Why Captain Underpants Is Good for Kids

By Readingintheborderlands

In my career as a teacher and professor I’ve encountered far too many reluctant and resistant readers. This article does an excellent job of explaining why some students are turned off by reading and school, and how books like the Captain Underpants series can provide a connection to literacy.

Professional Resources for a Struggling Reader

This semester students in READ 6325 explored professional resources on a variety of topics.

By Mayra Padilla

Because of the fact that struggling readers can be found in every school and/or grade level, it is important for educators to be aware of professional resources that can provide more information on struggling readers.  One advantage of being familiar with these sources is that teachers will be able to identify characteristics of a struggling reader and may even help prevent a student from becoming one.

After searching for such resources, I have come across a professional journal titled Reading Improvement that I feel is an excellent source for this topic. This peer reviewed journal provides different articles dealing with struggling readers such as; Strategies for Improving Reading Skills, Implementing Peer Coaching Fluency Building to Improve Early Literacy Skills, and the one that impacted me the most was Struggling Readers in High School. I thought this article was very interesting because it provides educators with information as to what actions to take when dealing with struggling readers. It mentions the importance of becoming knowledgeable in the subject matter, being an advocate for these students so that they may not be forgotten, and providing them with interventions that will focus on their individual needs. This article was great and I encourage every high school teacher to read it. Another journal that I felt was an excellent source was Teaching Exceptional Children. This journal provides information on how to improve struggling learners/readers and identifies different issues that can cause this. These issues include a specific learning disability, autism, lack of experiences, and diversity in culture. The article that dealt specifically with struggling readers was titled Technology for the Struggling Reader: Free and Easily Accessible Resources.  This article is extremely helpful for teachers that have struggling readers in their classroom. It provided information on different computer programs that will assist these students. Such programs include; Microsoft Readability Statistics Tool that will provide teachers with information to determine whether or not students need modified texts, and Microsoft AutoSummarize is a tool that assists students by summarizing important information from the text and providing key points.

When looking into organizations that support struggling readers, I found the Iowa Reading Association. This association is an interactive group of individuals that are interested in reading and promote literacy through leadership, educational programming, and legislative endeavors. Their website provides members with excellent reading strategies that teachers can use in their classroom. These include; Say , Four Square Writing Method, Bookmark Technique, Character Retrieval Chart, Words to Fluency Something, Four Star Sentence, Hula Hoop Words, Literature Circles, Using Prop Boxes, Retelling: A Comprehension Strategy, Retelling: One of Many Comprehension Strategies, Search Strategy and Strategy Hand. These strategies are helpful and I have personally used two of them in my classroom.

The Struggling Reader Interventions that Work textbook is a great resource for struggling readers. It gives a clear explanation of the reading process. It talks about the importance of oral language development and the fact that it is the foundation of all literacy, phonemic awareness, word recognition, vocabulary, reading fluency, comprehension, writing and the importance of teachers staying up to date with new research in reading.                                    

 All of these professional resources are excellent and I hope that this blog is helpful to all educators because at one point in our teaching career, we will have to assist struggling readers.

Adults Read!

This semester students in READ 6325 explored professional resources on a variety of topics.

By I.Martinez

According to LiteracyTexas.org, there are 93 million adults in the United States who are reading at or below the basic levels of literacy, and of those 93 million, an estimated 3.8 million live in Texas, of which only about 100,000 are being served in Adult Education programs. The Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy & Learning lists Hidalgo County as having an illiteracy rate of 50%, slightly above Starr County which is listed as 65%, and below Cameron County at 43%. (http://www-tcall.tamu.edu/docs/09illitmap.html)

Judging by this center’s statistics and those of the Texas Council of Developmental Disabilities, it is indicated that many border counties have the highest illiteracy rates and also some of the highest poverty indexes.  These border counties are listed as having illiteracy rates of 40% and above and poverty indexes of approximately 33% and above. With all this in mind, it is no wonder that many of our students enter school significantly behind in their literacy skills. If we are to help our nation, state, county, and our individual students, then the issue of adult illiteracy must be confronted. The following listings of resources have been provided for all who work with Adult Literacy in a professional capacity or as a volunteer.

