Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reading Strategies

I am still playing in my mind with how to better teach my students how to be great readers. I read a wonderful article in this month's English Journal about teaching reading to high school students that I wish I could link to for you, but let me sum up the author's main point instead. He did research in his own classroom between his preferred open class discussion method and lessons he planned with a specific reading strategy as the day's springboard. Before I say what his results were, let me say that I think as English teachers we all lean towards the open class discussion -- giving our students that sense of freedom to throw out ideas is a wonderful thing to do. But here is what he found: his students participated better in the subsequent discussions after they had completed a reading strategy exercise. Moreso, his students wrote better and performed better on assessments on literature they had used the strategies to tackle.

His findings confirmed for me what I have been playing with in my mind all summer. How do we help our students become good readers who do not get frustrated and quit when they come up against a reading challenge?

I tried his method today with my students and Candide. They read this for summer reading, and in the past I gave them a few questions to consider just to refresh the book in their minds before we begin to discuss it. This year, I had them do a guided rereading activity on the first chaper. Here it is.

Today in class, I began by projecting up the first chapter and asking them what they found in their rereading. We had the best discussion of this book I have ever had with a class. They made connections between the character traits presented and what they knew would happen in the book (Candide is shy and does not think much on his own --> makes sense that he struggles with disagreeing with his beloved tutor's ideas for so long). They saw the satirical barbs already in place (and could see that it took them longer the first time around to see the satire). They had fun realizing just what Pangloss was doing when he was tutoring the chambermaid (!!). And they said again and again, "I had not noticed this the first time I read the book, but ..."

Their essays are on Thursday, so we will see if the success in writing plays out for my students too, but the reading strategy approach is a keeper. (Here is another idea for a reading strategy -- I now know even more about why this lesson works so well!)

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