Leveraging Literacy and the ALM Model to address Social Emotional Learning Part 2: Reading Comprehension

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The first blog post in this series introduced the notion that teachers do not have to choose between meeting students’ educational or social emotional needs; they can naturally address both together. According to CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), “Social and emotional competencies serve as a foundation for achieving academic goals, […]

Written By Jenni Aberli

On September 24, 2021

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The first blog post in this series introduced the notion that teachers do not have to choose between meeting students’ educational or social emotional needs; they can naturally address both together. According to CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), “Social and emotional competencies serve as a foundation for achieving academic goals, while academic instruction also provides a ripe opportunity for teaching and practicing SEL . . . SEL is woven throughout academic instructional time to support and deepen learning.”  With literacy, teachers can naturally create spaces where students feel safe and are part of a learning community, and using the Adolescent Literacy Model (ALM) developed by the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is an excellent approach to the blending of teaching both academics and SEL. 

While SEL can be quite complex, the approach to SEL in this series really focuses on building literacy across the content areas by supporting students through frequent reading and writing opportunities that build relationships (communicating effectively, practicing teamwork), social-awareness (taking others’ perspectives, identifying diverse social norms), and self-awareness (growth mindset).

The ALM provides a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary approach to literacy that focuses on the application of strategies to actively engage learners and deepen their understanding of content.  The model focuses on five core subdomains of literacy: 

  • Vocabulary Development
  • Writing to Demonstrate Learning
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Writing to Learn
  • Academic Dialogue

Within each post of this blog series on leveraging literacy to address SEL, we’ll focus on one of the literacy subdomains and how teachers can implement strategies within those subdomains to meet both the educational and social emotional needs of students. The previous post addressed Academic Dialogue.  In this post, we’ll look at Reading Comprehension; however, it is important to note that the subdomains are not exclusive and often work together providing students with a comprehensive approach to literacy.  

Building an Inclusive Classroom using Reading Comprehension:

I’m not sure that a day goes by in which students don’t read and engage with text in some way; reading is a core part of instruction in any classroom. In mathematics, students read word problems; in Science, they read data, charts and graphs; in Social Studies, they read primary sources; and in ELA, well . . .  they read everything from poems to novels to video clips to informational texts. Truth is, when we recognize that text is anything that communicates a message, referred to as multimodal literacies by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), students are reading multiple texts everyday. Gone are the days when we defined text as just words on the page. Now text is understood to be a political cartoon, a video, a photograph, a painting, and of course words on the page. Given this broadened definition of text, teachers have multiple opportunities to intentionally pair texts and reading comprehension strategies that address SEL by creating safe and engaging places for students to learn and become a part of a learning community that features trusting and collaborative relationships.

Even though teachers can engage students with reading with any text, it is important that they strategically think about and plan how the text and reading comprehension opportunities will impact both student learning of the content and the social emotional aspect.  Things to consider when planning for Reading Comprehension:

  • What is the text?  Is it a photograph, poem, article, chart, media, etc.?
  • Are you leveraging diverse, culturally-affirming texts connected to what students are learning in class? 
  • Why this text? How does it provide an opportunity to address SEL? Does it serve as a mirror or window? Will students connect, engage, empathize, reflect, feel validated, ask questions, etc.?
  • How have you created a safe, inclusive space for students to engage with the text and one another?
  • When will you use the text? Before the lesson to introduce a new topic, activate schema or provide an opportunity to connect? During the lesson, giving students the opportunity to read and engage with the text?  After the lesson, to synthesize learning, make connections, ask questions and verify understanding?
  • What structured strategies will you use to engage students in Reading Comprehension?
  • How will you teach and scaffold the process of engaging with the text?
  • How will you allow the content and standards to influence the choice of text and instruction?
  • How will you hold students accountable, provide feedback, and leverage Academic Dialogue as a formative assessment of student learning?  

Strategies to Consider:  

Success starts with intention, strategy and scaffolding. You should have a clear purpose for using any particular strategy you choose to use. When deciding on strategies, consider questions like: What do you need your students to learn or get out of the activity? Is it to activate prior knowledge? Analyze the text? Demonstrate understanding? Make connections? The answer to questions like these will be key to determining the best strategy to meet your objective. Below are three Reading Comprehension strategies you might want to try paired with the considerations above.

