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9.1R: Ability to support and reinforce the instruction of students in reading following written and oral lesson plans developed by licensed teachers.
Working with Texts
As students learn to read and become independent readers, they are surrounded by a variety of print material in an effort to spark their interest. Some students will spend much more time with picture books before they are interested in chapter books. For other students the challenge of reading a thick chapter book with no pictures will be very enticing. It is always a good practice to allow children to read favorite books again and again. While the parents and teachers might have less interest the second (or third or fourth!) time, the familiarity and predictability of these stories allows students to gain confidence in their reading and work on aspects of reading fluency. Even older students can gain new ideas from reading a book the second time. The fact that they are reading is sometimes more important than what they are reading.
In most schools’ early reading curriculum, students are exposed to texts such as basals. According to A Dictionary of Reading, a basal program is a “comprehensive, integrated set of books, workbooks, teacher’s manuals, and other material for developmental reading instruction” (Harris & Hodges, 1981). You may remember these from when you were in school. They are often comprised of selected readings from different genres with corresponding vocabulary, comprehension, phonics, and grammar activities. A teacher usually works through a unit in the basal series as follows:
While basals are still a mainstay of our education system, they have evolved over the years, from the repetitious, predictable, and controlled vocabulary of the “Dick and Jane” series to a more literature-based series.
At the same time students are reading, they are trying to comprehend what is read. There are many levels of comprehension, and there are many ways to teach and practice reading comprehension. We often assume that testing what students comprehend is the same as teaching comprehension (Reutzal & Cooter, 1992). But rather than assume the role of tester, teachers and paraprofessionals can take on the act of helping, guiding, modeling, demonstrating, or assisting. A solid foundation of reading comprehension skills helps develop strong thinking skills.
All readers—adults and children alike—develop schema that help them comprehend new texts. A schema represents the way knowledge is organized in our minds (Graves, Juel, & Graves, 2001). For example, our schema for cars might look like this:
Each one of these could be further subdivided. For example, different makes and models of cars would go under different subdivisions as would emotions or opinions about each category. Without the development of an appropriate schema, certain texts may be extremely difficult to comprehend. Take the following example from the book, “Reading Process and Practice.” How easily could you write a half-page response to this paragraph?
While nearly all of the individual words carry meaning that you are familiar with, with out having a schema for capital gains and losses, it is very difficult to comprehend, let alone summarize, this paragraph! It is precisely to avoid this confusion that teachers start each reading experience by building students’ background knowledge, or schema, for the topic to be studied. Students demonstrate what they know about the topic by brainstorming, and the teacher prepares students for new vocabulary words they will encounter in the text. Throughout their schooling, students will need help with the building and organization of schema.
Comprehension is a critical component of the reading curriculum from kindergarten through grade 12 and beyond. So, too, are thinking skills. All students come to school as thinkers, but to really be great thinkers, it takes training. This “great thinking” is achieved through learning [higher order thinking] skills]. Higher order thinking skills can and should be introduced in all aspects of the curriculum. However, the language arts environment is particularly rich with opportunities to practice these skills. Higher order thinking skills encompass those skills that challenge students to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information and ideas. These thinking skills are especially important in the information age. Since the advent of the Internet, there has been a tremendous amount of information available. But not all that is printed is true. It is critical that students develop the skills to critically analyze what is presented to them so that they can make informed opinions and decisions.
In nearly any language arts activity you can incorporate higher order thinking. Often in your workplace you may be asked to help students with their work. You see groups of students busily reading the same or shared printed material but you don’t know exactly what they are doing or how you should help them. Creative teachers know how to turn any text into a meaningful learning experience and develop students’ thinking skills. A clip from the sports section of your local newspaper can form the basis for an engaging lesson in math, science, social studies, grammar, or writing.
We face printed material of all sorts in our daily lives. Any of this material can be a valuable component to any grade level’s curriculum. For example, you could use any of the following to expand students’ notions of processing printed materials:
And you can encourage students to think critically about these texts in terms of:
The key in working with texts of any sort is to get students to go beyond just understanding what is read, but to think critically about it. In the kindergarten classroom, this may mean asking a student to think about why _____ in the story of _____feels __________. In middle school, students could compare the covers of Lucky Charms, Cheerios, and Shredded Wheat cereal boxes and think about who is the target market for each product. High school students could analyze the transcripts from a presidential debate for components of a rhetorical structure. Teaching students to go beyond just comprehension helps them develop critical thinking skills that they use repeatedly in school, society, work, and life.
Information for this unit was gathered, in part, from the following resources:
Graves, M., Juel, C., & Graves, B. (2001). Teaching reading in the 21st century. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Harris, T. L., & Hodges, R. E. (Eds). (1981). A dictionary of reading and related terms. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Reutzal, R. D., & Cooter, R. B., Jr. (1992). Teaching children to read. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co.
Tierney, R., Readence, J., & Dishner, E. (1990). Reading strategies and practices. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Weaver, C. (1994). Reading process and practice: From socio psycholinguistics to whole language. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishers.