Books on a shelf, Jon Sullivan

Students don’t always come to us with the literacy skills they need, and it’s important for teachers to be mindful of ways to support them as they develop those skills. I’ve worked for the Bill of Rights Institute since 2007, but before that, I had a long and rewarding career as a Social Studies teacher in Texas.

Kathleen A. Hinchman and  Heather Sheridan-Thomas (Editors) published Best Practices in Adolescent Literacy Instruction in 2008. This book includes tips to consider regarding classroom practices to help students build up the cognitive tools necessary to take charge of their reading. Here are some of my favorite reading skill development tips from their book:

  • Establish the motivation and purpose for reading.
  • Connect instruction to students’ out of school lives; (e.g.: use popular culture or current events text).
  • Provide choice in reading and writing tasks. This makes an enormous difference in a student’s motivation or engagement with those tasks.
  • Model the reading strategies directly through your teaching. (e.g.: “Think aloud” to show students exactly how you yourself figure out the main idea of a passage.)
  • Create opportunities in class to practice the new skills and strategies.
  • Offer a wide range of texts and difficulty levels: an easy & objective introduction to establish foundation & vocabulary, a second text that is more comprehensive, and a third text from another perspective to compare and contrast.
  • Encourage collaboration including both face to face discussion and online interactions. Some platforms to try could include Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.  On, the teacher can create an online classroom in which the teacher controls access. It’s free and provides an online discussion feature, as well as a number of other easy-to-use tools.
  • Ask students to analyze the effectiveness of their new literacy strategies. What worked and what didn’t work for them? How did their peers approach a particular task?

How can you tell if these strategies are working with your students? Asking the students to give you feedback is a great start.  We know that “good readers” will naturally do the following, so you might decide to keep track of how well your students accomplish the following reading goals (Adapted from Pearson, Dole, Duffy, and Roehler, 1992):

  1. Activate background knowledge and make connections between new and known information.
  2. Question the text to clarify ambiguity and deepen understanding.
  3. Draw inferences using background knowledge and clues from the text.
  4. Determine importance to separate details from main ideas in the text.
  5. Employ fix-up strategies, such as using text features, to clarify and repair confusion.
  6. Use sensory images to enhance comprehension and visualize reading—paint a picture in one’s mind.
  7. Synthesize and extend thinking.

What are some of your favorite strategies and resources to help kids develop reading skills? Do you use online collaboration tools or do you prefer in-class activities?

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