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Teaching Opinion

Response: Teach Reading Strategies ‘Little & Often’

By Larry Ferlazzo — October 01, 2018 11 min read
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(This is the final post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What are the roles of reading strategies in literacy instruction?

In Part One, the guests responding to the question were Colleen Cruz, Ross Cooper, Lindsey Moses, and Elaine Miles. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with all of them on my BAM! Radio Show. You can find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

In Part Two, Bonnie Houck, Ed.D., Christine Tennyson, Jules Csillag, and Kelly Wickham Hurst shared their thoughts.

Today, we’ll wrap-up this series with commentaries from Alex Quigley, Dr. Rebecca Alber, and Khristina Goady.

Response From Alex Quigley

Alex Quigley is an English teacher and Director of Huntington Research School, York, England. He blogs at www.theconfidentteacher.com and he is the author of ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’, published by Routledge:

In education today there are few topics that receive the unanimous support of all educators like the value conferred upon literacy and particularly the importance of reading. The evidence regarding how literacy can impact upon life chances is incontrovertible and the ‘riches’ provided by reading are very real. We can all agree: it is vital to learn to read and then go on to read to learn successfully.

And yet, in schools everywhere, teachers are going about teaching reading in a myriad of different ways. We herald reading for pleasure, silent reading, guided reading, independent reading, reading strategies, and much more.

So we can agree that reading is the master skill of schooling, but how do we best go about developing our students as great readers? There is extensive research evidence that supports teaching students reading comprehension strategies.

We know that many novice readers simply don’t think in the way that us expert readers do. They don’t read and quickly consider their relevant background knowledge, or ask pertinent questions, or make useful predictions. It takes a teacher to train students to use these strategies consistently until the become internalised and automatic.

When we train our students in the follow reading strategies, deliberately and explicitly in the classroom, it can greatly enhance understanding. The strategies include:

  • Activating prior knowledge

    : making links between what they know; talking and elaborating on the topic of their reading.

  • Inference making

    : generating ideas from the vocabulary and sentences being read.

  • Prediction making

    : using the text to predict what will happen, including checking what they are understanding or the relevance of the genre etc.

  • Questioning

    : students generate questions to check they understand what they are reading.

  • Clarifying

    : identify their understanding of particular words etc. and seek out further information.

  • Summarising: concisely drawing together the salient points from a passage (using graphic organisers etc.

(Adapted from the Education Endowment Foundation ‘Improving Literacy at Key Stage Two Guidance Report’)

How often should we train students on these strategies? Well, it is important that such strategies become a reading habit. Therefore, we might regularly revisit the strategies throughout the school year in every year.

Some strategies like questioning can be so common that we can quickly fade them into the background so that they simply become part of the reading repertoire. Summarising is no doubt a more complex strategy, so we may do this less often, but take time to do it well. With structured approaches to note-taking, such as the Cornell method, it offers a model for our students to consistently summarise what they have understood about their reading.

Warning! Dan Willingham and Gail Lovette have noted the crucial limitations of reading strategies. Reading strategies can give students a crucial edge to improve their comprehension, but if they lack background knowledge of the topic at hand in their reading, the strategies offer diminished returns.

So like a healthy eating regimen, we can apply the judgement of training our students on reading strategies ‘little and often’. With a steady diet of such strategies, we can be confident our students go on to become healthy, thriving readers.

Response From Dr. Rebecca Alber

Dr. Rebecca Alber is an instructor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education where she teaches teachers. She is a literacy specialist, blogger and consulting editor at Edutopia, and a compulsive reader. She dips into the Pacific as often as she can get away with:

What we do naturally as strong readers (adults), we have to explicitly guide our students to do, while often providing tools, time for practice, and time for discussion. The way I see it, there are three categories for reading strategies: into, through, and beyond.

Pre-read. “Into” strategies help prepare students for what they are about to read, or have just started reading. An “into” strategy might be having students “fly over” the title/heading and also all the subtitles/subheadings in a fiction or non-fiction piece of text. From those, they can make predictions about what they are about to read. Another “into” strategy might be having students briefly write about and discuss a time when they felt (excited/misunderstood/afraid). This can help prepare them for, let’s say, the short story they are about to read that conveys a theme related to the emotion you asked them to write about.

Read. As you get into the heart of a text with students, using “through” strategies will help them with comprehension and connection to the text. “Through” strategies train younger readers in the art of close reading. These strategies include things like annotating or marking the text, and dialectical journaling (a quote or excerpt in left column, student makes a comment/asks a question in right column). Before introducing these strategies, you can scaffold by asking students to choose “a Golden Line.” Students choose a line from the text read that day that stood out to them for any reason (i.e. made them think, feel, or wonder). They write it down along with a brief explanation as to why they chose it. They can then share with a partner or in a small group.

