Struggling readers at the middle level: a cross-cultural study of the social aspect of their reading



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Texas Tech University


Struggling readers at the middle level (4-8) face complex challenges when compared to students in the primary grades (K-3). However, less attention has been paid to this group of students. Reading is not only a cognitive and/or motivational process, but also a social one. Researchers have found that students who discuss reading frequently with peers have higher scores on standardized reading achievement tests. Besides, collaborative social activities in meaningful literacy contexts also promote higher level thinking skills and the intrinsic desire to read and write, as well as helping to develop literacy skills. During social interactions, researchers have found differences in amount of talk, initiation patterns, volume of talk, and the use of questions among students from different cultural backgrounds. The purpose of this study was to explore the social aspects of reading among struggling middle level readers from different cultural backgrounds.

The research participants were four struggling middle level readers from differing cultural backgrounds from a private school. A qualitative comparative case study was implemented. This study’s data set included detailed field notes from the reading sessions in the classroom throughout a semester, transcripts of interviews with each of the four participants, and various documents including participants' portfolios.

The findings from this research study indicated that none of the participants had many social interactions associated with reading and text in their previous school learning experiences. Among the different types of social interactions in the class, homogeneous/literature circle grouping most encouraged their participation in discussion. These literature circles proved to be a very effective teaching approach to help struggling readers. Participants' social interactions reflected gender and cultural differences in terms of level of participation, content and function of talk as well. The participants' social interactions about reading and texts in class helped them better understand and remember the texts. These social interactions also impacted the participants' experiences with reading, more specifically, their views of reading, the frequency and breadth of their reading, their views of self as reader, and their reading processes.