Professional journals that focus on adult literacy are:

  1.  Perspectives: The New York Journal of Adult Learning, which is a publication of the New York Association of Continuing Community Education, and Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education, describes itself as a journal that explores common practice, research and theory in adult education, community education, continuing education, workforce development, and higher education. It also offers a complimentary sample of the journal.
  2. Commission on Adult Basic Education Journal or COABE Journal, describes itself as the only journal in North America that publishes research about the field of adult literacy. This journal also offers a free sample publication copy.
  3.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, describes itself as the only peer-reviewed journal that focuses on effective research-based strategies for teaching literacy to adolescents and adults. This journal also releases free articles from some of its issues.

 The above listed COABE Journal is produced by the Commission on Adult Basic Education which is a professional organization particularly aimed at meeting the needs of professionals in the field of Adult Literacy. The COABE organization is comprised of practitioners and administrators with a membership of approximately 10,000.  A membership link is provided on the home page of their website: coabe.org/index.html

Books focusing on Adult Literacy are not very abundant, never-the-less, I was able to find listings for the following books on the Amazon.com website. They are:

Tips at Your fingertips: Teaching Strategies for Adult Literacy Tutors, by Ola M. Brown

Litstart: Literacy Strategies for Adult Reading Tutors, by Ed; DeVergilio, Marsha; DeButts, Donna Robson

Litstart: Strategies for Adult Literacy and ESL Tutors, by Patricia Frey

Improving Adult Literacy Outcomes: Lessons from Cognitive Research for Developing Countries, by Helen Abadzi

The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy, by John Comings,  Barbara Garner, and Cristine Smith

 Books for the Adult Learners:

Goar Adult books are printed by Grass Roots Press and ABC Life Literacy Canada. These books are said to have adult themes but are written with accessible vocabulary and grammar. These books are also affordably priced at approximately $6.95, and can be found in Wal-Mart. You can find this webpage at: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/893385–goar-adult-books-for-adult-literacy-learners

For programs with limited funding, the Gutenburg project includes free books and some of the audio books that match the printed text. In other words, if your Adult Literacy program lacks the funds to purchase multiple copies of authentic literature for your classroom, you can download a free copy of a royalty free book (copyright has lapsed), and you can also download the adjoining audiofile to help as you do read alouds with your students. www.gutenberg.org/

 I have also included two charities that benefit Adult Literacy. The first is The National Adult Literacy Database (NALD), which is a registered, non-profit charity that provides internet based literacy information and resources. This charity provides materials, hosts websites for literacy organizations, and publicizes literacy events, to name a few services. On the Home page, to the right is a section labeled: Library-Multimedia collection, which I thought was quite good. It features videos that teachers can use for creating classroom materials, to videos on up to date research studies and findings on literacy.

The second non-profit organization that offers free instructional resources to teachers and volunteers is the ProLiteracy Education Network or EdNet for short. This educational network offers short self-paced courses in reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing and citizenship, plus printable PDFs of lesson plans and classroom activities. I found this website to be a gem. Besides its printables, videos, and audios, it has a very user friendly format which quickly took me to all these “freebies”. I have included the direct link to three audios. These audios discuss and model a think aloud for reading comprehension.


You can access the home network at the following URL: http:// www.proliteracyednet.org/

 Finally, for teachers wanting to brush up on teaching phonetic strategies to adult learners, there is a free, online 30 day Reading Horizons Workshop at the following URL:



*As a footnote, I’d like to include the following websites as well:





Council of Exceptional Children

There are many professional organizations that can help literacy experts stay involved in the profession beyond their classroom or school assignment. Students in the spring semester of READ 6325 explored various professional organizations and are sharing what they learned through this blog series. 

