This is a guest blog post by Dr. Geraldine Haggard, who is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. It is the first post in a series about using guided reading activities to support content-area textbook reading.
The blog will demonstrate why students need explicit guidance when reading textbooks. Textbooks are often the backbone of content area classrooms, but can pose many challenges for a budding reader.
CHALLENGES OF USING FORMAL TEXTBOOKS
First, let’s examine the characteristics of formal educational textbooks and the challenges they present:
- Textbooks are often written at a reading level above the students’ grade level.
- The authors of textbooks have no conception of how much—or how little—prior knowledge their readers bring to the text.
- An enormous amount of new vocabulary must be acquired if the child is to read with full comprehension. Students need very strong strategies, such as letter knowledge, for decoding these unfamiliar words.
- Many vocabulary words in content area-specific textbooks are not part of the everyday language. Students must read words that they have never heard before, making comprehension difficult.
- Long paragraphs and passages, packed with new information, can overwhelm readers. The teacher needs to sort through and focus only on the information needed to master a specific concept.
- Sometimes, students are asked to read silently without knowing the goals of textbook reading. Many students do not know how to independently set goals when reading formal texts and how to monitor their comprehension. The student may be led to think that they need to memorize the entire text.
- Some textbooks are outdated and contain old information. The teacher must study the textbook carefully and only use sections that remain relevant and accurate. Additional sources of information should be used to support the textbook, adding opportunities for critical thinking and synthesis skills.
- Good textbooks include specific features to help the reader. The reader needs to learn how to use the table of contents, index, glossary, diagrams, charts, and maps.
Research shows us that student average comprehension percentiles become lower and lower as the students go into higher grade levels. We know that reading content area material is more difficult than reading narratives because it demands a more specific and sophisticated level of comprehension.
Intermediate, middle school, or high school teachers report that many students do not enjoy content area reading and have difficulty with textbooks. The joy that we often see in our younger readers as they learn about the world is not always present in the older reader.
Clearly, teachers of all grade levels need to provide verbal and guiding reading support for content area reading. Teacher can interact with students in small groups, large groups, and individual settings.
My next blog post will introduce guided reading activities and ideas for teachers to incorporate content area activities into the classroom.
Geraldine Haggard is the author of several books from our Kaleidoscope Collection. She spent 37 years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, teaches in her church, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children.
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