Recently, I have been thinking about reading, or more precisely, the teaching of reading in secondary schools. Spurred on by the enormous disparity between reading and writing marks in this year’s SATs, I have set myself the task of sharing some teaching strategies that might make a difference.
Most secondary teachers will assume that their students arrive with the basic decoding strategies – from signs to signified – or, in other words, that their kids ‘can read’. Of course, this is not a given. Students arrive at secondary school having had varying degrees of success in their primary education and with a huge range of abilities in accessing text.
Students who arrive having achieved Level 4 in their KS3 tests are some of the most vulnerable: their emergent reading skills are fragile and they lack the fluency of those students able to achieve Level 5. One way of seeing this is that kids gaining Level 5 have made the leap to unconscious competence, they read using a variety of strategies that enable them to tackle questions of understanding, meaning and structure. Those achieving Level 4 are still working at conscious competence; they experience successes and failures in equal measure, only sometimes happening upon the right strategy for the reading task in hand.
Picture it as two mechanics tackling an oil change on your car. one has done the job a hundred times before, quickly finds the right tools and the location of the drain plug. Her work is efficient and speedy, she may even daydream while doing it! The other mechanic knows the theory, has been told how or even shown how to do it. However, this time, the head mechanic is out and she has to go it alone. She may find the right tool and probably will complete the job but it could be a long wait. You might even be tempted to go to that other garage down the road…
So our job as teachers is to assist the reader, to build their confidence and to help them move to that point where they can go it alone with confidence.
One difficult part of reading for students seems to be the question of reading for structure. You know the kind of thing, you read and ‘see where the piece is going’. Good readers connect this skill with that of prediction but it’s more to do with appreciating the patterning of the text whether in a paragraph-by-paragraph kind of way or by section. In fact, good readers actively look for the writer’s plan and take delight in a well-shaped piece of text.
At this point I am very tempted to go off-topic, just to try to wrong-foot my able readers but that wouldn’t be very sporting would it?
In the classroom, I help students to ‘see’ structure using some simple steps. Asking students to construct a title for each paragraph of a shorter text is one way to begin. Asking students to invent groups for the paragraphs is another. In the latter example, students read the text then imagine what ‘building blocks’ it could be made of. They could suggest ‘background information’, ‘dialogue’, ‘event’, ‘reaction’, ‘judgement’ – anything really. They then set about the task of labelling the paragraphs with their selected ‘building block’ names. Slowly an appreciation of the text’s structure builds. It doesn’t matter if students haven’t anticipated all the required ‘blocks’, they can add an extra type of building block as they are going along. It also doesn’t really matter what names they choose for their blocks: what you are modelling is the process of the appreciation of structure that good readers do unconsciously.
If you’d like a link for the kinaesthetic learner, why not try distributing some Lego bricks to each student and asking them to make ‘a wall’. They will, but no two will be the same and, following an short appreciation of their work, it is possible to make a tangible link to reading for structure – each brick is a paragraph, each colour a different type of paragraph etc. I have even asked students to try to build a short story out of Lego. In other words, they made a representation of the structure of their chosen text using a coding system that they invented and then explained to their classmates.
Who said teaching reading for structure need be dull?
Filed under: Reading, Teaching English | Tagged: kinaesthetic learning, Lego in the classroom, teaching reading, teaching text structure | Leave a comment »