HERE'S THE PROBLEM:
* Good reading skills are essential forour college-bound students.
* Good reading skills will be essentialfor the new subject tests which will be requisite for graduation
in the state of NewJersey. This is not a language arts problem. A recent studyindicates that 35%
of errors made on mathachievement tests occur because of reading problems. State graduationtests
are not unique to NewJersey. New York is still reeling from the abysmal statistics releasedlast
spring in which nearlyhalf of all students failed the state tests.
* Many Americans are poor readers. Eighty percent of the books in this country are read by ten percent
of the population. Readingis currently a recreational activity among a very small minority.
* According to a Harvard researcher, oureconomy is rapidly changing from an industrial/manufacturing
base to a technological base. Because of this CEOs of major corporations are calling for higher literacy
standards to meet future demands. Much of the responsibility to do this will fall on America's teachers.
* The reality is that America's teachersare charged with improving reading skills in a population of
disenfranchised students,many of whom hate reading. Jeffrey Wilhelm, a reading teacher and
researcher recently complainedthat many of his students walk into class saying, "I'm Jeff and I hate
reading!" In the classroomsetting Wilhelm found that students wrote literary letters to one anotherstating,
"Hi Trudy. My books[sic] stupid. See you after school."
HERE'S WHAT WE WANT OURSTUDENTS TO BE ABLE TO
* Our students will become active readers,seeing reading as a dynamic process in which they must
work actively to constructmeaning.
* While reading a passage our students willbe able to "go beyond" the cognitive process, actually
"seeing" their thinking processand being able to control it.
* Our students will constantly make predictionswhile reading, beginning with an initial prediction
concerning of the title ofthe passage.
* Our students will visualize what theyare reading, continually forming a mental image of what is
presented in the text.
* Our students will be aware of a comprehensionproblem when it occurs and will be able to fix the
problem by looking up a word,using context to determine a word's meaning, rereading a passage,
reading ahead to solve a comprehensionproblem, or changing or readjusting an initial mental image.
* Our students will connect what they arereading with prior knowledge of a subject. According to one
researcher, prior knowledgeacts as "a mental Velcro to which the reader can attach new information."
* Our students will carry on a dialoguewith the writer, asking questions and verbalizing any confusion.
* Our students will be able to recognizemain ideas and will summarize the main points after reading a passage.
* Our students will be able to see the connectionsbetween the main points of a passage and its structure.
HERE'S HOW WE WILL ACCOMPLISHOUR GOALS BY
WORKING TOGETHER AS A TEAM:
* Before we assign a reading we can activateprior knowledge by asking students to respond
to five or more true-falsequestions related to the topic under study. Some of these questions
should challenge our readersand ask them to examine their beliefs.
* Before we assign a reading we can askstudents what they already know about the subject and what
they think they will learnas a result of reading the passage.
* Before we assign a reading we can alertstudents to reader aids such as footnotes, maps, headings,
graphics, bold-faced type,or vocabulary words that may present problems. Also, show students
how they can attempt to determinea word's meaning from context clues before they resort to looking
up a word in the dictionary. (On our metacognitive pretest students did not understand the word
"oratory" although it was clearlydefined through context synonyms as a speech. Also, students did
not even look at a footnotewhich explained several historical references in the text.) Thismethod,
of suggesting what we woulddo as readers in attacking a passage, is called "heads-up homework."
* Before we assign a reading we could pointout the structural organization of a passage. Is this a
compare/contrast, problem/solution,chronological, or proposition/support pattern?
(This indicates a high levelof reading sophistication; very few of our freshmen were able to see the
connection between meaningand structure on our metacognitive pretest.) Our hope is that afterwe
model this activity studentswill be able to do this on their own.
* Reading researcher Jeffrey Wilhelm hasfound that "those who cannot imagine cannot read." In working
with poor readers he has foundthat "visual imaging encourages students to access and apply their prior
knowledge as they read,increases comprehension, and improves the ability to predict, infer,
and remember what hasbeen read." He has found that response activities involving dramaand art
seem to bring "the invisiblesecrets of engaged readers out into the open." In a recent studyweak readers
were divided into threegroups. Members of the first group were asked to pause after readinga few
sentences and make apicture of what they had read. Students in the second group weretold to pause
after every few sentencesand talk aloud to themselves about what they had just read. The membersof
the last group weresimply told to read a passage carefully and remember as much as they could.
