This month we're celebrating one of Black Rabbit Books' all-star authors: Mark Weakland. Mark is an expert when it comes to writing for struggling readers, and that's made him a great fit for Bolt. We tracked down Mark for this interview about writing for reluctant readers and his work as a literacy coach.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
A: I live in western Pennsylvania with my wife Beth in a 110-year old farmhouse on 33 acres of land. I'm an author, teacher, musician and consultant who now runs my own business, Mark Weakland Literacy. I've worked with children, students, and teachers for over 30 years; authored more than 80 books for children (some are award-winning), produced dozens of songs and compositions (some are award-winning), written five professional resource books for teachers, and sometimes followed my bliss by playing in rock bands, building tree houses, and backpacking among the redwoods. I'm a life-long learner who often enjoys the process more than the end product. I work hard to live lightly on Earth but there is always more to be done. Teachers inspire me.
Q: What are some strategies teachers can use to engage struggling readers?
A: I think the number one way to engage struggling readers is to structure instruction and content so it produces student success quickly and frequently. What does this instruction and content look like? Here are examples: direct and explicit instruction, differentiated instruction, repeated reading practices, employing task analysis and the law of one unknown, supportive independent reading routines, guided reading and writing, book bins bursting with high interest books, Writer's Workshop and Kid Writing, teaching using a brisk pace and lots of enthusiasm… the list goes on. But again, the fundamental principle is easily stated: use instruction and content that produces student success quickly, every hour of each day.
Q: Have you seen any reading issues develop as students have been distance learning? Do you have any tips for dealing with those problems?
A: I'm not directly teaching students every day like I used to. But I'm in regular contact with teachers and I hear from them that students are having issues. Worst cases include children not regularly showing up for lessons. Also, I often hear that students become distracted during screen time. And although I don't know to what extent, I'm sure some students are falling behind, perhaps greatly. As far as what can be done, in the short term teachers are doing the best they can and working so hard to present in effective ways across the distances. In the long term, I think the best solution is to get students and children back to brick-and-mortar classrooms, make sure teachers know what practices best help struggling learners, and then help teachers employ those practices day in and day out.
Q: Is there anything you like to tell reluctant readers or kids who say they hate to read?
A: "I hate to read" is typically code for "reading is really hard for me," "I'm tired of failing," and/or "I am not being regularly offered reading experiences that are interesting and do-able for me." No one, child or adult, enjoys engaging in an activity month after month, year after year, that feels frustrating, humiliating, and/or incredibly difficult. In my career, I addressed downtrodden readers by doing my best to provide instruction that lead to success. This instruction included dogged determination on my part and also as much patience as I could muster. Armed with time, effort, and expertise, I was often able to turn students who say, "I hate to read" into students who say, "Hey, this is kind of fun" and "I'm actually okay at this reading and writing stuff." If all went well, I didn't have to tell my students anything. They would tell themselves.
You can learn more about Mark and his work on his website: www.markweaklandliteracy.com/about.html.