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Practical Steps From Theory for Helping Middle and High School Readers

Updated on
Modified on April 4, 2024

If your experience is like mine, reading the title of this post brings to mind many names and faces of students I have worked with over the years. I started my career as an educator because I have a passion for helping others and because I see great value in the written word, and in my students’ ability to create and revisit worlds with their words.

Engaging readers and linking young people to reading and writing practices has been a central feature of my work since 2007. After almost two decades, I have gathered some tools and ideas, and I am always eager to share them with fellow educators. The overlap of theory and practice is where positive change happens, and where we can discover and build practice around what works for students.

So, what are practical steps with theoretical foundations you can use in your classroom to help readers? As a practicing classroom teacher who has worked at the high school, middle school, and university level, I know this question is not easy to answer. I also know the reality of starting each year and hearing the phrase, “I’m not a reader.”

Sometimes this is because a student has other interests and concerns, and simply does not enjoy reading. Sometimes there is a deeper underlying problem and there are present and measurable needs a student has when it comes to engaging in literacy. While I had moments of frustration and self-doubt as an educator, taking a step back and asking some diagnostic questions has great value for positioning myself along with my students as a source and support, instead of another person in their lives trying to coerce them into magically and mysteriously developing a reading habit.

On the flip side of the “I’m not a reader” confession, I have also been heartened to have students say, “This was the first book I’ve read in a long time.” Students usually can pinpoint both the grade and book that was their last visit to the written word.

Of course, we have other challenges to face. There are emotional difficulties, cultural tensions, additional demands, and the aftereffects of a pandemic to contend with. Building resilience and crafting learning experiences is challenging, even in the most idyllic times.

As one of my mentors once said, “We must be smart in our hard work.” I am reasonably convinced the answer(s) we are looking for are not unreachable, and that our reflection on existing practices can have positive results.

This blog post is a conversation starter, and I am eager to explore this topic in more detail during an upcoming webinar I’ll host on EDVIEW360 called, “(At Least) 10 Ways to Help Striving Adolescent Readers.” I hope you’ll join me Wednesday, April 10.


Watch the webinar

About the Author
Jason Dehart
Dr. Jason DeHart
Teacher, Wilkes Central High School, Wilkesboro, NC

Dr. Jason D. DeHart is a teacher at Wilkes Central High School in North Carolina, and was an assistant professor of reading education at Appalachian State University. DeHart's research interests include multimodal literacy, including film and graphic novels, and literacy instruction with adolescents. He taught middle grades English/Language Arts for eight years and continues to work to keep current with trends in education. DeHart’s work has recently appeared in SIGNAL Journal, English Journal, and The Social Studies, and he has a co-edited the volume, Connecting Theory and Practice in Middle School Literacy, to be released by Routledge later this year. He is passionate about literacy, inclusivity, engaged reading, and authentic writing practices.

Learn more about Dr. Jason DeHart