Teachers struggle with how to teach reading comprehension. Implicit instruction teachers hope that reading a lot actually teaches comprehension through some form of reading osmosis. Explicit instruction teachers teach skills that can be measured, but ignore meaning making as the true purpose of reading.
Die-hard teachers of implicit instruction want to believe that reading comprehension is something that is caught and not taught. They want to believe this “feel good” saying because it alleviates guilt and legitimizes pedagogical laziness. These same teachers spend enormous amounts of time reading aloud and enjoying literature with their students. From time to time, these “sages on their stages” can drop pearls of literary wisdom to their enraptured audiences. Of course, students enjoy this implicit, spoon-fed “instruction” because it saves them from having to read a challenging text on their own.
Hardcore explicit instruction teachers believe that every instructional moment should be planned as part of teachers’ instructional objectives. If reading skill can’t be measured and put on a progress chart, then it’s simply not worth teaching. Unfortunately, these teachers focus on the appetizers of reading, not the main course. Appetizers of discrete reading skills are easily diagnosed and often easy to teach. The core course of reading comprehension is difficult to diagnose, even more difficult to teach, and simply cannot be quantified on traditional registration matrices.
Having detailed the extremes, here are reading comprehension strategies that will help teachers strike a balance between implicit and explicit instruction and develop their students into capable independent readers.
1. The explicit advocates of direct instruction are right: appetizers are necessary to enjoy food. But appetizers are not food; reading comprehension is food. So, in the most efficient way possible, teach the necessary reading skills and help students unlearn their bad reading habits.
I eat? Know your readers. Everyone comes to your class with different skill sets and deficits. Each needs mastery of phonemic awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, and grade level fluency to master the automaticity of reading that will enable them to pay attention to making meaning.
Effective whole-class diagnostic assessments that will not take up all your teaching time and differentiated instruction of reading skills are crucial to establishing core course. However, students need to understand the purpose behind the snacks. Teachers accomplish this by helping all students “catch up” in their areas of reading skill deficits, while at the same time “keeping up” with instruction and practice of challenging reading comprehension strategies. Read about the value and purpose of reading assessments that will inform your instruction. Learn about the importance and role of phonemic awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, and fluency in shaping reading comprehension for your readers.
2. Use shared reading to model the synthesized reading process. Shared reading means that the teacher reads stories, articles, poetry, songs, etc. aloud to students to model the entire reading process. Students need to see and hear a modeled reading that integrates all reading skills with a focus on making meaning. Without this “whole to part” model, isolated instruction in reading skills will fail to develop readers who are good readers on their own. The teacher shares reading strategies as she reads that help her understand, interpret, and enjoy the text. She models self-questioning and problem solving strategies. She learns to mind read aloud and teaches self-questioning strategies.
3. Use guided reading to teach discrete reading comprehension strategies. Guided reading means the teacher reads or plays a CD and stops to help students practice a preselected reading comprehension strategy. At the stops, students share with the whole group, share in pairs, or write responses to the comprehension strategies. Students do not read aloud as they are generally poor role models. Learn to teach the following reading comprehension strategies: summarize, connect, rethink, interpret, and predict.
4. Teach independent reading by having students practice guided reading strategies on their own. Teach students to make personal connections to the text. This does not mean that students relate aspects of the reading to their own experience. Instead, readers access their prior knowledge and experiences to understand and interpret the reading. The focus is on the author-reader relationship. Learn how to teach students to visualize text to increase reading comprehension.
Assign reading homework with parent-required discussion, even at the middle school level. We need to have students practice reading for at least two hours per week with 5% recognition of unknown words responsibly. SSR in the classroom will not accomplish this, even with response journals. Immediate discussion at the summary and analysis levels increases understanding. Parents can very skillfully supervise this independent activity. Learn how to develop a successful independent reading component.
5. Teach the connection of reading and writing. Reinforce the reading/writing connection by showing how expository and narrative texts are organized and how each one should be read according to its own characteristics. Extensive experience in many reading genres will help develop comprehension and writing ability. Learn reading and writing strategies that “kill two birds with one stone” and learn how to teach an effective reading and studying method for expository text.
6. Teach vocabulary explicitly and in context. Vocabulary acquisition is essential for reading comprehension. Teachers should expose students to challenging text, teach context clues, teach common parts of Greek and Latin words, teach vocabulary strategies such as semantic spectrums, and practice “word games” to increase vocabulary mastery.
7. Teach content. Teaching content is teaching to understand reading. Good readers bring content, background knowledge, and experience to their side of the author-reader relationship. Content-poor readers are unable to make relevant personal, literary, or scholarly connections to the text, and comprehension suffers. Pre-teaching of history background is essential to developing understanding. For example, why not show the movie first, once in a while, before reading the novel? Take a group of struggling readers apart and teach them key concepts to build a scaffolding of meaning.
Recovery readers often practice reading skills ad nauseam, but become more deficient in content. For example, a seventh grade student who is withdrawn from an English language arts class for reading remediation will likely lose the content of reading two novels, learn grade level grammar and vocabulary, lose units of speaking, and poetry… get the idea. Not to mention, the possibility of missing science or social studies instruction if placed in a reading remedial class… Both content and reading strategies are critical to reading development.
Do you need a reading recovery program that allows the teacher to differentiate instruction? A balanced approach between implicit and explicit instruction? Reading comprehension development with both appetizers and main course? Take a look at strategies for teaching reading.