Read TEACHING READING OF TEXTBOOKS: Content Area Reading text version


Content Area Reading

When we enter elementary school (or even as toddlers), we learn our alphabet, then early words. We learn pronunciation through phonics; we learn sentences, then paragraphs, then small books and short stories. In about 4th grade we move up, to chapters and texts. Our reading skills are built around recognizing words, interpreting their meaning, placing them in a context that largely relates to what we already know, and then drawing conclusions about their significance.

Students often are not prepared to tackle what is referred to as "content reading"; that is, reading textbooks that teach us other things, like science and math and social studies and health and how to drive a car. These books contain pictures that go far beyond illustrating the text; they contain graphs and maps and diagrams and comparisons that append the text content. In trying to apply their previously acquired reading skills, students can become lost and frustrated in trying to learn information from written words. Their frustration leads to incomplete homework assignments, lack of class participation and, dangerously, to their abandonment of learning altogether. This task is a challenge for subject area teachers. While they may not want to become "reading specialists," they must acquire the skills to help students transition from reading text for story line, images and characterization into learning to learn from texts.


Richard Vacca, an acknowledged expert in the area of Content Reading, responds to teacher frustration that students "just don't read assigned material anymore": It's not that the majority of students can't read. Most choose not to, primarily because they have never been shown how to explore and interpret text effectively. (3) "How to think through print ­ how to use reading to derive meaning from content materials" (Vacca, 4) - is the essence of creating lifetime-learners. Teachers of subject areas are in a powerful position to encourage or discourage their students' ability to learn through reading.

Dr. Carol D'Amico, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education, maintains that illiteracy carries "a personal burden for individuals, but also it threatens national economic security." She presented a number of alarming statistics at a recent workshop: In middle and high schools, the levels of achievement, especially for reading and math, decline between grades 4 to 8 and grades 8 to 12. Many high school graduates enter college unprepared in reading and math. In community colleges, 40 to 60 percent of freshmen need remedial courses. Data from international comparisons of 16 to 18-year-olds show that even the top 10 percent in the United States cannot compete with the [same] top 10 percent in other industrial countries. And 25 percent leave school without a diploma. Many drop out because they cannot read well enough to do the course work. About 56 percent of Hispanics, African Americans, and students with disabilities do not finish with a diploma 4 years after they start. They see it as impossible to catch up, so they give up and drop out. The average 8th grader who is nonwhite or who is from a low-income family reads at three to four grade levels lower than whites and the more advantaged (Workshop 2).

The U.S. Government clearly sees illiteracy not solely as the inability to read, but as the inability to learn from reading.


Donna Alvermann, a literacy expert, adds "adolescent literacy" to the traditional terms of content area literacy and content area reading. "This change allows her to speak of in-school and out-of-school literacies as intricately related, much as adolescents do. She suggests that to discover and to understand the multiple literacies adolescents use, we need to reflect on the question `what counts as reading when reading really counts?' Reconsidering what `counts as reading' will help us view literacy from broader perspectives. Social and cultural contexts in which texts and literate practices are situated are rapidly changing [as are] new technologies." (Swafford, 10)

This updated definition was created by Thomas Bean's content area literacy class: Content area literacy is a cognitive and social practice involving the ability and desire to read, comprehend, critique and write about multiple forms of print. [These...] include textbooks, novels, magazines, Internet material and other sociotechnical sign systems conveying information, emotional content, and ideas to be considered from a critical stance (Swafford, 10).

Redefining what is viewed as "literacy" allows us to accommodate new technologies, and broadens what teachers might consider as "reading for learning" beyond textbooks. Studies have noted, for example, that while boys may not read the same content as girls, if directed to materials in their areas of interest they will still read. Learning to build a car or fix a bicycle or travel in Alaska is reading to learn.


All teachers are content reading instructors; if you use text, you are a reading teacher. If you never planned to teach reading, there are now a vast array of resources available to you, but to get started: STEP ONE: PRE-READING EXERCISES Prepare your class for the text. Tell them what you are going to read and ask them what they think it will be about. There are graphic organizers (K-W-L) you can complete together which provide for discussions about what the students already know, what they want to know, and a portion to complete after the reading. You can ask them what they already know about the topic, and bring in articles on subjects that are related to your reading. This activity stimulates interest and allows the students to put the new information into what they already know. "Anticipation/Reaction Guides" are another before-and-after strategy. These are a list of statements about the reading content. Students mark those with which they agree and discuss these in class, then revisit the statements after the reading to discuss any changes. If some of the vocabulary seems challenging you may want to work with definitions before reading. A "Magic Square" can take some of the boredom out of vocabulary exercises. This "graphic organizer" prompts students to choose correct definitions to fill in a grid. They find a "magic number" when their answer values total both up and down. STEP TWO: DURING READING As you proceed through the text, do frequent assessments for comprehension. Ask for questions and encourage discussion. If they don't understand the reading they won't have any questions, so you may want to prepare some questions of your own to guide discussion and to confirm that they understand key points. There are graphic organizers to guide your students in organizing new facts into groups of information. Helping them relate what they learn to their own lives also helps with memory and comprehension. Guide them in interpreting any visual keys provided in the texts. Taking the material a chunk at a time will support comprehension. If there are related physical activities, like drawing or building things related to the text, a variety of activities helps you reach different learning styles and encourages engagement. Any way you can challenge earlier ideas with new information will engage your students and increase their motivation to learn what's next. STEP THREE: AFTER READING You can complete together the K-W-L worksheet, asking students if any of their original ideas were different from what they learned, as well as what was confirmed. Discussing how the new information will be used in the future helps make learning relevant. You could propose a problem similar to one solved in the text, and ask students how they would now approach a solution. Students can do final projects like posters, drawings, writing, or "further reading" in areas they found interesting. This part of reading puts the effort in perspective and helps the student see its purpose in his or her education and life. The more you can reinforce the real value of learning through reading, the more enthusiastic your students will be for the next assignment! 4

Adolescent literacy, which means content literacy in a variety of subjects, is critical to our students' foundations for functional and satisfying citizenship. Our country needs skilled educators in every subject area, teaching reading to learn. The results of ineffectiveness can impact our national economy and security, as well as the quality of individual lives. Everyone's future is dependent upon educating our students to the extent of each one's ability. Maps: Study Skills: Free Graphic Organizers: Reading resources: ESL: Organizations: Int'l Reading Assn: Reading Rainbow: National Institute for Literacy: National Council of Teachers of English:

Content Reading Resources: (Methodology and some lesson plans) .html Literacy Matters: WORKS CITED: "Summary of the Adolescent Literacy Workshop: State of the Science and Research Needs." Adolescent Literacy ­ Research Informing Practice: A Series of Workshops. The Partnership for Reading.> Swafford, Jeanne and Mary Kallus. "Content Literacy: A Journey into the Past, Present and Future." Journal of Content Area Reading. I.1 (2002): 7-18. Vacca, Richard T. Content Area Reading. Boston: Little, Brown, 1981. "Teaching Reading in the Secondary Schools." Course Content: LTRE310, Northern Illinois University. Instructor: Douglas Williamson, PhD. (Summer, 2004).

Webpage by Gail Anne Rover, English Major, NIU (Fall 2004) Professional Editor: Mary DeBates, B.A. Ed. (K-9); M.A. Reading (K-12), 33-year teacher.




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