Mary Guerra 

The Council of Exceptional Children, also known as CEC, is a professional organization that helps children with disabilities, gifts, and/or talents to be successful in their education.  This organization advocates for students, provides professional training and educational material to professionals to teach these students.  This organization is mainly for teachers, administrators, students, parents, paraprofessionals, and related support service providers.  The Council of Exception Children publishes journals and newsletters on information about new research, classroom practices, federal legislation and policies.  This professional organization provides conferences and trainings for professionals that work with children with disabilities, and/or gifts, and talents.

The Council of Exceptional Children has a chapter and divisions in every state.  You can join this organization and/or your local division through the website or 1-888-232-7733.  There is a fee to be part of this organization, each state has a different fee and it also depends if you are a student, professional, retired, or you want the premier access to the organization and website.  If you live inTexas, the dues for a professional are $124 or $202 for a premium account.  Once you sign up to become a member you can also pick additional benefits to your account or keep it basic.  With the membership, you have minute to minute updates on new findings, conferences, journals, and benefits CEC provides through sponsors and partnerships.

On the website it also has an online store where you can buy books about strategies for teaching exceptional children, lesson plans, etc.  Some prices on merchandise may vary if you are a member or non-member.  Interesting information found in this website, is the awards and scholarships they give out to children with disabilities, and/or gifts, talents, and awards given to special education professionals. With each scholarship and award an online nomination form and/or application need to be filled out.  They even provide tips for filling out the nomination or application form.  Along the same area, you will find sponsors and donors of CEC organization.  There are a number of individuals that donate to this professional organization and you can find their names on the website under CEC Sponsors & Donors.  There is also a link to where anyone can donate.  When donating you can specify which award and/or scholarship you would like the money to go to.  Any amount donated is accepted.  There are also jobs available in CEC.  The job openings are posted along with the description of the job and qualifications.

The Council of Exceptional Children provides a lot of professional development and/or conferences for educators and parents who want to know more about ways to help exceptional children.  CEC provides webinars which can benefit many individuals who have a busy schedule and an internet interaction or seminar would be rather easier for them.

This website is full of information and is updated everyday.  It is full of information on how to help students with disabilities, and/or gifts, talents, scholarship, awards, conferences, journals, etc.  You need to have time to browse this page to be able to see all the information provided.  The website is user friendly and it has a video in most pages.

An Overview of “Teaching Literacy to Students with Significant Disabilities”

Students enrolled in the spring 2011 section of READ 6323 worked together in small groups to read and discuss a professional book related to struggling readers. As part of their project, they wrote a post for our blog.

By Yadira Gonzalez, Maryela Garcia, Noelia Romero, Rosa Reyes, Audrey Nuques

Effectively teaching students who have severe, profound, and even multiple disabilities can be challenging. Imagination and creativity are essential. Sometimes one teacher’s idea will spark several adaptations for new ideas. Therefore, the purpose of the text Teaching Literacy to Students with Significant Disabilities by author June E. Downing was to suggest some realistic ideas for teaching literacy to students with severe disabilities.

Students of all ages and abilities benefit from daily, sustained opportunities to participate in literacy. In recent years many individuals who were presumed incapable of learning to read because of their disabilities, have learned and demonstrated unexpected literacy skills. In order to ensure that these students reach their potential, they must have access to quality literacy instruction throughout their schooling, and with the initiation of NCLB this is now a reality.

Chapter two emphasizes the value of communication as a bridge to literacy learning.  Developing trusting relationships with the students can aid in increasing the opportunities to use interactions in reading and writing activities.  I find that this is very important, not only with students with significant disabilities, but with every child.  I thought the examples for documentation of shared experiences were beneficial for both parents and educators.  The examples the author gave were, drawings, photograph books, and tactile books. 

