Strategies to Support Struggling Readers in Civic Inquiry

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

In recent blog posts, Shawn highlighted compelling data analyzing the impact the #CivicsIsBack initiative has had on bridging the civic empowerment gap in the state of Illinois. While the results are encouraging, there are still important questions to tackle in order to meet the need of ALL learners in the civic classroom. One of these questions is, What are some strategies or resources that can be used to support students of varying reading levels in conducting research and building background knowledge to participate in civic inquiry?

In an article documenting a study of the literacy challenges faced by students and teachers in an advanced, project-based version of the US Government and Politics course, Dr. Walter Parker and Dr. Shelia Valencia from the University of Washington stated that:

Students in this study, when working with course texts, encountered densely constructed textbooks, challenging specialized vocabulary, and lack of teacher support for learning from text. Generally, they could read but not comprehend. Both teachers and students developed strategies to avoid learning from text-based resources. These strategies hindered students’ ability to learn course content and further disadvantaged students who needed more practice and support in learning from text.

My travels throughout the state of Illinois to provide professional development to support educators provides anecdotal evidence that this is not an issue isolated to students in APGOV. I have long believed that civics is best in a diverse classroom with students from varying lived experiences. However, the unintended consequence of having a cross-section of the community in the classroom is the variance of reading abilities.

So, how can we provide equitable opportunities for success in civics for students who need support in learning from texts? Here are some suggestions from Parker and Valencia as well as other resources to explore.
Do you have a favorite strategy to support struggling readers in your civics classroom? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare all students for college, career and civic life.

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