Apps and Books to Support Adolescent Readers

Reading difficultiesCan you read this word? Holothuroidea

When faced with a complex word, most of us resort to sounding out the word, just like we did when we first learned to read. However, for most of us, the process of reading has become automatic, where, without thinking about it, we draw on our understanding of reading, as well as our huge mental word bank.

For many older children and adolescents who struggle with reading, making sense of the words on a page is not an automatic process, and can be painstakingly slow and laboured, resulting in the reader getting little meaning and certainly no satisfaction from what they read.

Frances Brennan, who is a speech pathologist specialising in literacy intervention, says that being able to read and write in the early years is closely linked to children’s self-esteem.

When children start out at school, the difference between readers and non-readers seems small, however as students move into higher grades, being able to read well creates a bigger and bigger advantage.

The children who master reading early get better, while those who struggle to make sense of reading get left behind and may eventually shut down, leading to potential behaviour issues and disengagement from school.

In a recent webinar, hosted by Australian Teacher Aide, Frances talked about how to help children and adolescents read and spell with confidence. This webinar was attended by teacher aides from all over Australia, many of whom work with adolescents who face huge daily challenges when it comes to being able to read. Here are some of their comments:

“I support a 13 year old girl who can’t grasp the concept of reading. She hardly turns up at school and we are constantly starting over….”

“I get a lot of frustration from adolescent readers who don’t want to practice on baby books.”

Reading intervention approaches for adolescents

It is important to know why adolescents struggle with reading, and then address the problem in a systematic way. Research is telling us that structured intervention, including that by teacher aides, is a highly effective way to help schools to address student literacy issues.

The following approaches have been found to be useful for struggling adolescent readers:

  • Hi-lo readersIntervention sessions should be short and frequent, where students learn specific skills that they can build on according to their individual ability. Short regular sessions that work on specific skills, also help students to know what reading success looks. Students benefit from several short sessions per week rather than one long session, however, in a secondary school setting this is difficult to achieve as timetabling is usually in blocks.
  • Reading materials should be suited to the adolescent’s interests and match their reading level. These are referred to as Hi-Lo books, and often have additional teaching resources. Hi refers to high interest and Lo refers to low reading level and low vocabulary. This reading material often uses illustrations to help students visualise what they are reading. Graphic novels are similar to comic books, and can be fiction or non-fiction. They use a limited amount of text, but also capture the story with great illustrations. Here is a graphic novel reading list compiled by the Association for Library Services to Children.
  • Many older students who struggle to read have ‘got by’ by memorising words and see little logic in the English language. A synthetic phonics approach breaks the English language code, by using decoding skills to identify words, syllables and sounds in a sentence. SPELD SA have a free synthetic phonics program for older readers called SOS – Spelling for Older Students that builds basic spelling and phonics knowledge for Year 5 upwards.

Apps for older readers

Most adolescents are comfortable in our digital world and access much of their information online. Apps can help older readers engage with content that is relevant to them.

Different types of reading apps serve different purposes. The reading apps that condense books into an easier, but not ‘dumbed down’ version, and those that have an audio feature, all have the potential to bring the world of books to the struggling adolescent reader.

struggling readersThe Adventures of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey

Scholastic has produced an app version of this series of humorous books designed for 6-8 year olds, however, the toilet humour and interactive features make this series a good read even for older children. It has a narration function so children can read the story or have it read aloud to them.

Available on iTunes

struggling readersWar Horse, by Michael Morpugo

War Horse Interactive Edition by Touch Press Inc is the heartfelt story of Albert’s search for his beloved horse which has been shipped to France during World War I. The adolescent reader has the choice to listen to the author narrate the story, view a performance of the story, and more.

Available on iTunes

struggling readersJoosr is an app that condenses some pretty heavy topics in to a shorter more digestible version. There are more than 100 non-fiction books that give older readers an opportunity to pursue topics of interest to them, such as science and history, without having to trudge through hundreds of pages of detail.

Available by subscription through Joosr.

If you would like to know more about how to use apps and tablets to support struggling readers, I recommend reading Bev Humphrey from the Scottish Book Trust.

Books written for older readers should be of high interest but aimed at a low reading level. Hi-Lo books are available through most major publishing houses.

struggling readersHigh Interest Publishing, HIP Books produce a series of hi-lo readers suited for older readers. Their HIP Xtreme series of novels are action packed, and sure to keep adolescents enthralled, with titles such as Frozen, Lost, Wave and Hostage.

The books can be purchased online through HIP Books.

struggling readersRansom have a range of teenage fiction, by well-known authors, for reluctant readers. The interest age is around 13 years and the reading level 10 years plus. Keeping Mum by Jill Atkins is the story of Abbi, who is always in trouble at school. Turns out that Abbi is trying to look after her younger brother and alcoholic mother, while trying to keep up with her schooling.

The books can be purchased online through Random House.

struggling readersThe Australian Publishing house, Blake Education have a series of fiction and non-fiction books that are highly suited to the interest of both adolescent boys and girls.

The Starstruck series by Blake Education appeal to girls, aged 8-14. The topics include music, fashion, and theatre, and each book is both fiction and non-fiction. For example, Hip Hop explores how to become a rapper and how to get the hip hop look, as well as a being a fiction story.

The books can be purchased through Blake education in sets of two or six books.

struggling readersDangerous Games also by Blake Education, appeals to children aged 10-14 years. These stories use a graphic novel style, and centre on Tom, Sima and Kojo’s adventures with computer games. For example, in White Water, the game involves steering down some white rapids and a glitch in the program puts everyone at risk.

The series also has two Teacher’s Guides which have activities for reading comprehension, speaking and listening skills.

The books can be purchased individually through Blake Education.