Tell Me a Story
It is challenging to be a person with a reading disability. So much of school, and even life, is based on one’s ability to read and process print. Students who struggle to learn to read are often stuck reading what is decodable to them. This is usually limited to simple sentences, simple vocabulary, and less than exciting subject matter: “baby stuff.” While there are some publishers who try to address this with high-interest/low-readability texts, these stories don’t carry the same richness that the texts their peers can easily read do. These stories have more interesting subject matter, but the vocabulary and sentence structure is still simple. These same students end up falling further behind, not because of a lack of effort, but because they cannot learn vocabulary that they are not exposed to. It is very hard to know if you have decoded a word correctly if you’ve never heard the word.
For special education teachers, the challenge is to keep the students interested and keep making progress toward stronger reading skills. But, as a special educator, I would like to enlist the rest of you teachers to help us. We don’t need you to try to teach remedial skills. We need you to read to your classes. Not for a grade, but for enjoyment. Find a good collection of short stories, and invest a period once a week in story time, even in middle school. Choose a word or two that may not be well-known to discuss. Talk about how the story made you feel and invite the students’ reactions. Discuss the characters and whether or not you agree with their decisions. Do this not because everyone must agree and be ready for a test, but because it is fun, stretches the brain in new ways, and gives students ways to practice agreeing to disagree.
The rich language, complex plots and themes, and interesting subject matter are not the only benefits of short stories. They are also self-contained and, therefore, do not require recall of details over time. Stories give you a chance to bond with students in a way that has no judgment and does not require academic success.
Although this blog does not give me space to give a large list of short stories, Googling “best short stories for (your grade)” is a great place to start. I also have a great list for middle school that other teachers have shared with me that I will send to anyone who responds to this post. God bless, and happy reading!