Today’s post is the first in a series by the authors that will appear throughout the school year.
Their posts will address the question:
How can teachers support middle and high school challenged readers?
‘Bringing Content Alive’
Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is a professor and the chair of the educational leadership department at San Diego State University and is also the dean of faculty affairs at Health Sciences High and Middle College in San Diego.
Diane Lapp, Ed.D., is the Distinguished Professor of Education at San Diego State and is also an academic coach at Health Sciences High and Middle College.
Maria Grant, Ed.D., is a professor of education at California State University, Fullerton, and is also a physics teacher at Health Sciences High and Middle College.
Sarah Ortega, M.A. is the ELD coordinator at Health Sciences High and Middle College:
Secondary teachers believe they are planning instruction for students who can read grade-level materials. The National Assessment of Educational Progress data from 2022 suggest this may not be the case since scores for 8th graders were lower than any since 1998.
‘Bringing Content Alive’
Some students sit silently in their classrooms, head low, trying to disappear in their seats. Others opt for confrontation to distract from their academic struggles, and others are chronically absent. Looking beyond these behaviors, we find students who are avoiding exposure as limited readers or nonreaders. They attend many schools, including ours, which is a culturally and linguistically diverse high school in California.
Concerned, we viewed their literacy skill sets through the lens of the reader as a code breaker, meaning maker, text user/analyst, text critic, and text actor (Freebody and Luke,1990; Cervetti & Pearson, 2023). We realized that some prerequisite skills, including those of the code breaker were a must in order to assume these roles.
Through our research, we identified learning needs in the areas of self-regulation, word-recognition skills, language, study skills, vocabulary, and comprehension. We took instructional action across the disciplines to address these. Here we focus on developing word-recognition skills to fluently decode and comprehend texts, but over the next few months, we will share instructional ideas in each of these areas that support secondary students strengthening their reading skills.
Fluency, which is the ability to read words in a text accurately and automatically, supports text comprehension since the focus is on meaning making rather than on decoding. We found the following strategies work well to support fluency and reading comprehension.
1. Performance Reading – Reading fluency can be developed by creating scripts related to information in a content article to bring historical events, scientific information, and world events to life. Bringing the content alive for students allows them to build their content knowledge and fluency while engaging in repeated reading of script lines. In social studies, students were studying famous people in American history and the following is a sample from a script two students were rehearsing to perform.
Journalist: Tell us about your childhood and how that fueled your interest in aviation.
Armstrong: One of my earliest childhood memories was when my father took me to the National Aire Races in Cleveland. I also recall learning about Lindbergh when I was in elementary school.
2. Sophisticated Sentences – Teachers can develop reading fluency by using the sophisticated-sentences protocol, which includes the teacher identifying and sharing a sentence from the content text that is complex in structure, vocabulary, or syntax. The teacher models reading the sentence followed by a choral reading with the class, then students independently read the sentence. After this repeated reading, the class discusses what made the sentence complex. In preparation for fluently reading a text on the connection between climate change and chemistry, the teacher shared the following sentence to introduce content-difficult vocabulary:
Climate change is a result of the emission of anthropogenic greenhouse gases and other menacing chemicals being discharged into the atmosphere.
A student’s comprehension of complex texts is tied to their deep understanding of the vocabulary in that text. Some words need to be taught explicitly, while others can be understood by looking at the clues inside the word as well as the context. Teachers can model their thinking by showing how they were able to uncover the meaning of these words. These engaging strategies work well to support language learning in content classes.
1. Arm Tapping - Teachers use a routine for studying vocabulary in the disciple-related passages they are reading. They first decide on words that are essential to the understanding of the text, cannot be understood through the context of the text, and have some unusual spelling patterns. As a class, students quickly note the spelling patterns, affixes of the word, and check the morphology through other sources. Then they chunk the spelling of the word into 3-4 letter combinations gradually progressing down the arm, with the goal of being able to fluently read, understand the meaning, and incorporate into their writing and speaking. Words recently learned by students included “foreign,” “equilibrium,” and “initiative.” For example, the classroom teacher had students divide foreign by tapping “f-o-r” at the shoulder, then “e-i” at the elbow, and “g-n” at the wrist. Teachers selected words with high utility.
2. Reading Multisyllable Words - Often, fluent reading is interrupted when a student encounters a multisyllable word, like “unicellular” or “polynomial.” Teaching students how to analyze the structure of confusing words supports their agency as readers. First, identify if the word contains any prefixes, suffixes, or familiar roots. If students are unsure, this needs to become a teaching point. Next, note vowel sounds in the word. Each vowel sound will identify one syllable. Separate the word into syllables and say each. Then put the syllables back together and say the whole word to see if it makes sense. Next, use the surrounding text context or a dictionary to supply the meaning of the unknown word.
With targeted instruction, older students begin to see themselves as readers and learners. Their school mindset begins to shift. No longer feeling defeated they begin to see possibilities for themselves. Personal achievement is a springboard for moving past being a codebreaker and becoming meaning makers that can analyze texts and monitor progress. Coincidentally, other classroom behaviors begin to become more positive.
Thanks to Douglas, Diane, Maria, and Sarah for contributing their thoughts!
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