When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do by Kylene Beers

Why should you read this book?  

“We want to create lifelong learners who embrace curiosity, who enjoy analyzing ambiguity, and who view education as a journey that isn’t about offering the single correct answer but instead is about asking the thoughtful question.” Kylene Beers
“We want to create lifelong learners who embrace curiosity, who enjoy analyzing ambiguity, and who view education as a journey that isn’t about offering the single correct answer but instead is about asking the thoughtful question.” 
 Kylene Beers

               

Kylene Beers, author of When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do begins her book by telling a story about a former student, “George.”  At a meeting with his parents, they wanted to know why he could not read.  She did not have an answer.  Beers thought – Wasn’t that George’s problem – not hers?

Beers tells us how inadequate she felt at that time in her teaching career.  She did not know how to help George.   And, she knew her students felt inadequate too.  “Make no mistake.  These students do not reach middle school or high school unaware that reading is a problem for them.  They know they can’t’ read; they’ve known it for years.”

But, Beers helps all of us in this book.  She gives us some of the answers that she was looking for that day with George’s parents.  And, that is why you should read this book.  Beers provides the strategy know-how that we all need to improve our literacy instruction.  But, more importantly, Beers – through her storytelling style and use of anecdotes – makes you feel like you are in her classroom or she is in yours!

Kylene Beers says she does not have all the answers – but she has these two to offer us:  “First, there is no one answer to understanding why an adolescent struggles with reading…Second, while there is no single answer, there are answers.”

If you are a reading teacher in the primary grades, you know the importance building a solid reading foundation for each student.  And, if you are a reading, English, or content area teacher in the upper grades, you will see that you still have a role and responsibility in making certain all students have this solid reading foundation.  In either case, all teachers can learn from Kylene Beers’ experience.

How can you use this book?

While Kylene Beers has written this book with adolescent readers in mind, I use it in both my teacher education classes and when teaching fourth, fifth, and sixth grade readers.

It has four main parts:

  • The first part show the complex lives of readers
  • The second part explains pre-reading, during-reading, and after-reading strategies
  • The third part provides overviews on vocabulary, fluency, automaticity, word recognition, and spelling – areas of reading that are foundational for becoming an independent reader regardless of age; and
  • The fourth part shows teachers how important they are in developing and maintaining the literary lives of their students.

In each chapter, she includes a “Step Inside the Classroom” section that describes the literacy topic in action.  Then, she provides either a “Questions and Answers” section or a series of “Suggestions” for teachers.  In these follow-up sections, teachers can go deeper into understanding a reading strategy and also learn some workarounds when students struggle.

Finally, I often read parts of Beers book aloud to my students – both adults and children.  I do this so my students can know why we are working on a particular strategy or reading concern.  I always want them to know how and where I learned what I am sharing with them.  Sharing your learning process with students is a powerful way to earn their trust and grow together.