Double Entry Organizer (DEO): Use this during and after reading to provide scaffolding and guidance for students to take notes during reading and reflect on those notes – generating questions about the text, ideas/connections, and opinions about what they have read.  Students can use the double entry organizer after reading to discuss what was read in small or large groups.

Text Coding with Margin Notes: Use this during reading to help students track their thinking while they read.  Students use a simple coding system to make the text and record what they are thinking either in the margins or on post-it notes. Make sure you choose codes for targeted interactions that fit your learning goals. As students make connections, ask questions, etc., and respond to what they read, they are self-monitoring their comprehension and enhancing long-term understanding. The codes help students name and remember a particular thinking strategy and track the thinking throughout the text.

Artifact Review/Galley Walk: Artifacts (text, pictures, examples/samples, quotes, cartoons, maps, charts, etc.) pertaining to a particular subject or idea are gathered and distributed in folders for students to review and respond.  Pair this strategy with Double Entry Organizer so students can track reactions as they read.

Reader Response:  Students read a specified text and then respond in writing to a prompt or select from a series of writing stems for written reflection. 

Note: in addition to Reading Comprehension, these strategies often integrate writing to learn, as well as speaking and listening subdomains.

What It Looks Like:

In order to address SEL through literacy, it’s important that the teacher strategically chooses and uses texts that not only provide opportunities for connection, reflection and conversation, but are engaging and also connected to the content of the class. The text choice should not be a stand alone text disconnected from what students are learning. When I think of the texts I will use within a unit of study, I want to make sure they serve several purposes, so I spend a lot of time looking for just the right text.  I try to not only scaffold the texts in complexity from the beginning of a unit to the end, but I want to make sure they will allow me to build classroom community and address aspects of SEL, such as identity, empathy and inclusion. 

One text I use with students is Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals. I choose this as one of my whole class texts because it is a powerful historical memoir in which Melba’s story introduces students to a key moment in the Civil Rights movement teaching them about an important historical event, yet it is very much connected to experiences many of our students face today.  I can use this and accompanying texts such as photographs, historical documents, poems, articles, etc. to develop students’ literacy skills and reading comprehension, as well address SEL.

I generally use this text during the second semester, once I have a well-established strong classroom community, and I like to engage students in a lesson using the Artifact Review/Gallery Walk strategy, paired with the Double Entry Organizer strategy to introduce this text to students. I choose a popular photograph or two from the Little Rock Nine; a poignant, thought provoking quote from Warriors Don’t Cry; something from a current event that connects to the theme; a short video clip; a short, but relevant poem and a work of art. As students silently walk around the room to review these artifacts, they respond in their Double Entry Organizer. On one side of the organizer, they record concepts, facts, descriptions or information directly from the text in front of them. On the other side, they respond with questions, ideas, or opinions about the text. Using this tool, they are comprehending the various texts.  Additionally, engagement with the texts in the gallery walk provides some background knowledge for Warriors Don’t Cry that can aid in their comprehension of the novel.  Following the artifact review, we use our DEO as an entry point to engage in Academic Dialogue. It is on the response side of the DEO and through Academic Dialogue that we are attending to SEL by providing students a safe space to reflect on the texts and discuss. The beauty of using these reading comprehension strategies as an entry point into the novel, is that they not only pique students’ interest in reading the novel, but also provide them with a variety of texts and experiences that they can use to activate their schema.  At various times throughout reading the novel, we return to these initial texts to deepen our understanding and comprehension.  Once we get into reading the novel and other texts related to the unit, such as articles and historical documents, students will use the text coding strategy with notes to track their thinking while they read.  When determining what coding I want students to use, I carefully consider my learning goals for each of the texts. Oftentimes, those goals bring in SEL opportunities, in which students are building social and emotional awareness through classroom discussions of the texts.

I love these strategies for boosting students’ comprehension of texts, connecting academics to SEL and providing a more balanced approach to literacy. I know you are regularly using texts in class and you want students to comprehend those texts, so why not give these engaging and effective reading comprehension strategies a try.  You’ll be glad you did.