Is comprehension instruction in the content areas different?
I felt a need to have a part 2 to my Lesson Log this week as there were other areas I wanted to touch upon and reflect and of course share with my readers.
As a teacher I could completely relate to Harvey and Goudvis, Strategies That Work, when they reflect on the stress that teachers have to fit our minutes in for the week. For those of you not in education, we are expected to teach a certain amount of minutes in ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, and in our case Religion as well since I teach in a Catholic School. And let me tell you there are not enough minutes in our day to accomplish this, in any school in the country. Add to this the increase in rigor and standards and you now have teachers under a tremendous amount of pressure to fit it all in. Plus let us not forget those with added pressure of standardized testing.
We can help alleviate this situation by teaching cross curricular, using the content areas to achieve those ELA standards. Harvey and Goudvis write about 'active literacy' in content areas and the opportunities we can create in a classroom, "focus on comprehension and understanding rather than memorization" (p 207). They define, "Active literacy in all content areas is the means to deeper understanding and diverse, flexible thinking," (p206).
I highly recommend teachers consider buying this book and dive into these two chapters (12 and 13) where they discuss the strategies to help you with your crowded weekly minutes. The most important thing I took away here aside from the wonderful step by step strategies was the crucial role of the school librarian.
There needs to be a defined relationship between the classroom teacher and the school librarian to co-teach together. A librarian can access all kinds of resources to enrich the experience for the children. From picture books to news media, children can benefit from this opportunity. Librarians are not stuck in the library any more, now they can serve as a co-teacher. This model of flexible library allows the librarian an opportunity to be engaged in the classroom. Ensuring "that research skills are merged with reading and thinking strategies so that kids read to learn," (p 230).
What a great opportunity to teach together and be able to break your class into smaller groups that work collaboratively. This is an opportunity to make sure all students are engaged and participating. You now have "two teachers to model, guide and confer with students, effectively cutting the class size in half," (p 230).
We know that incorporating the resources the librarian brings into our classrooms can lead to active engagement from the students. We also know when there is active learning there is better comprehension.
What about teaching our students what is important in a text, how do we take notes, understand text features etc…? Susan Cummins, Close Reading Of Informational Texts, answers this by showing us how to unpack our standards regarding determining the central idea of text and analyzing it over the course of the text. Which by the way is what our students need to know by the end of 8th grade.
She focuses the unpacking for students in grades 3-8th as being able to do the following with challenging texts that increase in difficulty (p135):
Most people will describe the process as put water in a pot, when it boils add pasta, when the pasta is soft it is ready to eat. But what they forget to say is to drain the water. She shares, "…the author has pasta words and phrases in a text and 'water" words and phrases." Although the water was important to cook the pasta in the end…"what readers need to eat and digest are the author's pasta words and phrases — the language in the text that identifies the author's central ideas and supporting details," (p136).
Cummins step by step instructions for teaching the students how to determine importance in text reading is beneficial for all teachers to read.
Again, we reflect on the essential question: Is comprehension instruction in the content areas different? The answer is not simple. Essentially it is the same as these steps benefit all areas of reading comprehension. However, there are some strategies that would benefit one discipline over the other.
Wife, Mom, Educator and Lifelong Learner