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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Building Reading Comprehension

How can we help students build their reading comprehension?
  • Encourage students to read independently. "Independent Reading and School Achievement" reports that a study by Anderson, Fielding, and Wilson (1988) found that "students who scored at the 90th percentile on a reading test spent five times as many minutes as children at the 50th percentile, and more than 200 times as many minutes per day reading books as the child at the 10th percentile." Other studies have also established strong relationships between independent reading and reading achievement.
  • Use scaffolding techniques to make challenging texts accessible to all readers. In "Scaffolding: Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension Skills," Patricia Babbitt lists the following teaching strategies from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1997): comprehension monitoring, cooperative learning, graphic organizers, story structure, question asking, question generating, summarization, and multiple strategy.
These ten strategies work best for me:

  1. Encourage independent reading. Once students can read fluently (as my students can), I believe that their own personal reading is the single most significant factor to improving reading comprehension. My students track their independent reading and comprehension using Accelerated Reader. Goals range from 20 to 35 points per grading period (although some students read a lot more than this and some do not reach the 20-point mark), and we strive for 85 to 90 percent correct.
  2. Choose engaging texts. If kids love the books they're reading in class, they'll be more engaged and much more likely to select engage in additional independent reading.
  3. Choose "just right" texts. To improve reading comprehension, teachers must select books that are not too easy, not too hard, but "just right." They must be challenging enough to promote growth, but not so challenging that comprehension is unattainable.
  4. Use prereading strategies. I liken this to a movie trailer. Give students just enough of a sample to intrigue them and connect to prior knowledge. As our class prepares to read By Freedom's Light, for example, we will explore the Underground Railroad and the life of Levi Coffin. Students will be introduced to terms such as abolition and secession.
  5. Work on visualization techniques. My weakest readers have not yet connected with the text. They do not see, hear, or feel a story. Asking students to explicitly describe a scene (including sensory details) helps. Questions such as, "How does the character feel? How do you know?" and/or "How would you feel? Why?" also help kids connect to the written word. Readers - - - those who love to read - - - experience a story. Nonreaders - - - those who don't really care to read - - - have not learned to connect.
  6. Ask students to retell each section. This strategy is not for everyone; again, this is to be used with weaker readers. If they're not connecting, they're not remembering. Ask them to retell shorter sections and ask prompting questions before moving on.
  7. Establish literature circles. Kids love this! During our last novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, my students met in groups of three. They summarized each chapter and orally discussed questions that I had prepared. I moved from group to group, making sure everyone was on-task and understanding, marking participation points on my clipboard. It was such a welcome change from paper and pencil activities.
  8. Map the text with graphic organizers. This strategy is great for nonfiction texts. Students can use Venn diagrams to organize information in compare/contrast texts, a multiple-legged stool for finding the main idea, a timeline or flowchart for sequential texts, etc.
  9. Train students to ask questions. Should students ask themselves questions before, during, or after reading a text? The answer is yes, all three! Before reading they should be looking at pictures, titles, headers, etc. to make predictions and connect with prior knowledge. During reading, students ask what will happen next, how a character feels, etc. And after reading, students need to ponder the entire experience to draw conclusions and evaluate.
  10. Ask questions. Teachers are great at asking questions, but you might notice that this comes last on my list... Is it possible that we ask too many questions? I think so. Choosing questions carefully will help weaker readers connect to the text, all readers think more deeply, and keep reading instruction interesting for all.
As we get ready for 2015, I hope this list of strategies for reading instruction provides food for thought to the newest member of my class, a teacher candidate from Purdue University, and to all of my other readers.