Post-Read. “Beyond” strategies are then used to help student apply what they experienced or learned from the text they have read. These come in at the tail-end of the text or when they have finished. Writing a letter as one character to another character from the short story or novel they just read is a “beyond” strategy students enjoy. They are able to reveal all they know in terms of traits about the two, while also being creative and writing “beyond” the story itself. If it is a non-fiction text, an article on climate change for example, students can use facts and information from the text to craft an article of their own on the same topic. By re-ordering how the facts are presented, using a different title, and even bringing in additional facts from further research, they can see how this can significantly change the perspective and tone on the same topic.

It’s also worth noting to your students, and do this frequently, that adults are not necessarily experts at reading all the time, either. We also use strategies to help us get through challenging texts. Share with students that all of our minds wander when we read, regardless of age. It’s natural. I’ve seen students visibly show relief when they’ve heard this from a teacher. And the more comfortable students are in a learning space, the more risks they will take as readers and as writers.

Response From Khristina Goady

Khristina Goady is a dedicated School Turnaround Leader, serving students and the community in Ft Worth, Texas. Additionally, she is the founding Director of Academics360 Educational Support Services, an education and professional development non-profit focused on building the instructional capacity of educators, parents, and community members:

As a first-year reading teacher, I remember my administration sharing their expectation of having the “Big 6 Reading Strategies” posted and visible in my classroom as a non-negotiable. So, like any excited first-year teacher, I set out to make the cutest and most creative “Big 6 Reading Strategy” bulletin board. Unfortunately, though, I did not understand the power of the strategies posted until my second year of teaching. That year I had the opportunity to work closely with a literacy coach. Together we planned instruction, co-taught lessons, and led small group lessons together.

The one thing that always stood out when she was teaching, was the level of student engagement and the thinking that was taking place within her instruction. I observed how she skillfully used the “Big 6" to engage students in text analysis and was amazed at the connections, inferences and the questions students were asking. Students were strategically thinking about text and building their own comprehension. This experience was an instructional “game changer” for me. For the first time, I began to truly understand the need for reading strategies in the reading classroom.

So what is the purpose of reading strategies?

Students are naturally born thinkers. They think about everything. The challenge that most teachers experience is getting students to actively think about the text. Explicitly teaching reading strategies provides students with the tools needed to become aware of their thinking, provide confidence in their ability to think and analyze text and, most importantly, makes thinking visible and audible.

What are the “Big 6 Reading Strategies”?

  1. Monitor/Clarify Comprehension- focuses the reader on keeping track of their thoughts and provides steps for helping to clarify meaning.

  2. Activate & Connect- focuses the reader on the impact of their background knowledge and how that supports their comprehension.

  3. Ask Questions- help readers to use questions to clarify ideas or learn new information.

  4. Infer & Visualize- focuses students on the skill of using context clues and text evidence to draw conclusions about the text.

  5. Determine Importance- helps students to sort and organize ideas and information found in the text.

  6. Summarize & Synthesize- focuses students on combining their thinking and the details found in the text.

Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2015). The comprehension toolkit teacher pack: Grades 3-6. Portsmouth, NH: Firsthand/Heinemann.

How do I teach reading strategies?

The goal of explicitly teaching reading strategies is to improve reading comprehension through to think strategically when they encounter barriers to comprehending text. So how is this accomplished?

Step 1: Use a real-world example to create a context of the use of the strategy.

Provide for students a clear example of how the strategy is used in the real world.

Step 2: Name the strategy

Explicitly tell students the name of strategy they will be learning that day.

Step 3: Define the strategy, when its used and how it helps the reader.

Step 4: Think aloud and model use of the strategy.

Step 5: Engage students in meaning opportunities to apply the skill and share their thinking during reading.

Step 6: Provide students with guided practice and teacher support while applying the strategy.

Step 7: Provide an opportunity to apply the strategy independently.

Chard, D., Zipoli, R., & Ruby, M. (2007). Effective strategies for teaching comprehension. In M. Coyne, E. Kame’enui, & D. Carnine, Effective teaching strategies that accommodate diverse learners (pp. 80- 109). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Through the explicit teaching of reading strategies, students are provided with the tools needed to strategically think and problem solve as they explore text. That second year of teaching proved to be an awesome year of growth for both my students and I. I grew in my craft of developing meaningful and strategic literacy instruction, while my students grew as readers and thinkers as they dove into the application of their reading strategies.

Thanks to Alex, Rebecca and Khristina for their contributions.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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