Sunday, March 23, 2008

Reading Instruction: The Basics (Intermediate Grade Levels)

If you're a new elementary school teacher, chances are pretty good that you're freaking out about how to teach your reading class. In the current political climate, such a huge emphasis has been placed on 'literacy learning,' that new teachers really feel the pinch from day one. Beyond politics, literacy learning really is the backbone of education, so it needs to be approached appropriately.

If you're anything like me, I came out of my teacher preparation program feeling shamefully unprepared to teach what is referred to as the language arts. I was handed a basal series and told to follow it, and I did. The end result of that first year was a very unsatisfying literary experience, both from my end, as the teacher, and for my students. Sure their fluency and comprehension scores went up, but did I really do my job? If you're feeling at all like this, trust me, you're not alone, we all go through it.

So how should you 'teach' reading? Did you notice the quotation marks around the word teach just now? There's the first lesson here, you don't teach reading, your job is to open doors to your students, to make them want to read, and to keep them reading. As a teacher, it's also your job to provide a model of what a good reader does in order to be a good reader.

The best way to do this is through read aloud. It doesn't matter if you work in a head start or are teaching 12th grade literature/composition, read aloud can be a valuable component of your instruction if used appropriately.

READ ALOUD: I'm sure we've all seen read aloud defined in different ways, and it is practiced in different ways as well, as it should be. Your read alouds should first and foremost be appropriate for the students you have. Trust yourself, you're the teacher, just because something worked for me and my group of students does not mean it will work for you and yours. The basic of read aloud is that you, the teacher, are reading. Sure it's nice if the kids have a copy of the text, if you're reading an actual chapter book, but even if they don't, it can be a valuable experience.

What about all those things you want your students to practice and become fluent with? You know, critical thinking skills, questioning, inferencing, using schema, all that good stuff? Do it aloud, dialogue with yourself, they'll love it. Make mistakes when you read and see if they catch them, but also let them see what the process of being a good reader is. Remember, it's not about speed, it's about comprehension.

Now, from here, things aren't quite as easy. A lot of reading programs are mandated from either a school, district, or state level. You may have to use a basal, a center based approach, or a combination of many different things. But there is room for you to interpret those things in most cases. Since we're talking basics right now, I won't dig too deep into the differentiated methods and approaches.

The second thing I would like to discuss today is book choice. I am against the use of basals in the classroom. A basal is a collection of portions of stories, or para-phrased stories that students read. It's the reading textbook, and is organized as such. The problem with this is that students are taken out of authentic literacy practices, which involves reading books in their entirety, and goes beyond reading and answering a few multiple choice/written response questions.

So think about what you're studying in the other disciplines. Maybe you're doing a unit on Slavery in Social Studies, so why not find some great texts to go with that? Or maybe you're just interested in finding some of the greats, it's up to you. As this blog grows, I will be providing many great books and what ages they're appropriate with.

The final thing I would like to discuss today is individual reading. Remember, the only way to become a better reader is to read. Also, try to define what being a better reader is. Does it mean reading fast, or reading for meaning? Or does it mean reading for pleasure? In my classroom, it means reading for pleasure, the best readers are those who love to read.

As a teacher, it's your job to cultivate that love of reading. You're not going to accomplish this by choosing every single text they read, unless you've got 20 amazing books up your sleeve that will keep them on the edge of their seats, and even then, you're not going to reach all of them.

So, in the end, you need to let your students read individually, silently. You need to let them explore the books, find out what they like and don't like, and have some choice. The best and most obvious way to do this, although it's a little pricey, is to start a book shelf in your class. I did this by asking parents for age appropriate books that they were through with, you'd be surprised how much you can get that way. Also, sign up with Scholastic book clubs, because then your students can buy books, and you earn points that you can use to get books for your class. Finally, look around, go to garage sales, used books stores, or even on if you want something that's newer. As a last resort, get as many books from your library at once as you possibly can.

Starting a book shelf in your classroom will give your students more opportunities to read and more options than a weekly trip to the school library. "Students in classrooms with libraries read 50% more books than students in classrooms without them" (Morrow, 2003, p. 3).

Morrow, L.M. (2003). Motivating Lifelong Voluntary Readers. In J. Flood, D. Lapp, J.R. Squire, & J.M. Jensen (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts (pp. 857-867). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


Liz said...

I've just finished reading a book that should be of great help to those teaching those intermediate grades -- I'd say it's for grades 4 and up.

I anticipate this really helping me teach reading and writing to my middle-schoolers. It's called Differentiating Reading Instruction by Laura Robb. This book has really clear lessons, strategies and tips to make any teacher become a better one. Her book helps me meet my students where they are with reading and writing and slowly move them forward.

As I said, the book is really helping me help my students. I recommend any teacher give it a look to see if it can help them, too.

The Buss said...


Thanks for the tip, I'll look in to that one some more.