The book’s description on how to plan literacy skills for the student was very useful.   The book explained with great detail about how to set goals for a student which can be a great way to plan lessons. Teachers must set goals that are specific for the child and not in a passive way.  It explained the goals must not read “the student will listen to a book” because then the student is really not partaking in anything.  The author was explicit to mention that it takes a team to work with students with disabilities.  I agreed with the author’s suggestion that they must all plan together to help teach these important literacy skills. The book also mentions the integration of technology as a learning tool.  Other ideas mentioned in the book are the tools that schools can use to help the child communicate.  Some of these examples were: drawing, computers, AAC devices, or signing.

In chapter four of Teaching Literacy Skills, the author provides the reader with the different ways of making literacy learning appropriate for students with significant disabilities such as providing choices of materials, taking student interests’ into consideration, offering a variety of meaningful opportunities and having material needed available. I liked the way in which Downing displays the different options of writing, ways to increase literacy experiences and a list of reading choices with the use of tables making it accessible to the reader.  In addition, the author also provides his audience with different samples of pictorial representation of numerous accommodated literacy activities in which the student is engaged in.  These samples give general and special educators an idea of how to prepare with the most appropriate and effective adaptations for a student with significant disabilities.

Chapter 5 has excellent information for educators. After reviewing and reading the chapter, I added just a few ideas that are not mentioned.  June E. Downing wrote about the different alternative methods of assessing students with significant disabilities: Observations while the students are in an engagement activity during reading, writing, and language skills, review of past records which is previous knowledge, interviews to parents, teachers, speech pathologists and portfolios. Page 103 mentions that some of the persons that can be interviewed about a student are paraprofessionals. This is contrary to the instructions we receive from the Principal and Special Ed director. The previous assessment methods are good alternatives, but teacher-made tests are not mentioned. Teacher-made tests may be done reflecting student’s IEP’s with a minimum of 70% accuracy. Miscue analysis is another good way to assess students in reading besides the multiple choices with pictures.

Families, as well as educators, must keep the ultimate goal, which is to “help students be as competent and literate as possible.”

Ideas from “English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking” by Pauline Gibson

Students enrolled in the spring 2011 section of READ 6323 worked together in small groups to read and discuss a professional book related to struggling readers. As part of their project, they wrote a post for our blog.

By: Mari Contreras

With contributions by: Laura García, and Chris Mayne

We are elementary teachers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and we have learned and implemented many of the ideas and activities mentioned in the professional book, English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking by Pauline Gibbons.  This book discusses the challenges teachers have to find ways of teaching that will help everyone, especially English language learners (ELLs), and to reach high expectations for each student.  In English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking, Gibbons presents an action-oriented approach that gives English learners high-level support to match high expectations.  Focusing on the middle grades of school, she shows how to plan rigorous, literacy oriented, content based instruction and illustrates what a high challenge, high support curriculum looks like in practice.

Some of the engaging academic literacy classroom activities giving by Gibbons are:

  • Progressive Brainstorm
  • Wallpapering
  • Semantic Web / Concept Map
  • Dictogloss
  • Shared Writing
  • Split Dictation
  • Barrier Crossword
  • Vanishing Cloze
  • Word Walls
  • Sentence Matching
  • Bilingual Dictionaries
  • Many more…

