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.
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.