Why is text selection impotant in reading comprehension?
The more I read, the more need for a well trained and certified Reading Coach is needed in all schools today. What a benefit it would be to have someone who could go into the school building and not only train teachers but also service the students as in the numerous examples in Sunday Cummins book Close Reading of Informational Texts: Assessment-Driven Instruction in Grades 3-8.
Why is text selection important to reading comprehension?
The answer to this question at first is easy, you must select text the children are interested in and connect with. Of course you must take into account their reading level as well. But that just simply answers the obvious of what we know about selecting text. It doesn't take into account the fact our classrooms are filled with text books we must teach from and that likely is not on the interest level of most children, at least not for every subject.
I think there is a fallacy that exists among many parents and teachers. I believe it to be that teaching reading and comprehension belongs primarily in the lower elementary level. There has also been an increase in rigor in classrooms and yet we don't have the supporting study skills being taught to our children. Somehow we have become a society where these skills are expected to be caught not taught.
In Chapter 4, Understanding the features of a text, Cummins addresses the need of teaching the students how to appropriately use a text book to improve comprehension. When students pay attention to both the features that are a part of the text and the text itself, then the student can navigate and comprehend the way they read the new and unfamiliar text (p 79). Another important element to take away from this chapter is the importance of selecting good solid textbooks that meet the requirements outlined in Table 4.1, Features Commonly Found in Shorter Texts and Their Purposes (p82). These include features such as titles, deck, headings and subheadings, photographs and illustrations, captions and labels, diagrams, charts and graphs, tables, boxes and sidebars, and finally maps. We know that schools get locked into certain textbooks for years, so this is something that should be given a lot of attention. Taking care to see that the features indeed help the student navitgate the content.
Choosing textbooks for the classroom would probably be best if done by a committee of teachers, support staff, administration and if available a reading coach. Having the knowledge of what is expected in the classroom, what goals the teacher needs to have their students meet and really looking at the book to see if it includes such features as those mentioned above would give the students a leg up.
Morgan and Rasinski write about the importance of including primary sources in the classroom to support these texts, The Power and Potential of Primary Sources. As stated, "Primary sources provide students with a sense of what it was like to be alive during a certain time." They go on to write how the materials can help the students make connections to a person or event or a period of time. As I read this, I am compelled to think we have unused resources in our communities that we can be utilizing for this. Beginning with families at our schools who certainly could share in artifacts. They may have a collection of or share stories first hand of an event. At our school we have become very resourceful in tapping into our families especially when it comes to their jobs. There is something about having an in house field trip where Elise's daddy comes to talk to us about his job as a Firefighter when we are learning about fire prevention and community helpers. It helps 1st graders connect.
Harvey and Goudvis write about the importance of developing language and communication in the classroom so that we "… can create a climate that encourages kid's participation…" (Strategies that Work, p.45). Children love artifacts. Recently we read "If I Built a Car," by Chris Van Dusen, I shared with the students my prior experience of cars when I was 7. I shared with them the way cars were in the 1970s and how we did not have seat belts, navigation, and we had to crank our own windows down. They giggled and laughed. But this started to build for them some background knowledge about progress, technology and inventions. We transitioned to read and learn about Alexander Graham Bell as an inventor, next they had questions for me about what the telephone was like in the 1970s. Using a picture book to help with the transition to a biography, followed with some fun allowing them to think of what they could invent, genuinely helped these children with their comprehension of the biography. They were actively engaged and participating. They genuinely wanted to learn more about Alexander Graham Bell and had the year not come to an end we could have expanded into the biography of Steve Jobs since the classroom interest was pointing us to move in that direction.
Cummins continues to focus on the importance of the student knowing the purpose of the lesson and activating that background knowledge. I love that she includes not just the stages of development but gives specific descriptions of what the students responses may look like for this stage. And then she also includes suggestions for the coach to follow up with instruction (Table 4.3). It is concise and easy to read and use for assessment to meet your student where they are. Harvey and Goudvis also add on to this with 'purposeful talk.' There are studies even to prove that in "high-achieving classrooms, kids spent significant amounts of time engaged in discussions about their reading and learning (p53)." This talk then furthers their thinking.
My personal favorite strategy still comes from Harvey and Goudvis when they discuss writing about reading. Truly annotating in the margins and with sticky notes (see photograph above) has been a life saver for me in this journey. I know my students love sticky notes and given the opportunity to use them in reading will be huge. As they wrote, "…these notes give kids an easy, accessible way to monitor their comprehension and leave a record that helps us assess their understanding, (p57)".
One of my current sticky notes has me listing the Harvard expectations article of reading for their students ( http://hcl.harvard.edu/research/guides/lamont_handouts/interrogatingtexts.html ) as a must read as soon as I am finished with this blog. Again, (p. 56), they refer to marking up the margins of your text with words rather than highlighting. I still continued to highlight because it helps me but I then I gave myself permission to write in the margin and on sticky notes. I then go back over what I highlighted, wrote, and the sticky notes and write in my notebook what I took from the reading. This is a skill that many children go an entire education without "catching". I know that teachers are teaching this way. However, are we prefacing it with the purpose of teaching the students this way. Are the students understanding the purpose?
So, we go back to the original question we started with…"Why is text selection important in reading comprehension?" Harvey and Goudvis answer this by writing, "Kids must be reading texts they can and want to read if they are to successfully read, think and get something meaningful from text," (p. 70). They write about the 3 levels of readability for choosing a book and again we see that there needs to be a purpose for the children to read. There has to be a purpose, an interest and read ability to help us select text to encourage comprehension. We need to pick books that will challenge but not frustrate our students. Carefully considering the text itself and the level of the students. We need to consider short texts to accomplish what we are teaching with out loosing their attention. We need primary sources that will engagae our students in what they are learning in core subjects. This combination will help us successfully select text to increase comprehension.
Wife, Mom, Educator and Lifelong Learner