Building Good Readers Means Adding New Strategies in Later Grades
By Foley Burckhart
One out of five fourth graders is below average in reading comprehension (Duke 2002). Why? Most authorities agree that the reading instruction in 1st & 2nd grade gets carried through to other grades and just doesn’t continue to work. At early grade levels mastering word recognition and fluency does contribute mightily to grade level reading comprehension. However, in upper elementary and adolescence there is virtually no correlation between word recognition, fluency instruction and grade level reading comprehension. In fact many upper elementary and adolescent students are diagnosed with hyperlexia; a condition in which the student is able to recognize words automatically but has little overall comprehension of the reading passage. (Duke, 2002).
What this means is that teachers cannot abandon reading instruction after the primary grades but rather need to refine and adjust instruction in new ways that build comprehension.The best readers, with the greatest comprehension, develop through continuous guided instruction and modeling of strategies by teachers.
This takes time and use of new strategies. Here is a roadmap for teachers to use in increasing reading comprehension with their upper elementary and adolescent students:
Be aware of the readers in your classroom. Talk to the teachers in the previous grade about what reading strategies have been introduced to the students so you can continue reinforcing them. Take time to read with each student at the beginning of the year paying particular attention to their reading rate for different types of text, how they approach text, what types of questions are difficult for them to answer. Talk to them about how they repair comprehension when it is lost.
1. Don’t confuse reading comprehension assessment with strategy instruction. There is a place for asking questions but there are other ways to assess comprehension. You can create a reader's notebook. When children write, they discover more about the meaning of the text and interact with it. The reader’s notebook is a way to log these thoughts and feelings about a book. The reader’s notebook helps students become better readers by: engaging in critical thinking and learning about how to interpret text, responding and reflecting continually, developing flexibility in responding rather than retelling, and expressing understanding by drawing or writing. Some topics for the reader’s notebook include: How does the book remind you of another book, What questions come to mind while you are reading, How does the author describes things, How do you feel about a character? What do you think is the author’s message? It is helpful to have a list of reader’s notebook responses displayed in every classroom (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001).
2. Describe, model and guide practice. There is a difference between mentioning a strategy and going thorough the steps it takes for students to internalize the strategy. For student success, the teacher needs to first show when and how you use a given strategy. Second, the strategy has to be modeled by the teacher. Teachers need to share the voices they hear in their heads as they read: questions they are asking, comments they are making, things that they are wondering about. Picture books are excellent ways to model strategies. Third, teachers need to provide opportunities for students to practice these strategies together and independently. The book, Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Engagement, Understanding, and Building Knowledge, Grades K-8, by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis (now in its 3rd edition) provides countless books that model every reading comprehension strategy. It is a must-have for teachers!
3. Teach students the difference between expository and narrative text structure. Teach the parts of narrative text: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Provide multiple opportunities to map out and retell a narrative text paying close attention to these elements. Contrast narrative with expository text organization of Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. Don’t assume students can read a text book and understand it in order to answer the questions at the back of the chapter. Include explicit instruction on reading headings, captions, examining pictures and graphs, taking notes, and summarizing (Hoyt, 2002).
4. Teach thinking strategies. Help students make connections between their lives and what they read about. Help them to use predicting throughout a text to engage them in the reading process. Encourage making notations in the book of things they question or do not understand. Teach students to ask questions before, during and after reading. Model visualization strategies of picturing the events and characters in the book to more actively engage with the book.
5. Don’t forget to teach students how to repair their comprehension. Teach students to recognize the signs of a breakdown in comprehension. These signs include:
- when the inner voice in the reader's head stops
- when the camera in the reader's head shuts off
- when the reader cannot remember or retell what is read
- when the reader is not getting his questions answered
- when the characters are reappearing in the text and you cannot remember who they are.
It is important for students to know that no one strategy works for every kind of text. Good readers use many strategies simultaneously to make sense of what they are reading. Compare driving a car to reading. You have to do many things simultaneously: pay attention to the road, note your speed, check your mirrors, and listen to the radio. Just like driving, when you read you should have a destination in mind. You should adjust your speed for different types of text, just as you adjust your speed on the road. Good readers stay alert for changes in plot, conflict or a change in a character. When readers notice a breakdown in comprehension they reread just as drivers retrace their steps (Tovani, 2000).
These are the core elements that a reading program should have aside from exposure to a variety of rich literature and informational text. If we approach teaching of reading comprehension systematically, our students will too and we will produce not only successful readers but successful students.
Duke, N. (2008/2009). Effective practices for developing reading comprehension. Journal of Education, 189(1/2), 107-122
Fountas, I, & Pinnell G. S. (2001). Guiding readers and writers, teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishers.
Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2017). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension for engagement, understanding, and building knowledge, grades K-8. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Hoyt, L. (2002). Make it real: Strategies for success with information text. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishers.
Shulman, K & Silliman. (2005) Handbook of Language and literacy development and disorders. New York: Guilford Press.
Tovani, C (2000). I Read It, But I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers. Ontario: Stenhouse Publishers.
Foley Burckardt is the Learning Coordinator for the Primary School at the University of Chicago Laboratory School in Chicago.