Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reading Strategies

I am starting a unit on the Bill of Rights in my Humanities classroom and so I must face my foe, the textbook. Being a life-long nerd, I personally love textbooks. In fact, I remember the geek-high I got in college when I found out that I owned the textbooks, and thus I could mark and highlight well into the night.

However, as a teacher, the relationship has changed. I still am enthralled by my personal textbooks, but the students hate theirs. When I teach History, my biggest challenge is to help students read and comprehend the material from the textbooks. I switched to a more engaging textbook, History Alive, which has helped a little. My students read pretty well- they love To Kill a Mockingbird, they are moved by To be a Slave, and they even make it through A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Why is this? Is it because textbooks are nonfiction? Is it because reading skills are assumed to be only for the realm of Language Arts teachers? Is it because most teachers are voracious readers and have always been and cannot connect to reading problems? Is it because textbooks are often the first place a young reader struggles? Is it because of poor textbooks in previous classes? I don't know. I do know that I teach classes of students who would rather pull out their toenails (or mine) than read the textbook. Even some of my TAG/highly capable students won't read the textbook, relying instead on memory and class notes to master the material.

Therefore, I went looking for help. I just finished reading Laura Robb's Teaching Reading in Social Studies, Science, and Math. I recommend this book to any teacher who is frustrated with a lack of reading comprehension in class. It is quick read, with chapters on strategies for before, during, and after reading. There are examples of how these strategies look in practice for different subjects and grade levels.  Moreover, there is a wonderful chapter on building vocabulary through reading.

Armed with knowledge and tools, I started mapping out some strategies before I started the unit on the Bill of Rights. These are to aid the comprehension of all of my students, but the struggling/reluctant readers in particular. Here's what I have planned:

Pre-reading Strategies:
  • wordle (see of Bill of Rights, discuss
  • pre-assessment
  • students generate list of five important freedoms
  • front-load some key terms (Bill of Rights, warrant, self-incrimination, due process)
During Reading Strategies:
  • students use post-it notes to write questions or mark difficult parts of text
  • focus questions
  • text workbook
After Reading Strategies:
  • Rewording/paraphrasing of amendments
  • vocabulary graphic organizers
My goal is that all my students read the textbook more consistently and therefore comprehend the material more deeply.

Here are some other strategies recommended by Laura Robb: 

Pre-reading: brainstorm/categorize, K-W-H (What do I know? What do I want to know? How will I find out?)
During reading: pose questions, retell, identify confusing parts
After reading: connections to text/self/community/word issues, summarize