How Struggles with Reading Impact Self-Esteem

According to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, sixty-five percent of fourth grade students in America read significantly below NAEP Proficient levels. Instruction aside, it is safe to say that the sixty-five percent also struggle with their self-esteem in academics. In life, nobody likes to do anything they feel they are not good at doing. This same mindset occurs for someone who struggles with reading. Students who feel like they are not good in reading have a low confidence level when tasks involve reading at home and in school. The ability or inability to read affects the success level of students in every single subject. Therefore, when a child is not confident in reading, they have lower self-esteem. Reading research provides us with the knowledge to use the best practices in teaching children to read. However, successfully helping struggling readers become competent in reading means we also have to help them build their confidence.

Strategies for Struggling Readers to Improve Self-Esteem

Knowing how to help struggling readers requires knowing effective strategies. Strategies that promote motivation and engagement and celebrate readers are the most effective strategies to improve self-esteem and student achievement in struggling readers. We want children to be excited about reading. We need to allow children to set individualized, personal reading goals. When we allow students to set attainable goals that they can achieve on their own, the motivation level increases.

Depending on a child’s age or grade level, these goals may include a certain number of pages, minutes, chapters, or books. When a goal is achieved, we must celebrate the accomplishment. Reading is no easy feat. As teachers, we are motivated by jean days or flex time at school. Children can be motivated by reading-related rewards: a bookmark, an extra trip to the library, or reading to a kindergarten class. While children are reading to meet goals, they are increasing their reading, which increases their abilities and self-esteem. We should celebrate the reading growth of each individual child with verbal praise, certificates, and positive calls home.

Another motivational strategy is hosting a literacy event that evokes a pleasant emotion. When we recall a positive memory, we are happy; we want to continue doing what makes us happy. We want children to love the feeling of curling up with their favorite book. Family reading nights are a way to provide parents with support to help their struggling readers overcome the personal doubt. Schoolwide book tastings or book fairs are another way to excite children about reading by introducing them to brand new books. These events are often held in the library or cafeteria for children to be able to read a small part, get just a little taste, of new books. Without a doubt, the most popular table for the older students is always full of graphic novels. Once children are hooked on reading, they read as often as possible, which only helps struggling readers improve in reading.

The concept of a superhero is another great way to increase engagement in struggling readers. A small group of first grade boys, who are considered to be shy, quiet, or reluctant readers, loved reading comics and wanted to be superheroes. It is amazing to see a child’s confidence level increase as soon as he or she just puts on a superhero mask. The superhero masks are motivation. As soon as their faces are “semi-covered” with the red or blue mask, the young boys’ confidence levels increased. In this particular group, the young boys asked to wear them every day. The repetition of reading in the masks also helped increase their reading volume, reading fluency, and reading rate. Therefore, their reading levels also significantly improved.

Once students are engaged in reading, we can also implement strategies to support them in the developmental reading process. Repeated readings of leveled books and poems can improve self-esteem in struggling readers. Daily practice with sight words, rhyming words, and phonics patterns through games and groupwork can also improve self-esteem in struggling readers. When teachers provide opportunities for children to improve individual reading skills in a non-threatening way, students acquire the knowledge they need to improve their own reading behavior. This not only improves self-esteem but also the reading abilities of struggling readers of all ages.