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by Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing and Matthew J. Perini
Table of Contents
Reading for Meaning is a research-based strategy that helps all readers build the skills that proficient readers use to make sense of challenging texts. Regular use of the strategy gives students the opportunity to practice and master the three phases of critical reading that lead to reading success, including
Reading for Meaning is deeply informed by a line of research known as comprehension instruction. Some scholars attribute the beginning of the comprehension instruction movement to Dolores Durkin's (1978/1979) study "What Classroom Observations Reveal About Reading Comprehension Instruction." Durkin discovered that most teachers were setting students up for failure by making the false assumption that comprehension—the very thing students were being tested on—did not need to be taught. As long as students were reading the words correctly and fluently, teachers assumed that they were "getting it."
Thanks in part to Durkin's findings, a new generation of researchers began investigating the hidden skills and cognitive processes that underlie reading comprehension. A number of researchers (see, for example, Pressley & Afflerbach, 1995; Wyatt et al., 1993) focused their attention on a simple but unexplored question: What do great readers do when they read? By studying the behaviors of skilled readers, these researchers reached some important conclusions about what it takes to read for meaning, including these three:
Reading for Meaning is designed around these research findings. The strategy breaks reading into three phases (before, during, and after reading) and develops in students of all ages the processing skills they need during each phase to build deep understanding.
Erin Rohmer introduces her 1st graders to the concept of evidence by posing this statement: "First grade is harder than kindergarten." After finding that all her students agree with the statement, Erin asks students why they agree: "What are you being asked to do this year in school that you didn't have to do last year? What new things are you learning that are more challenging than what you learned last year?"
As Erin collects students' ideas, she explains that the reasons and examples they are coming up with are evidence, or information that helps prove an idea. Erin goes on to explain that the class will be practicing the skill of collecting evidence from a story.
Today, the class is reading Janet Stevens's (1995) Tops & Bottoms, a story about a clever hare who tricks a lazy bear. For this initial use of Reading for Meaning, Erin asks students to consider just one statement: "The hare deceived the bear." Notice how Erin is helping students master an important and challenging vocabulary term—deceive—with this statement. After clarifying the meaning of the new vocabulary word with students, Erin reads the story aloud while students follow along. Students stop Erin whenever they find information in the story that seems to support or refute the statement. The class discusses each piece of evidence together and decides whether it helps prove or disprove the statement. Erin records students' ideas on an interactive whiteboard using the organizer shown in Figure 1.1.
After finishing the story, Erin asks students to work in small groups to review the assembled evidence and then to nominate the three best pieces of evidence from the organizer. As the groups work together, Erin listens in to assess students' emerging ability to evaluate evidence.
Note: The following sample lesson has been adapted from Reading for Meaning: How to Build Students' Comprehension, Reasoning, and Problem-Solving Skills (Silver, Morris, & Klein, 2010).
Third grade teacher Heather Alvarez uses Reading for Meaning statements to help her students analyze and think their way through mathematical word problems before, during, and after the problem-solving process. First, she poses the problem: "Most 3rd graders get their hair cut four times a year. Human hair grows at a rate of about 0.5 inches a month. If you get 2 inches of hair cut off during a year, about how much longer will your hair be at the end of that year?"
Heather then asks students to decide whether they agree or disagree with these statements before they begin solving the problem:
Students review the statements again after solving the problem to see how the problem-solving process challenged or confirmed their initial thinking.
Directions: As we work through this lesson, I will be showing you some computer simulations on the whiteboard. You will be asked to collect evidence for and/or against each of these possible conclusions:
To develop a Reading for Meaning lesson, think about what you will need to do to introduce the lesson and to prepare for each phase of the lesson.
FIGURE 1.2 shows how you can design Reading for Meaning statements to address specific Anchor Standards for Reading.
Anchor Standard Concepts
Determine what a text says explicitly. (R.CCR.1)
Make logical inferences from a text. (R.CCR.1)
Identify main ideas and themes. (R.CCR.2)
Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop, connect, and interact. (R.CCR.3)
Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text; distinguish between what is said and what is meant or true. (R.CCR.6)
Integrate and evaluate content that is presented visually and quantitatively as well as in words. (R.CCR.7)
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or compare the authors' approaches. (R.CCR.9)
Source: Adapted from Tools for Thoughtful Assessment, by A. L. Boutz, H. F. Silver, J. W. Jackson, and M. J. Perini, 2012, Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ: Thoughtful Education Press. © 2012 Silver Strong & Associates/Thoughtful Education Press. Used with permission.
Use a Reading for Meaning statement to help students develop the kinds of written arguments called for in the Common Core (W.CCR.1). The statement can come from a completed Reading for Meaning lesson, or you can introduce a new one. Either way, the statement should sit at the center of the content, tie back to your instructional objectives, and require students to draw heavily on the text to make their case. A 3 × 3 Writing Frame is a great tool to help students plan and structure arguments because it makes clear what the beginning, middle, and end of their arguments need to contain. It also helps students communicate their ideas with the kind of clarity and precision that define careful thinkers. Figure 5.1 (p. 58) shows how an elementary school student used a 3 × 3 Writing Frame to plan an argument essay on Harriet Tubman.
Although Reading for Meaning has the word reading in its name, its use is not limited to texts. The strategy works well with any information source—data charts, paintings, film clips, websites, lab experiments, and so on—because it forces students to analyze information closely and justify their interpretations with evidence. For example, an elementary school teacher asked students to analyze a data table showing the average monthly temperatures and precipitation amounts for various cities throughout the world. To help students build their data-analysis skills, she asked them to use the data from the chart to either support or refute these statements:
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