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How Northbridge Secondary school develops independent readers

Virginia Lohr
Virginia Lohr (2 posts) Reading Interventionist Teacher View Profile

At Northbridge International School Cambodia (NISC) we have a unique reading support program that focuses on identifying and helping all our dependent readers, even those in secondary. The goal is for all students to become independent readers.

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If the reading deficits of a secondary student are not addressed then the adolescent will struggle to access the curriculum. In some educational institutions, the focus on reading is only in the primary years and literacy deficiencies in secondary students are ignored or misdiagnosed, or even more unfortunately students with reading difficulties can get mischaracterized as lazy. In order to avoid these pitfalls, using assessments and interventions with secondary students, such as those that are utilized at NISC, is so important.


Why use the term dependent reader and not struggling reader?

You might have picked up on the fact that I used the term “dependent reader” and not “struggling reader” as is more commonly used in traditional reading support literature. In fact in my earlier blog in September, I used the term “struggling reader.” I recently came across a book by Kylene Beers where she points out that the term “struggling reader” is not particularly helpful or accurate.

Our work at NISC has always emphasized the need to look at the student as a complete individual and our reading support also employs this holistic approach. But the need to use appropriate terminology that reflects this comprehensive viewpoint raised by Beers resonated with me. Beer’s framework helps us to understand how NISC is addressing reading support for secondary students in particular.

If you give anyone a challenging enough text, they will struggle. The key is how a reader reacts to a difficult text. Do they have the strategies, stamina, and positive attitude to decode the words and understand the meaning behind those words? Not only must the reading support teacher address the cognitive abilities needed to read and explicitly teach the proper reading strategies, but they also must address the relationship that students have developed with reading over the years.

Dependent students have concluded that reading is boring or too hard for them. They depend on external things, people, or resources to help them read and they haven’t developed their own reading skills. They must unlearn what they think they know about reading and develop an entirely new relationship with reading. They must increase their various reading confidences as seen below. Part of my role is to help students learn that reading is worth the challenge and that it can open so many doors for them. Sometimes this journey just starts with one good book.

Fig 1.  Confidences readers need (Adapted from Beers)

How do we determine if a reader is dependent?

The secondary students are screened for reading difficulties with a short reading assessment that enables us to not only quickly determine which students need help but also determine what areas to focus on to help them.

The dependent readers receive small group instruction to address their specific reading challenges, to re-establish a positive relationship with reading, and to develop positive reading habits. The students meet with the reading specialist twice a week for 30 minutes sometimes alone or with other students with similar reading difficulties.


How do we get rid of the stigma?

One particularly challenging aspect of working with older students is that they might be extremely reluctant to receive support and they can be very self-conscious about coming to reading support sessions. Luckily, the school philosophy of inclusion and caring hearts makes it unlikely that NISC students will be stigmatized by their classmates. Also, I assess many secondary students, so it isn’t unusual for me to ask a student to come read with me.

In addition, I make sure my students know that while they are with me no one will laugh at them for reading a word incorrectly. Reading support sessions are a safe zone where mistakes are an opportunity to work on something together. Parents can also help their child who is receiving reading support by being positive and encouraging about their extra reading sessions.


How do readers become independent?

There are many things that I try to teach my students to help them with their reading, but the two most important ideas are: 1)  that they need to become independent readers that can read a text without any assistance, and 2) that they need to read for meaning.

Students need to acquire the tools that make them independent readers. It has been shown that reading strategies need to be explicitly taught (Rupley) and simply reading together will not improve a student’s reading abilities. Reading is like learning a sport. One must learn the techniques then practice them until one can perfect them. Students also need to focus on understanding what they are reading.

The goal of reading is not to simply decode the words but to truly understand what the author is trying to tell the reader. Inference or determining the deeper meaning of a text is the most problematic skill for my dependent readers. All our reading support sessions are designed to enable students to be independent readers and to determine the deeper meaning of a text.

Northbridge International School Cambodia - Reading

Ultimate Goal

Becoming an independent reader as an older student is a daunting task but one that our students have been able to master with the right guidance and the appropriate strategies. As teachers, ultimately our goal should always be to give our students the tools they need to succeed on their own.



Works Cited

Beers, G. Kylene. When Kids Can't Read, What Teachers Can Do: a Guide for Teachers, 6-12. Heinemann, 2003.

Rupley, William H., et al. “Effective Reading Instruction for Struggling Readers: The Role of Direct/Explicit Teaching.” Taylor & Francis, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10573560802683523.