Several people have asked me about where they can learn more about effective reading practices. I highly recommend enrolling in the courses provided by my friends at TKL – Teach ‘N Kids Learn. TKL has courses open for everyone in every state however, it also has partnerships with several state school districts in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, California, New York and Ohio to name just a few. To name just a few, you can find courses here such as: Building Academic Vocabulary and Deep Comprehension, Challenging Gifted Students in the Regular Classroom, and Helping the Struggling reader to name just a few of the ELA courses offered here for a very reasonable fee. You can also find high quality courses that will help you improve your skills in writing, math instruction, and creating classrooms that meet the needs of 21st Century learners. To learn more go to: http://teachnkidslearn.com/
Teachers in grades 4-12 frequently complain that their students cannot read the content materials their districts have provided for them to use in content instruction. In addition to this problem, many teachers also say that while they were well trained in their content, they did not receive adequate preparation in teaching reading or helping struggling readers to master content texts. Thus, they feel torn between helping students become well prepared in the content material, they also know that students must receive better instruction in how to read the content materials as well.
In order to help students succeed in content instruction, we must help students activate what they already know about a subject and help them make connections between new knowledge and what they already know on the topic. We must stimulate their thinking and develop a motivation to read to find out specific information. We must help students establish preview the text and set a purpose for their reading so readers know what they will be expected to do with the text. By helping students make predictions about what they will learn from the text, we can also increase motivation and foster interest. By spending a significant amount of time “front-loading” our units, we can help students make better connections with the information they will learn. Anticipation guides, study guides or graphic organizers are a great way of helping students think about what they already know on a topic and then verifying their predictions and connections as a reading follow up. We must also take care to help students clarify and understand new vocabulary that may be important in the text and develop the concepts to connect the meaning to their existing concept bank.
While many content teachers have used Round Robin reading in the classroom, we know that this is not the best way to get students involved in reading. We need to identify collaborative ways that students can share in the reading and presentation of information within the class. Break up chapters by topic and have each group read a section, clarify their understandings and then make a presentation either in jigsaw “expert” groups or as a whole class presentation. Students will be more engaged and will retain more as a result of a more in depth reading of the assigned material. Game formats such as Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire are fun and can be used on a classroom Smart board or computer. Many versions of these fun and engaging games can be found on the internet.
Writing is also a great follow up activity for content learning teachers. Students can use writing to document their learning in academic journals or learning logs, to create reports, or to do more creative things such as create a reader’s theater, poem, or diary that relates back to the content material being learned. Even writing children’s books on content topics is a fun and helpful strategy to use to get students thinking about and clarifying their content understandings. You will find many more outstanding ways to help students develop comprehension and higher order thinking skills in Literacy Strategies for Grades 4-12: Reinforcing the Threads of Reading.
Let me begin this post by saying that I like the new Common Core standards and think that they can have a profound impact – for the better – on how reading is taught in this country. I am a firm believer that lifting the expectations for student performance and helping students be better readers and writers is a very good thing. Based on what I hear from teachers across the country, I have to say though, that there seems to be a lot of misinformation about what teaching reading will look like as we move to the Common Core. I have even heard high school teachers say that we will now ask kids to read really hard and complex text and if they can’t do it, “oh well….it’s what the standards require.” While the standards do require students, particularly from 4th grade up to “stretch” to read more complex text at higher lexile levels, we will still need to structure our lessons around what we know is effective reading practice. The standards are very clear that while they have set the “bar” high for the outcome of learning, the HOW of instruction is still left to the teacher.
We have never known more about good reading instruction so we must not “miss the boat” when it comes to using what we know works to build strong readers. Beginning readers still need strong phonemic awareness and systematic phonics instruction to become effective decoders during their beginning years. Intermediate readers will still need to practice and practice their reading skills until they are fluent readers. Middle and high school readers must learn to have not only basic comprehension when they read a text but they must also learn to process at the higher levels of comprehension including questioning the content and comparing to multiple perspectives. None of this has changed.
The Common Core standards will require us to use all that we know from research to provide that solid foundation and then build on that to reach even higher levels of performance. That is a tall order all by itself so we must not abandon what we have learned about effective reading instruction over the years. Instead, we must create solid weaves beneath our students so we can take them higher and deeper.