Reading, writing, and math are the three basic academic tools, reading being chief of all. Students’ success in most if not all of their classes is hinged upon their success in reading. The lack of reading and encouragement of it, especially in predominantly minority schools, is one of the primary reasons that minority students do not generally perform as well academically as non-minority students.

Juxtapose encouragement of reading, there are various measures that can be taken to improve reading skills and address students’ specific course and other relevant challenges.

Teaching Long and Short Vowel Pronunciation & Consonant Clusters in Earlier Childhood

Teaching long and short vowel pronunciation and consonant clusters in earlier childhood (pre-kindergarten and before) would facilitate the process of teaching students to read, as they would simultaneously learn the varied sounds of specific vowels and the correct pronunciations of consonant clusters.

Scheduled Course Reading

Students should not merely rely upon instructor’s lecture notes, which might occasionally be flawed, and often won’t cover all material that students should learn in any given context. The class lecture should be merely a review of material that students should have read previously or before class; accordingly, the bulk of a student’s reading should and can only occur after school and/or at home, due to in-class time restraints.

Unfortunately, in many instances it’s not until college that especially minority students are introduced to significant and scheduled reading assignments, which should be a norm that commences in elementary school and throughout high school, as this best prepares students for the collegiate experience, which generally requires rigorous reading.

The only way to strengthen the reading muscle is by reading, and with readily adjacent dictionaries to ascertain the meaning of unfamiliar terminology, which should be regularly introduced otherwise to sharpen both reading and communication skills.

Instructors could elaborate to rotationally issue reading assignments as and/or with homework, seeing that grade school students  generally attend six or more classes every day, unlike collegiate students, who may attend numerous classes on varied days of the week. Issuance of course syllabi would help students to stay abreast of their reading assignments; and rotational reading/homework issuance would curtail the need for students to carry too many books on any given day.

Writing Challenges

Strengthening the writing muscle is as well hinged upon practice. Bell work, which requires students to write about random topics chosen by instructors and/or students occasionally, is certainly a good start, and should be an elementary, middle, and high school requirement. Essay writing is also helpful, as is writing across the curriculum, or in classes besides or in addition to English, composition, and literature.

All students should, by the time they’ve graduated from high school, be capable of sufficiently communicating in writing and speech, which is sharpened by the practices of writing and reading.

Draft Feedback

Instructors and/or teaching assistants should point out any needed corrections on students’ writing assignments in distinctive, preferably red ink, and require adherence to those corrections in final drafts of assignments. Requiring students to submit writing assignments in drafts and to adhere to suggestions for improvements/corrections would be the most effective method of helping to improve students’ writing skills.

To preserve paper, instructors could require that students submit drafts (including final drafts) electronically. Instructors can also electronically grade and insert comments into students’ (emailed) writing assignments by clicking on “Review” and “New Comment” at the top of an open (Microsoft Word) document.

Mathematical Challenges

Success in mathematics, as with all other courses, is hinged upon reading. In many if not most instances it is not feasible to simply look at a math problem and solve it, unless the student has been previously introduced to and retains the knowledge of a particular mathematical concept. And even when a student has mastered some concepts they may still need to refer back to the instructions when reintroduced or when some components of those concepts are entailed in other types of newly introduced problems.

It is vital, as is so with all other course subjects, that instructions for mathematical problems are clearly given.  Care should be taken to assure that math textbooks (as all others) are student inclined, and that instructions plus examples for every type of presented math problem are available for reference.

Keying in on the specific types of math problems that students are challenged by is of the essence. When a student incorrectly answers a problem the instructor should always provide the correct answers during grading; they should also provide at least one written example of the procedures for solving each type of missed problem on the graded assignment, and assign similar problems for the student to complete in class, during study hall and/or after school tutoring, or as homework, repeating this practice until the student has demonstrated mastery of the material.

Instructors should also assure that students are knowledgeable of where to find important information in their text books, like specific terms or concepts utilizing the index and/or glossary, and quick reference metric conversion and other charts. Most importantly, students should know where to find instructions for assignments and selected answers and solutions for verifying whether assigned problems have been answered correctly, and whether proper procedures are applied to other similar problems.