Teachers might be familiar with some of the activities mentioned above; however, there are also new activities which are great to use in classrooms with ELLs.  For example, the dictogloss was a new activity to me and a perfect way to integrate content and language.  Even though most of my students are monolingual and half of the class is titled Limited English Proficient (LEP) these exercises were great especially in supporting the students with engaging academic literacy in all curriculum areas.  To implement the dictogloss I made sure that my students had gained the background knowledge and vocabulary appropriate for the content.  I chose to read a short text from the students textbook and asked students to “just listen” as I read the text aloud at a normal speed.  I then read the text again aloud and asked the students for the second time to just listen to the text.  By this time most students were familiar with the text and by the third reading of the text students were asked to write down as much of the key points and phrases from the text that they could remember.  I needed to stop the activity and remind students that it would be hard to record everything that they heard me read aloud, they simply needed to record key points and isolated words.  The next step my students did was to get with their partner and share what they had written down.  Then together they would have to write down a new version of what they both had written individually.  At this point, some students found this difficult to do and they needed assistance in combining each other’s notes.  I then asked the partners to get with another pair and combine their notes and construct a new version of the whole text which would be their final version.  As a group, students were to use their background knowledge of English, check for grammar, noun and verb agreement, and spelling revision.  We then compared the original text to their own.  Students discussed differences and if meanings were the same or if there were any differences.  I really enjoyed implementing this activity with my students because it was an excellent practice for integrating content and language, and for integrating listening, speaking, reading, and writing all at the same time.

An Overview of “When Kids Can’t Read” by Kylene Beers

Students enrolled in the spring 2011 section of READ 6323 worked together in small groups to read and discuss a professional book related to struggling readers. As part of their project, they wrote a post for our blog.

By: Holly, Cecilia, Claudia, and Annie

If I had to choose one book to use with my struggling adolescent readers, this would be the book! Not only does it suggest ways to help students with vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, word recognition, response to text and more, it offers strategies that help improve students’ attitude toward reading and builds their confidence.

The Vocabulary Tree

The Vocabulary Tree is one of these strategies that can be used in many ways, but Beers uses this activity to teach specific roots and affixes. She begins by suggesting that every English teacher across the grades should embrace a unit on roots and affixes so that students would have an opportunity for learning and relearning. Students can build these trees on their own and keep them in the Vocabulary section of their binders. Vocabulary trees are wonderful for teaching roots; it’s a great way of making this usually difficult concept of word study more concrete to students.

ABC Cause and Effect Booklet

Beers created a challenging way to have students affirm comprehension or pull out facts to that each one should’ve remembered after reading.  I used the booklet activity in my 8th grade classroom to establish my students’ comprehension of our class novel.  My students created a booklet and labeled each page with two letters, starting from A and working their way to Z.  For each letter, the students had to create a word that expressed a theme or an issue that was expressed in the novel.   Students had to be able to reformulate the text and connect it to a matching letter.   The structure of this assignment allowed for students to be creative and concise about their interpretation of the text.

 In the end, these students produced appealing booklets.  I had my special education students coming up with words and understanding why that word was perfect for the matching letter.  In no time at all, every one of my students could give me details from the book without trouble.  This activity was challenging, engaging and appropriate for the situation.  Beers created such a simplistic activity that stirred critical thinking without the stress of an intimidating lesson. 

Most Important Word

I decided to introduce my sixth grade students to an after-reading activity that would help them focus on constructing meaning in a more concrete way.  The Most Important Word activity asks students to choose what they consider to be the most important word from the body of the text they’ve just read.  To help students with the selection of their word choice Beers developed a Most Important Word form.  This form helps students consider how their word affects the characters, conflict, plot, and setting.  After completing this part, they use their word to help them formulate a theme statement. 

My students had just read the book Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and used it for this activity. As my students engaged in selecting their most important word I was pleased with the amount of discussion that was taking place.  I had suggested that they help each other with their word selection by discussing it within their groups.  Students then individually began to work on their Most Important Word form.  I really liked this part of the activity because it forced my students to go back into the text and evaluate how their word affected the different literary elements.  Lastly, my students were able to easily construct a theme statement which in the past had been challenging for them to do.  I was impressed at how the Most Important Word activity allowed my students a more concrete way of evaluating their comprehension while at the same time requiring higher-order thinking skills.

Why Kids Can’t Read is a very informative and heartfelt book for teaching reading to struggling students. Although the book is targeted to teachers who deliver regular language arts lessons, you can connect with many strategies that will help make lessons stronger for struggling readers in any grade.