now.

Maybe they need to set some personal goals so they are working towards something. Maybe having a career day (or a different person each week) with presentations on what they do, and what they had to be able to do to get the job. Some kids are from families where parents are barely making it themselves and they don't know what is out there. They don't know they have to work to make something of themselves. We've got a group of kids in the 5th grade here that just moved here from the projects in Chicago. It's so hard for the staff and their own teachers to motivate them because they don't even know their own possibilities. It's sad, but some kids at this age have given up on themselves and all they know is working the system. No one has goals around them and they have no goals for themselves. Is there a social worker you can get to help you develop some ideas to motivate these kids? Can you develop a class project that they could take ownership of that would teach them some basic life skills, something like Junior Achievement where they run a company and get to use the profits for items for the class comes to mind. I don't remember what area of the country you are in, but how about a class garden where they learn about plants, grow and take care of them, and sell them. This would involve math, science, reading, and writing and would introduce them to horticulture, business, and more.

It sounds like there is much more going on than just lack of learning in previous grades. It sure is hard when you see a whole class like this--it's overwhelming because you know you just don't have enough of yourself to go around. Remember you are doing your best and you can't correct years worth of difficulties over night.


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-04-2003
Sun, 10-03-2004 - 12:20am
Thanks Sharlene, I appreciate your suggestions. Where do I start...

First of all this is a K-8 school and at least 5 kids per class go to the Title one room twice a week. Basically that's over 100 kids that see these teachers in a week. So many students need them, they don't have time to go to individual classes. And like I said, 12 OUT OF 16 of my students would have to go. Honestly, my whole class needs to go. So I will sign up 4 of the absolute lowest to go and ask my parapro to have a small reading group with some of the students who need assistance. Now..

I looovee STAR and Accelerated Reader and A+. They are some of the best shows in town. But we don't have it and I really don't know why. I mean I would love to be trained again on how to use it and then I could train the other teachers. We desperately need something like those programs and yet we have nothing...

I am going back over the basics and teaching decoding. I do have a word wall and all of the words from the stories we have read so far are on the board. They are not difficult words at all. Very simple in fact. For example, three of our words for this week were, goal, snow and highway. Very simple. They got an A on the spelling test. But these words are 2nd grade words, of course they knew them. I shutter to think what will happen when the words get harder. As for reading groups.....

With everyone so low, reading groups would be a big waste of time. Besides these students disrespect each other so much, I wouldn't want to put them in a group to supervise each other. I am however going to start "First grade reading buddies" So they can at least get more reading practice in and also help a younger student. I also...

Have to start tutoring the students who need the help, but they all do and I REFUSE to tutor them all for free. SORRY!! But I am not getting paid to keep my entire class after school for an hour once a week. I am just going to tutor the absolute lowest kids. Hey, we also have a problem with kids being picked up on time and I am not going to be stuck with a room full of kids once a week cause their parents forgot to pick them up. UGH!! DOn't get me started on the lazy folks who always forget to pick up their kid. GEEZ!!

I know I can't correct the problems over night, but I get SICK, SICK I TELL YA, of being blamed for what ails these students. Man!! My adminstrator gave me these kids because "I am a very strong teacher and I could help these kids." Phooey!! She gave them to me because the other teachers WANTED THEM OUT OF THEIR CLASSES. How is that fair??? Anywhoo...

My in-class library is full of different books on different levels that these students read at DEAR time. I also allow them to read a book on their level to the class. They are also required to do a book report every week, but still they are not getting any better. I have this one girl in particular who is always walking around with a book, but now I know she is fronting cause when I ask her to read the simplest sentence out loud, she can hardly read at all. Finally...

I guess I am just a little shell shocked. I have not had a large group of kids who couldn't perform before. Yesh!! I am not "buddying" any of them up for reading(with each other) cause it would be like the BLIND LEADING THE BLIND. Thanks again Sharlene. I will figure something out. Just pray for me!!


P.S. I'm sorry the middle school students aren't good role models for my students, so buddying up with them would be a big mistake.

Avatar for sharlene1
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Sun, 10-03-2004 - 5:10pm
Sorry my suggestions weren't more helpful. You really do have your hands full! I'll just add you to my prayer list.

Do I understand correct--you have all the lowest of the fifth grades? Does that mean that 4 of your lowest, and 4 from each of the higher classes get served by title 1? Is there a way that all of the 5th graders could get ranked and only the lowest would get the services-even if some classes had more kids being served than others? If they truly gave you all of the lowest kids, taking 4 from each class hardly seems fair.

IKWYM about tutoring and getting kids left behind. We had a tutoring program for a few years when we had funding and I was always staying late with one or 2 kids. One got left behind for an hour after pick up time--a first grader!--didn't their parents miss the kids??? How do you forget your child for an hour? I really made that parent feel bad as my son was still a baby and I needed to get home to nurse him after school, but so many of them don't care.


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-04-2003
Sat, 10-09-2004 - 1:41am
I CAN'T TAKE IT!!! So, I found the audio tapes that go with our stories. That has helped, but still I have to explain and explain and explain things a billion times. I told them the other day: "I am sorry children I am not used to explaining every tiny little thing." I mean they just copy things off the board and act SURPRISED when I tell them to do it. "Oh we were supposed to do that" Then...

They are so mean to each other. These kids have such low self esteem. They are always mistreating each other. I have become "Attilla the Hun" up in there. I have pretty much had to threaten bloody murder (not really but close) I mean they are vicious. Most of them have such low self esteem and they are so embarassed by their skills (or lack there of) that they are always projecting the negativity onto others. Finally...

I stood up and as tough as I could I said, "IT STOPS TODAY" The next person who throws an insult will leave here. DON'T TEST ME. I mean we go over the rules everyday. I have talked to them, sent notes home, sent them to the discipline coordinator, taken away in-class priviledges. DISCUSSED THE MEANINGS OF THE RULES, you name it. But...

I still get, "You are dumb, you are stupid, shut up dummy," towards each other. Finally, I told them, "You will not make me live with this CRAP another day." It stops now or I will personally escort you out of my room." Sorry...

But I have been quite patient. I simply refuse to teach in such a negative environment. THEN THEY CAN'T HARDLY READ. UGH!! I told them...

You sit in my class and call each other names, but when I send the Reading Logs home, NO ONE COMPLETED THEM. I WISH YOU CARED ABOUT READING IN THE SAME MANNER THAT YOU INSULT EACH OTHER. My goodness!! Anywhoo...

Basically, they are showing slight improvements and some of them are trying, but I really need to talk to the ones who have low self esteem. It's affecting the over all flow of the class. I mean these kids are paranoid. You can't look at them without them spouting an "insult" at someone. Alright I am done venting.

GT33 who would love some thoughts on how to keep the "verbal trash" out of my room.