The Textbook: Your New Best Friend (Part III)

Written By Amy Awbrey Pallangyo

On May 26, 2011

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frustrated studentIn my last post, I laid out a simple process for getting students familiar with your textbook before you ask them to use it.  In a way, we can think of that process as the foundational “pre-reading” strategy that goes global, not specific to one piece of reading, but generalized to the entire textbook.

Now the hard part comes – What happens WHEN they read?

For most students who have not been directly taught to read informational text? What happens is their eyes run across the page, their fingers flip through, and their eyes glaze over. They are unable to access what they can view as a relatively magical process – its magic, you look at the page and suddenly you understand the content, and anyone who can do this must be magic.  They have failed to be taught that reading is an active process that requires strategies and mental effort.  It is impossible to actually see the deep and complex mental connections that go on in the mind of a reader, to make them transparent.  That’s why I recommended
Think Aloud strategies in Part II of this post series.

There is a simple way to help students comprehend what they read. You must give them a task to do WHEN reading, other than reading.  A few easy to use examples follow:

– Provide them with a double entry notes chart, essentially a T-chart, where they put notes from the text in the left column and questions they have in the right column.  One tip, many teachers do not require students to write questions in the right column.  I recommend you require it, as it then provides evidence about what they do and do not understand, and provides fodder for accountable follow-up activities after reading (see my next post for more information on this connection).

– Ask students to use a simple Text Coding process, where they have a handful (no more than five) codes they use to mark up the text while they read.

? is for questions they have about what they’ve read

! is for things they think are important

= is for things that connect to something they already know

and you get the picture.  These codes are then used for follow-up discussions that are so critical to solidifying what they have read.  For teachers who are concerned about writing in the textbook, provide a few reusable post-it flags that students can use to mark the text as they read.

These simple strategies cause students to think differently during reading, to pay attention to the active interaction with text that sometimes alludes them during silent independent reading.  The use of such strategies helps to train their brains to use active processes to increase understanding when reading.

Now, if you think the battle is won, think again.  The next logical question is “How do you get an adolescent to actually do the reading assignment?” This is the major hurdle that causes teachers to revert to lecture in order to get content across to students.  Come back for my next post to address this ultimate question.