The Textbook: Your New Best Friend (Part II)

In my last post, I put my cards on the table about informational reading.  I think we have had far too many distractions for far too long about the lack of reading skills that justify lecture, and don’t get me started on photocopying and handing out teacher notes, since they can’t take notes either.  I promised in my last post to deal with the questions of how we use informational text in the classroom to its greatest benefit, and how we teach middle and high school students to be functional and independent readers of informational text.

The process is actually quite simple, we just have to take the time to do it.  I share with you here, the first challenge, Coming To Know the Text Before You Read.

Teach students the structure of the text – students need to engage in guided exploration of a text before they are asked to use it to read, or even to find discrete pieces of information.  Teachers who do this use a variety of strategies.  I find that a mix of all of them is sufficient to familiarize students with basic navigation of the textbook.

Step I: Conduct a Book Walk, a simple process where the teacher and students, together, work their way through the book from front to back, taking a look at the parts and pieces, the structure and segments.  From the Table of Contents to the appendices, whats in the book, whats it for, and why might I use it.

Step II: Chapter Deconstruction – Take one chapter of the book, it doesn’t matter which one, and blow up some sample pages that show clearly the pattern of format and layout of the text.  Are there sidebar questions in the book?  Are there specific sub-sections that are consistent from chapter to chapter, and that provide you with certain types of information?  Using a highlighter, conduct a mini-lesson on the structure of a chapter, where to look for certain aides and supports, what to expect when you read the book.

Step III:  Mini-Lesson on Text Supports – Text supports are those key informational output patterns that are there to help students comprehend.  Tables, graphs and charts; pictures with captions; text in color or italics; all of these things are called text supports.  By taking time to do a few short (10 minutes) mini-lessons on how to recognize them and use them as a part of the content, students will gain a new understanding – The book is not just the words on the page, it is all pieces of information inside the cover, regardless of what it looks like. And, that textbook companies provide these text supports to help them understand, not as lovely shiny graphics.

4) Think Aloud – as a teacher of content, you are an expert in dealing with the information of the discipline. When you read something in your arena, your brain applies multiple strategies at once to comprehend, question, text, and then link the text to existing information in your head.  Students do not know how to do this, nor are the experts in your field.  Use a simple Think Aloud process to model for students how a proficient content brain deals with content text.  Read a few sentences aloud, and stop to think outloud what connections, questions, ideas, and ahas! you are having as you read.  Read more, stop again, struggle with vocabulary, demonstrate how to jot a question or notes for follow up.  Demonstrate how to use the text supports noted above. Demonstrate, through a metacognitive process, how to use all elements provided in the text.  Making your proficient content reading brain transparent to students is the most critical step in preparing them to be proficient readers of your content, and their textbook.

By working with students to help them Come to Know the Text Before They Read, teachers set students up for more successful and accountable independent use of the textbook.

In my next post, I’ll move on to discuss what we can do WHILE students read to help them have more comprehension and retention success.

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