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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teaching Students the Skills of Expert Readers

Patricia Hilliard, PhD

Director of STEM Accelerator
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Teacher writing with a pencil surrounded by five young engaged students

Research shows that skilled or expert readers possess seven strategies to construct meaning before, during, and after reading a text. When skilled students read, it is an active process. Their minds are constantly processing information extracted from the text, e.g., questioning the author, summarizing passages, or interpreting images. Contrarily, struggling readers often unthinkingly read the words on the page. For them, reading is an inactive activity. Constructing meaning from the text does not naturally occur in the mind of a struggling reader.

Fortunately, the cognitive skills of expert readers can be taught. The most effective way for students to learn these skills is through explicit and direct instruction. It is important that teachers model these strategies to the class before allowing students to independently use one of them. Modeling a strategy provides students with a clear understanding of why they were given the task and how to complete it properly.

7 Strategies

Below is a summary of the seven strategies of highly skilled readers. A brief purpose for using each strategy is provided along with a corresponding protocol. The seven strategies can be used with a variety of texts depending on the discipline. Examples of text include a painting, an annual report for a business, a script for a play, a mathematical word problem, a pie chart, a recipe, or instructions for a science experiment.

1. Activating: Students use their past experiences and/or knowledge to better understand the text. (Example: text connections.)

2. Summarizing: Students restate the purpose and meaning of a text in their own words. (Example: magnet summaries.)

3. Monitoring and Clarifying: Students determine if they understand the text. If there are misunderstandings, they clarify and correct the confusion during and after reading a text. (Example: text coding.)

4. Visualizing and Organizing: Students create mental images of the text. Graphic organizers help to provide structure and allow students to generate ideas from the text. (Example: graphic organizer.)

5. Searching and Selecting: Students gather information from various resources to select that which allows them to define key words, answer questions, or solve problems. (Example: claim, evidence, and reasoning.)

6. Questioning: Students create questions about the text, ask themselves questions while reading the text, and answer different levels of questions about the text from their peers and/or teacher. (Example: question-answer relationship.)

7. Inferring: Students interpret the text and draw logical conclusions. (Example: say-mean-matter.)

(Note: These strategies are adapted from Elaine McEwan's 40 Ways to Support Struggling Readers in Content Classrooms, Grades 6-12.)

Choosing a Strategy

It is important to intentionally select a reading strategy according to learning goals, course standards, and type of text. Before choosing a strategy, here are some questions for consideration:

  • What text will students read?
  • How many times, if any, have students experienced this type of text?
  • How should students interact with the text? Should they question it or make inferences about the information presented in the text?
  • What part or parts of the text may challenge students the most?
  • What support(s) can be provided to help students with those anticipated challenges, such as vocabulary, before reading a text?
  • What skill do students need to improve or strengthen during or after reading the text?
  • How will the strategy be modeled to the class?

Reading and interpreting multiple forms of texts can be a daunting task. Thankfully, students in any classroom can learn the analytical capabilities of skilled readers. This practice takes time and patience. With purposeful implementation of these strategies across all subject areas, students can progress from dependent, inactive readers to highly skilled thinkers who independently process information from a text.

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Maria Castle's picture

Patricia, thanks for sharing these tips. I think implementing different reading strategies is crucial for improving student's text comprehension. 40 Ways to Support Struggling Readers in Content Classrooms is a great source of effective strategies that teacher can integrate in classroom activities. Comprehensive games, various activities, question quizzes, graphics, story structure. I'd also include essay writing as an effective comprehension strategy , as I already mentioned on ScholarAdvisor blog.

Patricia Hilliard, PhD's picture
Patricia Hilliard, PhD
Director of STEM Accelerator

Maria Castle,
That is such a great book and resource for teachers in any subject area. I agree. The multitude of examples of assessments and activities in the book are great. As a former business education teacher, I cannot say that all of the examples applied to my area, but they gave me enough background information to relate the strategies to business. I also like the emphasis on modeling the strategies. Thanks for reading my post!

lemino's picture
lemino
Ed & games innovator, mom & entrepreneur

Thanks for sharing. I found the headline very promising - these skills can be taught, and grade is relevant too (my son is now between 7th and 8th). But not only do I now know how to choose a skill, I am not sure it's only one. And also, I am not sure how realistic that is in relation to his reading task for the summer.
His class was required to read "Les Miserables" full version book, it's almost 700 pages (The Hebrew translation). And for my son, who views any book with over 100 pages a struggle, this one is a torture.
If I would stop him or slow him down - even if it is for the improvement of his skills, it will be viewed as a disturbance. In other words - I fear it's too late... Isn't it?

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Writer on education, teaching and learning. Chief Education Officer at The Writing Project

Hi Lemino, I am sorry to hear about this struggle with your son. I can imagine it's not easy. Have you tried discussing this with his teacher? Do you think that there is a possibility he/she would be able to do an individualized reading program that works with your son's pace? For me, often what works is working with what the student is capable of reading and doing the same work he would do had he read the book as a whole. I hope that makes sense. So if they're going to summarize the entire book, your son can focus on the 100 pages that he can read. I know it's hard but it's probably more manageable for him that way.

Patricia Hilliard, PhD's picture
Patricia Hilliard, PhD
Director of STEM Accelerator

I would argue that comprehending a 700 page text, through a translation nonetheless, would be a challenging task for most adults. However, I think this could be a meaningful experience for your child. I agree that this is a discussion that could happen with the teacher - What is the purpose of the reading? What is the learning goal? What is the end product (if any)? The teacher could be able to provide you with the scaffolds needed for your child to be able to successfully read, interpret, question, etc. the text. Breaking the reading into smaller segments maybe helpful too.

lemino's picture
lemino
Ed & games innovator, mom & entrepreneur

Thank you for your comments, Patricia and Rusul. We have talked with the teachers and agreed that he would try to read as much as he can, knowing he would probably not finish the whole book. We watch the movie together. I read to him about 30 of the pages he went through so far... The end product includes a summary and answering a few questions. I agree with the notion of exposing children to classic literature, but I am sad that the outcome would be his avoidance in the future, rather than making him liking it.
In relation to reading skills - I also have to divide two different types of reading: book reading and online reading (Wikipedia etc). My son is an avid reader of Wikipedia and knowledge websites. He can spend hours upon hours reading from such sites. His memory is incredible. He clearly has the understanding skill - but when it comes to stories it is perceived as a tedious homework. The time he would read 10 wikipedia full pages, he would hardly finish a single page in a story or novel printed book. It's almost an evolutional problem.

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