Do I really need to explicitly teach reading strategies in my class? Yes. Science news articles, social studies chapter sections, primary source documents… These are all fabulous resources to use in our classrooms! We have to make sure however, that we are teaching students how to consume the content. While our students may be able to read the words, comprehending the concepts within these content heavy texts requires a skillset that we need to teach explicitly. When taught well, these skills become less reading strategies and more a driving force behind a growing classroom culture of reading.
Clarifying Ideas and Vocabulary
Engaging in the practice of multiple “reads” as groups, will support this culture. For example, my favorite science teacher introduces a science news article about designing an app to the class. He tells them, “our first read today will be for words and ideas we need to clarify. Please be sure to circle at least five and connect them to the supporting context clues.” In that classroom, students know and expect that they will interact with a text multiple times and in a variety of ways. After students have independently grappled with the text, marking up words and ideas, they meet in small groups around the room to clarify together. As they work together to make meaning from the confusing words or ideas, they revise notes in the margins. All of this talking and thinking happens in just the first of at least three reads. Each step along the way is a valuable reading strategy he is teaching his students.
During reading, I ask students to jot thick questions in the margins. Thick questions are those that would make for great discussions with a group later. They know they will have an opportunity to have that discussion, so they enjoy crafting the discussion question. This is a reading strategy I have used with my students for many years. I haven’t always asked students to record thin questions though. Lately, I have begun doing just that. Thin questions can be answered by looking back in the text. Recently I’ve asked students to record at least one thin question they thought about while reading and to connect it to the text they reread to answer it. The purpose of this is twofold. First, let’s demystify metacognition. What we do in our minds while engaged in reading is hard to see. This is one way to make it a bit more public. This is a gift to any student who is not doing it already as s/he reads. Second, rereading and thinking is what engaged readers do. Making this a clear part of our culture as readers better prepares all students to grapple with challenging texts.
When I ask my readers to engage in summarizing activities, it’s not because I want to whip out a writing rubric and dive down that rabbit hole. So- if the word “summary” makes you stress about your correcting pile, relax! Readers summarize. It is one way we stop and make sense of what we have read before moving on. It is also a great way to engage one more time with a concept in a different way. Whether you ask your students to provide a 2-sentence summary or a 12 word summary, they are thinking hard about what they have read in order to complete the task. They might even be looking back and doing some rereading. This is also one more reading strategy you are helping them add to their toolbox!