Thursday, January 19, 2012

Content Area Reading Assistance

Question: Should content area teachers (math, science, social studies, art, etc.) teachers try to teach reading?

Answer/Quotes: “I was introducing my content area literacy course to a new group of social studies, language arts, music and art pre-service teachers and feeling confident about my focus. I told them that they would not be teachers of reading, but that I would be showing them ways to use literacy as a tool to support the teaching of content.”

“I was ready to move on, when Alan (pseudonym), an art major raised his hand. ‘Wait a minute,’ he said. ‘you mean we’re not going to learn how to teach reading in this class?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘you’re going to learn how to use literacy as a tool to help you teach art.’ Alan countered, ‘But my students can’t read. If I don’t teach them how to read who will? I really want to know how to help my students read better.’ I asked the class how many agreed with Alan. The majority raised their hands.”

“Is it reasonable for teachers like Alan to have students’ reading development as an instructional goal? In some ways, I applaud this thinking; on the other hand, how feasible is it that an art teacher should teach reading? Although I admire Alan’s motivation, I agree with Rissman, Miller, and Torgeson (2009), who wrote,

                "While it is clear that content teachers cannot be expected to teach struggling readers basic reading skills, they can help students develop the knowledge, reading, strategies and thinking skills to understand and learn them from increasingly complex text in their content areas.” (p. 13) p. 276.

 Comment: Boy, does this issue ring a bell. I was involved in a reading-in-the-content areas workshop in a school district. In marched the district administration. When I said that I was not asking content teachers to “teach” reading, they all got up, huffed and walked out. It still hurts that they did not stay around to learn what I meant by that statement.

“Teaching” reading as a reading teacher means identifying main ideas, inferencing, and certain levels of comprehension as ends in themselves. What content teachers can do, while teaching their subjects, is to show students how to use certain strategies to support their reading, specifically, the Directed Reading Assignment.

The directed reading assignment provides background information about the topic to be read.

Even asking the students what they already know about the topic helps.

The next step is to pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary in the chapter. Words that students don’t know they will pass over. Pointing out the meaning from context or roots alerts students to the words. The words pre-taught should be crucial to the meaning of ideas in the chapter.

Next, the students read the title, sub-titles and bold-face print to build up their background information about what the chapter contains. Then, they read the first paragraph, the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph and the last paragraph as more background about the contents of the chapter.

Now, students ask questions about what they want to know from the chapter about the topic. They read to answer their questions. After discussing the answers they have found, they go to the Internet to answer unanswered questions in the chapter and further questions about the topic.

That’s what content area teachers can do to help students read the content in their subjects. What do most content teachers say about this strategy? “It’s doing the work for the students.” I say it’s supporting them in their reading. You can’t win. RayS.

Title: “What RTI [Response to Intervention] Means for Content Area Teachers.” S Lenski. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (December 2011/ January 2012), 276-282.

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