Portrait of a Struggling Reader: Charlie

Portrait of a Struggling Reader: Charlie

Charlie's the most talkative little kid his tutor, Jeff, has ever seen. Every week they meet he has plenty to talk about — telling him about the baseball game he won, or his favorite video game, or how much he wants to get a dog. But, whenever it comes time to talk about the story he just read, Charlie clams up. Charlie's mind seems to wander while he reads, so Jeff decided to choose books especially for him.

One day, Jeff picked out a book about dog training he thought Charlie would really like. Charlie read the book aloud with no problems, stopping to comment on a few of the pictures — "See, that's exactly what kind of dog I want … I want a black dog, not white … This dog is tiny!"

Pleased with the choice of book, Jeff said, "So, do you think you could train a dog?"

Charlie looked at him quizzically and said, "What do you mean? I don't have a dog, remember?"

Jeff smiled, "Oh, I know that! I meant, in the book, what did they say about training?"

Charlie turned back through the pages of the book — although every page described how to train dogs to obey a different command, he couldn't seem to find what he was looking for. Finally, he turned back to the first page and reread the first sentence aloud, "Trainers know you can teach an old dog new tricks."

Jeff thought maybe his question was too vague. Instead, he asked, "What did you learn about dog training from the book, Charlie?"

Charlie looked again at that first page, "Umm, training is for old dogs?"

Frustrated, Jeff wasn't sure what to do next. He didn't think the book was too hard for Charlie — because he read the whole thing with no problems —and he knew that the book interested him — Charlie even asked if he could bring it home to show his mom the pictures. Why, then, did he always have such trouble getting Charlie to talk about the books he read?

What is Charlie struggling with?

Charlie's primary struggle is with comprehension

Comprehension combines the use of background knowledge and vocabulary with strategies for constructing and monitoring meaning in a text.

Charlie doesn't monitor his comprehension when he reads. He doesn't recognize when he's "getting it" and when he's not.

Although he makes connections to the text by calling up his background knowledge (for example, he evaluates how the dog in the picture compares to the one he wants), these connections seem to distract him from the core meaning in the book, rather than help him focus on the core meaning. Charlie didn't even notice the book was about training because he was so focused on dogs in general.

When asked to tell a bit about the book, Charlie had to return all the way back to the beginning, because he hadn't been monitoring the meaning along the way.

When children struggle with comprehension, they often benefit from direct comprehension strategy instruction, vocabulary instruction, and small group discussions of text. Often, the strategies for comprehension can be introduced to students using texts that are read aloud. Jeff, Charlie's tutor, could have read the training book aloud and stopped after every few pages to discuss with Charlie what he thought was happening at each stopping point.

Read more about this area of difficulty and how to help children who struggle with comprehension: Target the Problem: Comprehension.

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Learn about these other struggling readers: Aaron | Felicia | Molly | 


Reading 101 is a collaboration with the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and The International Dyslexia Association.

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." — Groucho Marx