In their comprehensive and invaluable book, Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement, Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis posit 8 tenets of good reading.
- Become aware of their thinking as they read
- Monitor their understanding and keep track of meaning
- Listen to the voice in their head to make sense of the text
- Notice when they stray from thinking about the text
- Notice when meaning breaks down
- Detect obstacles and confusions that derail understanding
- Understand how a variety of strategies can help them repair meaning when it breaks down
- Know when, why, and how to apply specific strategies to maintain and further understanding
While these are things good readers already do—on automatic pilot practically—struggling readers need to be taught, step-by-step, how to become good readers.
Teaching and Learning the Reading Skills
Contrary to some teachers’ beliefs, teaching these skills explicitly to even our good readers in not (at all) redundant or a waste of their time. Consider the benefit of knowing, rather than just unconsciously doing—how it empowers them—helps them transfer their knowledge across assignments and disciplines. It gives them the metacognitive awareness to make them aware of what they do. This self-awareness leads to autonomous and independent learning: any educator's goal for the learner.
The value is great in a different way for our struggling readers. In their case teachers need to make the connections for them. Rather than simply tell students these are skills they need to have, teachers need to break these skills into teachable strategies because it is necessary to equip students with means by which to become good readers. We can’t just assume it will happen. Having the list of 8 skills doesn’t actually result in students having these 8 skills. Only teaching them does.
Strategy Instruction supports Skill Development
I distinguished between strategy and skill in following transparent way for my students.
A skill is what you want to be able to do.
A strategy is how you achieve that skill.
One of the things that is so wonderful about the book by Harvey and Goudvis is that they don’t leave teachers stranded with just the skills. They offer the scaffolding of the strategies to teach students to have these skills. The difference is subtle, but has enormous implications.
So in order to be able to do the eight skills, above, students need to learn 1-6, below.
- Activating Background Knowledge (Schema) by making connections,
- Questioning to propel readers forward
- Making inferences—reading between the lines
- Visualizing—using words to see meaning
- Determining importance—understanding the author’s purpose (while this is mostly taught with non-fiction texts, I think it’s essential with the fictive structure as well, since many students need to anchor their comprehension according to what the author wants them to know)
- Summarizing and synthesizing [ppt link no longer available]
Enter the necessary, albeit awkward, Think Alouds (aka Modeling)
It’s not enough to tell students about these skills. We need to show them. Show them what good readers do, how their minds work, how they make meaning from reading. And the only way to show them is to model—to do it ourselves, and eventually to have students do it.
The first time I modeled a reading strategy, I didn’t announce it, I just put a poem on the overhead, and started taking to it. I started with asking questions. Of it—of the poem, not of the students. It was perhaps one of the most awkward and embarrassing moments of my teaching career. There was dead silence, there were perplexed stares. I really had needed to specifically articulate what I was about to do, and why. Not only would this have made the whole scenario a little easier on us all, it would have made my purpose transparent, which students always appreciate and benefit from.
I highly recommend the following texts for further classroom-ready reading support. You can read and implement the content simultaneously, making the useful, practical and immediately meaningful to your practice and your students’ learning.