Secondary Reading Instruction (Part 2): Deepening Middle School Content-Area Learning with Vocabulary and Comprehension Strategies
In order to meet the reading demands of college and the workplace, students must develop academic vocabulary and the ability to read a variety of texts for more substantive purposes than just retrieving facts. This requires the successful integration of all reading skills:
Content-area teachers are often surprised when their students lack these basic reading skills and that they require instruction and practice in them to become more proficient. Ironically, many content-area teachers try to circumvent students’ reading difficulties either by reading the texts to them or summarizing the information, something that eliminates the practice their students need to become better readers. For this reason, English language arts, history/social studies, and science teachers need to implement instruction that:
Helps students merge their oral and print vocabularies
Directly teaches the academic vocabulary necessary to read and understand content-area texts
Provides multiple opportunities to use academic vocabulary
Teaches students how to analyze words in the context of complex curricular materials
Develops awareness of the reader’s and one or more authors’ perspectives
Fosters text-dependent analysis as students read and reread passages
Listen as Don Deshler discusses the advantages of teaching literacy strategies during content-area instruction. (time: 2:31).
Don Deshler, PhD Professor, Special Education Director, Center for Research on Learning The University of Kansas
What learners in the twenty-first century need are a sophisticated array of advanced literacy skills that will enable them to be very adroit learners as they move throughout their schooling career so that they can deal with new academic dynamics that they encounter. What we need to do is take what we know solid things about and do our best at preparing all the students who come into our classrooms. I would always be asking myself as a content teacher—be it a science class or a literature class or whatever—what kind of strategies would students use most? How am I going to, on an ongoing basis, integrate those strategies into the instruction that I do with students? How will I model these strategies for them? How will I set expectations for them to use them themselves? How are we going to have conversations around how did these strategies work for you? And so within the content class, the core of what we’re doing is teaching the specified content, but envision that we’re wrapping that into the core strategies that we feel as teachers are really important for students to acquire, to help them not only learn the content that is immediately before them, but what do we envision them encountering down the road years ahead? And so if we choose a few—not a lot—but a few high-leverage strategies and really teach them time and again and engage kids in a variety of ways in talking about and refining and working with them, kids are going to be having conversations about the content and who they are as learners around that kind of content. When teachers do that on an ongoing basis, students start to acquire—bit by bit—higher levels of literacy competencies.
The two strategies described in this module—Possible Sentences and Anticipation-Reaction Guides—help students improve their ability to read and understand content-area texts. Possible Sentences includes pre-teaching vocabulary, having students write sentences using those terms as they anticipate they will be used in the text, and then after reading allowing students to rewrite their sentences based on how the terms were actually used. The Anticipation-Reaction Guide allows students to identify their personal perspectives about teacher-generated statements, read and document textual evidence related to the statements, and modify or qualify their perspectives based on what they’ve read.
Listen as Deborah Reed summarizes how these two strategies promote close reading and deeper comprehension of text, while aligning with college and career readiness standards (time: 2:20).
Deborah K. Reed, PhD College of Education, University of Iowa Director, Iowa Reading Research Center
So close reading, as we’re beginning to understand it more, involves having students iteratively revisit the text. So the first time they read it, they just get a basic understanding. Then they can go back and examine the use of certain words, and then they can go back again and really dig into the ideas.
In Possible Sentences, before reading, we want the students to already be thinking about how the author might use these words in the text. And that gives them a framework as they read for looking for those words. And after reading they go back and explore those particular sentences more carefully to see if the author’s usage of those terms is consistent with the information that the student provided in the sentences prior to reading. So that supports that iterative look at word usage and the way that the author is communicating information.
And in Anticipation-Reaction Guides, we have the student establishing what the basis of their own perspective might be on a key concept or a key theme prior to reading. That’s the framework again for the student looking at the presentation of the information in the passage while reading and then as they go iteratively back through the passage exploring the evidence that’s provided by the author for the author’s own perspective and somehow rationalizing or reconciling the student’s perspective with the author’s perspective. There are college and career readiness standards that encourage having students explore perspectives and analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation or assessing the extent to which the evidence in the text supports the author’s claim, looking very carefully at the author’s word usage, and the message that they’re conveying. All of those are important college and career standards that connect well with the ways that we’re suggesting Possible Sentences and Anticipation-Reaction Guides be implemented in the classroom.
Revisiting Initial Thoughts
Think back to your initial responses to the following questions. After working through the resources in this module, do you still agree with your Initial Thoughts? If not, what aspects of your answers would you change?
Why do so many adolescents struggle with content-area reading?
What can teachers do to help students develop stronger vocabulary knowledge?
What can teachers do to improve students’ comprehension of content-area text?
When you are ready, proceed to the Assessment section.