Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Middle School Topic: Central Theme with All Disciplines

10-second review: The theme was a circus fire in Connecticut in 1944. English, math, technology, science, history and gym participated.

Title: “Under the Big Top: Using the Hartford Circus Fire of 1944 to Teach Literacy Strategies to Connecticut’s Content Area Teachers.” ML Morse. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (December 2008/January 2009), 296-307. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: A detailed listing of activities to support cross-discipline participation in a single theme. Author says that these activities help develop comprehension by studying the many different aspects of a single theme, the circus fire in Connecticut in 1944. Sample activities:

English: Descriptive paragraphs about the fire.
Math: Chart/plot course from Florida where circus started to Hartford, Ct.
Technology: Compare technology used to create a circus then and now.
Science: How does gasoline catch on fire?
History of the circus in the world through the ages.
Gym: Fire Safety.

Comment: There are several ways to support “content-area reading,” reading that occurs across disciplines.

One method is that which is described in this article, in detail. Using a central theme, teachers in many disciplines have students study the theme using the skills taught in the specific disciplines. This method of studying all aspects of the theme requires cross-disciplinary planning, an interesting exercise. However, some of the activities are “stretches,” marginal activities for the particular discipline and may waste time needed to complete the curriculum. In general, these activities add up to an in-depth understanding of all aspects of the theme.

I [RayS.] still think the most consistent method for supporting reading in all disciplines is to use the directed reading assignment with all reading assignments in every subject:

1. Build background information on the topic of the reading assignment—the more the students know beforehand, the more they will comprehend what they read.

2. Pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary—in context, roots and the stories behind words, related words.

3. Set purpose for reading, usually in the form of a question—the teacher’s or the students’ from a survey of first and last paragraphs and first sentence of each middle paragraph.

4.Discuss what has been learned from the reading.

5. Apply the knowledge gained in some way or by extending that information through research on the Internet or in magazines and books.

Olive Niles, a reading expert from many years ago, said that if every teacher in every subject used the directed reading assignment there would be no reading problems in the United States. I still agree with her. RayS.

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