By Ben Rodgers
DE PERE – One local educator has co-authored a book with the hopes of helping children who struggle with reading.
Lisa Hollihan-Allen, a 6-12 literacy intervention/Title 1 teacher at West De Pere Middle School, co-wrote “Strategies to Support Struggling Adolescent Readers, Grades 6-12.”
“At a middle school or high school, out of 100 kids a day, 10 of them could be struggling with word deficits,” Hollihan-Allen said. “That’s going to affect their comprehension, it’s going to affect if they can assess their content, and sometimes kids don’t even get identified as struggling readers until they get to this level because of the increasing, demanding reading tasks that are asked of them.”
Hollihan-Allen is a self-described “complete and total literacy geek.”
Through her work with CESA 7, she teamed up with Dr. Katherine S. McKnight to write this book.
McKnight was brought in to work with CESA 7 as a national literacy expert and has authored 20 books on education.
“It was amazing because people only want to talk about secondary literacy for so long and then you see their eyes glaze over,” Hollihan-Allen said. “Where for the two of us, it’s a passion, it’s a calling. She had all this knowledge and research and expertise and I have classroom experience… She really respected that and was picking my brain about that.”
Hollihan-Allen started her career as an English teacher before ending up as an intervention specialist, where she has been for nine years.
Throughout a normal day she works with roughly 30 students who struggle with a different aspect of reading.
Those low numbers allow for a personalized approach for each student and their individual struggles.
“A lot of these kids, they were able to hide in the classroom, hide from the teacher’s radar, sit quietly, or misbehave, and those were their issues, where in here, there’s nowhere to hide,” she said.
Her experiences in large classrooms and working with students in a more direct environment helped influence her writing for this book.
“The intention of this book was to give our colleagues materials and lessons to help them address students in their classroom who are having difficulties,” Hollihan-Allen said.
The book breaks down problems students could be having at various levels of reading and explains how to overcome them.
She said the book would be good for any reading or English teacher as well as those who teach other subjects.
Something as simple as a science teacher using a word wall in middle school might help reach students who are struggling, she said.
“When secondary teachers were trained, we were trained in our content area,” Hollihan-Allen said. “We might have had a content area reading strategy class in college. But, if our kids struggle with decoding and fluency, we didn’t have a lot of skills to help them and that includes English teachers. Teaching English is not teaching reading.”
“Strategies to Support Struggling Adolescent Readers, Grades 6-12,” is available now on Amazon.
Hollihan-Allen has spoken about this at conferences around the country and is also willing to come to school districts to share her background, knowledge and experience with secondary literacy.
Even though her first book took four years to write, she already has the topic for her second one – building reading stamina for secondary students.
“Reading demands increase exponentially as they go up in the grades and a lot of kids figure it out and can handle it, but there are kids who need explicit guidance,” she said.