Not surprisingly, thefirst two groups did significantly better on comprehension questions thanthe
undirected group. Having students draw, explain, or act out what they see is highly effectivein
developing effectivereading skills. Drama and art activities also seem to give studentsa sense of
ownership over the material,something that all good readers seem to possess.
* In order to help readers to question asthey read, to carry on a dialogue with the author, and to recognize
and fix ongoing comprehensionproblems, we need to employ the metacognitive strategies of think
aloud, text rendering, processpiece, and textory.
* Think aloud involves teacher modelingof how he or she responds to a passage while reading. In this
activity a teacher readsa difficult piece aloud, pausing every few sentences to question, linkto past
experience, describea mental image, make a comment to the author, recognize and fix comprehension
problems, make predictions,or recognize structural features of the text. This activity worksmost
effectively if the teachersits while reading the passage and stands up to make comments about thetext.
* Text rendering is a logical extensionof think aloud. In this activity the student is given two or three
paragraphs of text toread for homework, with instructions to make marginal notations similarto those
modeled by the teacherin think aloud. In class students can discuss their reactions, hopefullyrealizing
that reader responseis highly idiosyncratic, but also gaining insight into how good readersrespond to text.
* Process piece goes beyond text rendering,as students in this case are asked to write a short narrative
describing their reactionsand struggles with a piece of assigned writing. As before, the purposeis to
capture a student'sthinking, to make his or her thoughts overt, to make the cognitive process
"metacognitive" and thereforevisible. Poor readers typically have no engagement with a text andare
usually thunderstruckby such insight from fellow readers.
* Textory, a process that Jeffrey Wilhelmcalls "two-column written protocols," is another useful activity,
and it is also the methodwe will use for assessing student growth in reading. In this casea reading
passage is provided on oneside of a piece of paper, leaving the other half clear for student comments.
After teacher modeling, studentsshould discuss the various strategies good readers seem to employ,
even using the district rubricto compare responses. (Please share the rubric and the list of skillswith
your students, so that theywill clearly understand district expectations. Also, remind themthat these
skills go well beyond anydistrict measurement; these are fundamental life skills.)
* Eventually, students might use the self-evaluationsheet which is reproduced on the next page in order
to assess the breadth of theirreactions to a reading passage. (This is based on a similar chartin a
reading journal and may proveuseful in order to target student strengths and weaknesses.)
SELF-EVALUATION OF TEXTORY
While I was reading howdid I do?
(Put an X in the appropriatecolumn.)
| || Not very much || A little bit || Much of the time || All the time |
|Made predictions |
| || || || |
| || || || |
|Related this to my |
what I already
| || || || |
| || || || |
|Carried on a |
| || || || |
|Examined how |
the piece was
| || || || |
|Reflection: What |
are my reading
| || || || |
* Reading research seems to indicate thatstudents must feel that their reading relates to their own
experiences and to the outsideworld. Jeffrey Wilhelm has stated that "without the bringing of
personally lived experience"to reading the exercise may seem futile and "stupid." As teachers
we must be constantly awareof this in order to develop engaged, active readers.
* Students must develop a sense of ownershipover the material. Individual responses, if supported
in the text, must always bevalued. Just as we have very individual tastes in reading, so doour
students. Thinking thata book is "stupid" is a valid but inarticulate response. A studentshould be
able to verbalize why theauthor has failed to touch him or her as a reader. As always, thismust be
strongly supported in thetext.
* Reading research again indicatesthat drama and art activities tend to develop this sense of involvement
and ownership in poorreaders. Students may act out a process (mitosis) or scene, becomecharacters
or historical persons,deliver newscasts and press conferences, write scripts and make films,write
correspondence as charactersor historical figures, draw illustrations or book covers, role-play, ortake
notes in picture form. All of these activities have been valuable in practice, especially withpoor readers
who were not read toas children and who have never been able to enter the imaginary world ofbooks.
To these students readingis, as Wilhelm has learned, "being able to answer the questions at theend and
stuff" or doing meaninglessexercises "for someone else so you can get through the year."
* Thanks for all of your help on this project. Together we can make a difference.