The following post is by NCTE member Jennifer Serravallo.
Teaching reading is an art. But as a teacher of reading, I also think of myself as a scientist.
I revel in the complexity of helping children learn to read, like astronomers are fascinated by the mysteries of the cosmos. When I approach kids, I’m curious. I study. I collect information. I hypothesize, and I experiment with my practice to meet their needs.
At the beginning of this new school year, I invite you to try on a teacher-as-scientist stance. Any day now, you’ll meet your new class, excited to share a new favorite read aloud, your recently revised curriculum plans, and a well-curated and arranged classroom library.
Not to be a downer, but experience has told me that there’s a good chance you’ll have some students who aren’t going to match your enthusiasm. (Yet.) While some may see their disengagement, distractibility, and disinterest as something to be managed with rewards and consequences, what does a teacher-as-scientist see? An opportunity.
Interest Inventories: Start by trying to really learn who is in your class. Try interest inventories to find out more about what your students like. Check your library to be sure you have books that are going to be a good fit.
Engagement Inventories: Watch the class to see what you can pick up. Try the engagement inventory as a way to record behaviors that would indicate engagement or lack of it: staring out a window, talking to peers, smiling and reacting, stopping and jotting. This can tell you about your students’ stamina.
Short and Long Passage Comprehension Checks: Make sure comprehension is solid. It’s really boring to read something that you aren’t understanding! Make sure you’re checking comprehension on short passages, as well as how students sustain comprehension across longer works.
Once you’ve collected this valuable information, be sure to take a close look and figure out what story the data is telling you.
Draw Conclusions and Establish a Goal
From what you’ve collected, try to figure out what’s really going on, particularly with your struggling readers. With a child who is resisting reading, here are some things that may be at play:
- Book Choice. She just hasn’t found a book she loves yet! You can be the one to help her find her “home run book”
- Stamina. He can read and does read…but only for a brief period before loosing steam.
- Focus. It’s hard for her to concentrate, and distractions are challenging to manage.
- Comprehension. Perhaps the book is too hard, or he needs support with comprehension.
Once you have a hypothesis about what’s going on, discuss your thoughts with your students in goal-setting conferences, then plan on a series of support strategies over time.
Teach Strategies that Will Make a Difference
Offering students strategies that align to the root cause of their struggles will help them make progress with their attitudes about reading, and reading abilities. Here are a few ideas you might suggest:
Book Choice: Get to know your peers (and make sure they get to know you). Recommend books to each other based on who you are as readers. Think about the types of books your friends enjoy, and explain your endorsement using convincing language and mention of parts (characters, theme, plot) that will hook them.
Stamina: Plant sticky notes at stopping places in your book. When you get to the sticky note, take a “break.” The break can be to read a shorter text (such as a poem or article), to take a physical break such as getting up and moving, or just a mind break such as looking up from your book for a moment. After your break, get back into your book.
Monitoring Engagement and Focus: Notice where your attention first started to drift. Go back to the last thing you remember reading. Re-read to get back into your book.
Comprehension: Create a picture in your mind as you read. Try to experience what the author is describing by using all of your senses. Read a little, and then pause. Think, “What do I see? Hear? Feel? Taste? Smell?”
Just like the scientific process, the teaching-as-science process is on a never-ending loop. Once you’ve supported a student in mastering their goal, reassess, hypothesize and establish a new goal, choosing strategies that will take the reader to the next step.