Voices from the middle: At-risk readers in an urban middle schools

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Jeanne Shay Schumm - Committee Chair


This study explores six middle school at-risk readers' attitudes and perceptions of their own reading abilities as well as their ability to benefit from a volunteer tutoring program. Qualitative data sources including responses to a reading attitude survey, focus group interviews, individual interviews, and conversation during tutoring sessions were used to assemble a case study of each student. A cross case analysis was developed to obtain an in-depth understanding of how adolescent readers view their literacy development and how they respond to a tutoring program designed to enhance their growth as strategic readers.The results indicated that reading attitude had little influence on the amount of student engagement in reading. The three girls in the study had higher global reading attitude scores than the boys, however their comments indicated little reading outside of that required by teachers. Conversations with the boys revealed their enjoyment of reading in recreational contexts. Students who had higher reading attitude scores also received higher grades in school. Reading performance and attitude varied according to the type of reading material and the purpose for which they read.Students' responses indicated they believed they were adequate readers but all expressed a desire to improve their reading ability. They relied on pictures to mediate the words of text. Although they indicated a preference for many other activities, each one professed an enjoyment of reading books or magazines of their own choosing. Despite recognition of their reading difficulties their comments suggest a desire to please their parents coupled with a high level of family involvement in their growth as readers served to inhibit the development of school related problems that often plague at-risk readers.Every student expressed a positive attitude toward the tutoring experience and believed the sessions helped them to become a better reader. Records of tutoring sessions indicated the students learned how and when to read strategically. However, their responses also demonstrated that they were seldom willing to devote the time and effort required to take advantage of the strategic reading strategies to improve their reading comprehension. In addition, they appeared inhibited by an understanding of the cognitive choices they have regarding their reading. Each student consistently indicated that they would not or should not use a comprehension strategy unless directed to do so by the classroom teacher. Thus, the teacher seemed to be the most influential factor in determining strategy use.Case studies confirmed the uniqueness of each adolescent at-risk reader represented in this study. Yet, common to each one was an inability to become a strategic reader. Based on the findings, future research suggestions include; interviews with parents and teachers to provide a comprehensive picture of problems and possible solutions; examination of modifications of the existing tutoring framework to include closer collaboration with classroom teachers; and interviews with content area teachers to determine their knowledge of and extent to which they encourage the use of reading comprehension strategies.


Education, Secondary; Education, Reading

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