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Literacy in Every Classroom
February 23, 2017 | Volume 12 | Issue 12
Table of Contents
Strategies for Teaching Complex Texts
If students struggle with reading, they are likely to struggle in other content areas. My experiences teaching in four states and in both elementary and middle schools bears out this truth. Therefore, no matter where I taught, reading was a schoolwide instructional focus, in the hopes that both reading and content area achievement would be positively impacted. As the Common Core State Standards raised reading expectations, I witnessed firsthand the frantic search for strategies that would ameliorate students' reading levels. Although the standards did and still do present a challenge for many schools, there are various strategies that educators can implement to prepare students for the rigor they will encounter.
Tackling Complex Text with Close Reading and Annotating
Close reading and annotating are two strategies that students can simultaneously use to aid comprehension and extract meaning from text. When conducting a close read, it is crucial to choose a text that is worthy of the undertaking, as close reading requires the reader to read the text several times with a different purpose for each reading. After choosing the text, implement the following strategies using the gradual release of responsibility model.
• How is this text similar to or different than other texts you have read?
• Can you relate to the characters in the story?
• Does anything in this story remind you of anything in your own life or another book you have read?
• Are there any elements in this story that remind you of the real world or that are different from things that happen in reality?
Remember, students do not always have to write out the answers to text-based questions. A discussion that requires students to cite evidence works just as well.
Prove It with Textual Evidence
Though complex texts pose a great challenge for many students, especially struggling readers, teaching students to identify textual evidence and support answers to text-based questions with textual evidence will help them read more critically. There are many strategies that teachers can use to help students practice and master this skill. Two strategies that I frequently use are RACE and Prove It.
Reach All Learners Through Explicit Small Group Instruction
Many teachers only use this type of instruction for struggling learners. But regardless of students' reading performance, small group instruction can be a useful strategy for remediation, enrichment, review, or check-ins on student progress. For example, I mistakenly assumed that my class of gifted students would perform well if I implemented clear instruction using the guided release of responsibility model coupled with prompt, consistent, and specific academic feedback. Instead, I found that these students also needed explicit, small group instruction to improve their reading achievement, just as my on-level students did. Why? Small group instruction allows teachers to pinpoint errors that students make in real time. Moreover, it provides an opportunity for teachers to intervene and ask students to articulate their thinking and reasoning. For example, after administering and analyzing an assessment on point of view, it was evident that some students experienced confusion, but I did not know why. It was not until I used small group instruction that I discovered that dialogue was the culprit of student confusion; when I asked students to provide evidence that supported their answer choices, many of them referred to dialogue in the text, which is irrelevant when determining point of view. This information allowed me to provide additional instruction that focused on the narration as well as dialogue. My instructional goal was to get students to understand that although dialogue might include words signaling point of view, it does not determine point of view because it is not part of the narration. As a result of this technique, I was able to address the root of the problem—confusion with dialogue and narration—which in turn led to an increase in student understanding and mastery.
Critical reading is a lifelong skill. When students have it, they typically perform well in school. On the other hand, when they do not have it, they often struggle in all content areas. The current reading and literacy expectations are likely here to stay. Thus, it is imperative that students are provided with strategies that will aid them in reading complex texts and answering text-based questions.
Bright Hub Education. (2012, March 2). Answering the constructed response essay. Retrieved from http://www.brighthubeducation.com/help-with-writing/33366-constructed-response-essay-question/
Burke, B. (n.d.). A close look at close reading: Scaffolding students with complex texts. Retrieved from http://nieonline.com/tbtimes/downloads/CCSS_reading.pdf
Craig Simmons teaches 8th grade English language arts at Marietta Middle School in Marietta, Georgia.
ASCD Express, Vol. 12, No. 12. Copyright 2017 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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