What are six of the most common habits of readers who begin to fall? Why do we need to be aware of them? How can we help children break these habits so that they can move forward in their literacy development? I began to raise these important questions after assessing and teaching hundreds of falling readers. I observed the variety of unusual ways in which they decode, comprehend, and respond to challenges in their books. I watched what they did with their eyes, lips, and fingers. I analyzed their behaviors as well as their substitutions for new and difficult words. What I discovered was that struggling kids commonly adopt coping behaviors for deal with what is too difficult or frustrating. If left unchecked, these behaviors often become habits. Habits, as we all know, are hard to break and new strategies are even harder to put in place!
You may want to visualize these coping behaviors as ‘red flags’ that signal problems with the way in which a reader is trying to learn to read. With this in mind, the first step to catching a falling reader is by becoming a careful observer so that you can identify behaviors that may, or already are, habits. The second step is to make the child aware of the habit and simultaneously offer alternative strategies for coping with the text. The third, and most important step, is to be consistent in finding ways to help the child to break the habit. Reminding the child one or two times will not do it! The verbal prompts that we use to break habits and instill new behaviors are critically important. By using consistently using the same verbal prompts, you will ultimately lead the reader to more effective strategies. This leads to success, success increases confidence, and confidence moves the child forward in new ways.