How to Help Students of Color Succeed as Readers

Unfortunately, in today’s world, reading doesn’t always work out for our students of color—for a series of complex reasons, including the challenges of poverty and learned helplessness. However, I know and have taught many successful black students. Indeed, as my Dartmouth- and Georgetown-trained doctor son would remind me, not all students of color are failing.

My book, It’s Not Complicated! What I Know For Sure About Helping Our Students of Color Become Successful Readers, explains how we can help our students of color, who often face uniquely difficult challenges, believe in themselves as creative, competent, successful readers, writers, and learners. And it’s about us, the teachers, administrators, parents, and all who care about our students of color and work so hard to help them succeed. Together, we all face tough challenges. And together, as we explore the research, embrace the standards, and work hard to provide the very best support both at home and at school, we can overcome.

We face real challenges, but they are not insurmountable. We just need to be smart and strategic about how we direct our energy. These 12 points for helping our students of color succeed as readers will help you generate a powerful and effective plan of action to harness and direct your teacher energy. This is what I know for sure, after more than 40 years on the front lines:

  1. Our kids need support to become successful readers.
  2. When our kids are motivated to read, it can change their lives.
  3. Our kids need access to more books.
  4. Around-the-clock oral language and bedtime stories can prevent the 30-million-word gap.
  5. Academic vocabulary and avid reading give our kids a brain boost.
  6. What happens to our kids in kindergarten through third grade can change their lives.
  7. Our kids are not reading if they aren’t comprehending.
  8. Response to intervention breaks the cycle of failure.
  9. Knowing how to navigate nonfiction is a survival skill.
  10. We must support families of color. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers are their child’s first teacher.
  11. Helping our kids means being smart about the use of data.
  12. We must help all kids of color believe they will go to college.

When our kids read their hearts out, the so-called achievement gap all but disappears. Both white students and students of color perform off the charts when they’ve got hours and hours or avid reading backing them up. Never forget: Good won’t do when great is possible. Reading is our kids’ civil right.

To learn more about It’s Not Complicated! What I Know For Sure About Helping Our Students of Color Become Successful Readers, you can purchase the book here.

About the author:

Phyllis C. Hunter was an education advisor, consultant, professional developer, and partner to Scholastic. As an educator, she held various positions including education advisor to the President of the United States, George W. Bush; Reading Manager under former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige; an elementary school principal; middle school assistant principal; 4th grade teacher; State of California mentor teacher; and speech and language therapist. As a partner and friend to Scholastic, her legacy continues to live on in her professional resources. Her classic It’s Not Complicated! and The Phyllis C. Hunter Classroom Library, now in its second edition, remain Scholastic best sellers.

A Reading Checklist to Help Your Students Get the Most Out of Nonfiction Texts

These days, nonfiction makes the world go round. Practically everything we read on the Internet, for example, is nonfiction. In fact, if you tried to keep track of each time you encountered nonfiction text over the course of a day, you’d go nuts!

To help your students get the most out of the nonfiction books they read, you’ll want to spend time helping them learn about the unique features and structure of nonfiction books, including, at times, the discontinuity of informational text. You may also want to share this Reading Nonfiction Checklist from my book, It’s Not Complicated! What I Know For Sure About Helping Our Students of Color Become Successful Readers, with them, and show them how to use these strategies. That way, each time they immerse themselves in a nonfiction text, they’ll have the tools they need to tackle and understand what they’re reading.

Reading Nonfiction Checklist

Before reading…

  • I think about why I am reading and what information I want to learn.
  • I study the book cover and title.
  • I read about the author.
  • I think about the topic and make connections to what I already know about it.
  • I skim the photographs, charts, graphs, maps, and other illustrations and graphics.
  • I skim the table of contents and text and pay attention to the headings.

During reading…

  • I stop and check to see if what I have read makes sense.
  • I use diagrams, headings, illustrations, and captions to aid my understanding.
  • I use the table of contents and index to help me find information.
  • I use the glossary to find the meaning of words I don’t know.
  • I identify confusing words or passages.
  • I reread confusing words or passages.
  • I ask questions.
  • I identify main ideas and supporting details.
  • I recognize words that signal transitions and words that signal organizational patterns such as cause and effect.
  • I am aware of how the information is organized.
  • I make connections to what I already know and determine additional information that I still need to know.
  • I visualize or make mental pictures of things not illustrated.
  • I take notes if I am writing a report or studying for a test.

After reading…

  • I summarize the text in my own words.
  • I reread to find details and confirm facts.
  • I look up words that I flagged while reading.
  • I look up related information that will help me comprehend the text better.
  • I read my notes to make sure they are complete.
  • I use the text to support my opinions and ideas.
  • I think about what else I want to know.

It’s also important to embrace our students reading interests and recognize that many are engaged in wide reading across a diverse range of mediums, including conventional books and print material, but also much of it digital. This includes:

  • Social media such as Facebook
  • Information searches online (Google and Wikipedia)
  • Video games, gaming manuals and magazines, and video game novels
  • Texting back and forth (the typical adolescent sends and receives 50 texts every day; 15 percent of teens send and receive as many as 200 texts a day!)
  • TV and movie guides
  • Programming guides for smart phones, iPads, iTunes, and the like

In other words, our kids many not be reading the traditional novels we recall fondly from our youth, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t reading.

Find more tools and strategies to help students of color succeed in reading with It’s Not Complicated! What I Know For Sure About Helping Our Students of Color Become Successful Readers.