Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reading Instruction in High School -- Really?

"... [A]s students became increasingly aware of the fact that they were actually going to have to 'do' something to make a text comprehensible, their frustrations with reading decreased. Suddenly it wasn't that anything was wrong with them (or with the text) causing them to find a book incomprehensible, but that they simply weren't doing the things good readers do when they read" (50). So writes Carol Jago in With Rigor for All, a book that every high school (and even middle school) teacher should read. It is not very long, but it offers one of the most convincing arguments I have ever read for offering challenging reading.

Students learn how to read in elementary school then just keep on reading in middle and high school, right? As a high school English teacher, I have fallen into believing this trap. My students grow as readers, able to tackle the next challenge, just because they KNOW how to read, right?

This, according to Jago, is why schools are increasingly offering shorter, lighter, and easier books to older students. The students complain that reading is too hard, and we, very honestly, fear that we are turning them off as life-long readers. But instead of regressing, we need to teach reading skills that are appropriate for the level of reading we are asking our students to do. "If lessons include only work that children can accomplish without the help of the teacher, students are being shortchanged. The thoughtful teacher aims instruction just beyond what students are able to perform independently" (Jago 72).

Jago offers great suggestions for making transparent for students what expert readers do as they read. She starts many texts with short read-alouds, stopping to talk about what she has noticed and then what they have noticed. She then rereads the opening to show how readers work to be sure they have a feel for an author's style and flow before getting too far and too lost (she strongly disagrees with reading aloud whole texts -- this is just an introductory activity). She has her students mimic literary devices authors use, such as the epic simile, so they really understand the device and can watch it develop in the text. The list goes on (read this book -- it really is worth it). In the end, she is teaching students how to read, that is how to take the next steps in reading skills so that in the end they are indeed life-long readers. Yes, even in Jago's world, there is a place for light reading, but it should not be the only reading students are able to do.


  1. I guess because I'm on the other end of the reading instruction spectrum, I never think about what happens after students learn the basics. It's really interesting the see if from that angle. I have heard quite a bit about not wanting to "scare" students off from reading, but the reality is that students need to learn that a challenge is not reason enough to abandon the journey. They will be tested the rest of their lives with situations that require them to face a challenge...what better time to start embracing those challenges? My only concerns are the students that don't want to be there you think it will ignite the fire or cause them to regress even more?

  2. Cristin - Great point, and one that I think about too. I work hard to make the works we read interesting and applicable to the students so they are maybe a little interested in reading them even though they are not totally dedicated to being there. It is such a hard balance to strike between what they would naturally read and therefore find interesting versus teaching them to achieve more. Thanks for your thoughts -- they have kept me thinking.

  3. I'm taking a "Teaching Reading in the Content Area" course right now and the focus is teaching reading to high school students. It's interesting because the things we discuss are things that I have always thought that students in 12th grade would know, BUT they don't which is why students struggle with reading! We have covered so many great things so far - SQ4R, DRTA, DRA, GMA, vocabulary strategies, etc. etc. I recommend, if you're interested in this, getting Mary Ruddell's book Teaching Reading and Content Writing. It has forever, already, changed the way I will conduct my English classes.

  4. nmm -- Thank you so much for your post. I went right to my bookshelves to pull out the content area reading books I have kept from my certification days. I had forgotten about them and am now very glad I kept them. I think rereading them will make much more impact on me 15 years into this :). I am also going to find the one you recommend.