Monday, July 27, 2009

Topic: Reading in the Content Areas

10-second review: Social studies teacher—“I’m not a reading teacher; students should already know how to read when they get to middle school. My job is to teach them social studies content.” The authors of this article describe activities to help students read difficult or boring material—before, during and after reading.

Title: “Promoting Reading Comprehension in Social Studies.” DD Massey and TL Heafner. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2004), 26-40. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Comment: The authors give an expanded method of helping students read a difficult or boring assignment that is, in my judgment, too complicated. The essence of their method is as follows. Any content teacher—with the possible exception of math—can do it, with only a minimum of preparation.

1. Build background information on the topic. The more students know about the topic, the better they will comprehend. Ask students what they already know about the topic. Ask if they have any questions about the topic. These questions can become part of their purposes for reading.

2. Pre-teach key vocabulary words, words that are crucial to the meaning of the assignment and that are likely to be unfamiliar to the students. Trust me. If the students don’t know the words, they won’t even see them. Use context. Use roots, prefixes, suffixes. As a last resort, use the dictionary, but have the students reduce the definition to two or three key words. Easier to remember the words.

3. Purpose. Students read the bold-face headings throughout the chapter. They summarize what they have learned. They raise questions. Students now read the first paragraph, the first sentence of middle paragraphs and the last paragraph. They summarize that they have learned and raise questions, which will be their purpose for reading.

4. Students read to answer the questions.

5. After answering the questions, students apply or extend what they have learned. They use the Internet. Students look up the topic on the Internet and gather related information. They will need to learn how to take notes. Students then summarize in writing what they have learned about the topic on the Internet. For example, students who searched the Internet for further information about the circulatory system were amazed at what was occurring in medicine, sports and other fields related to the circulatory system.

By using these five steps to successful reading, teachers of content area subjects (social studies, science, health, shop, English, etc. and subjects in which textbooks or reading material is used for instruction) will find that their students become involved in reading, will raise questions to which they want answers and will learn the topic’s important ideas. Olive Niles, a noted reading specialist, said that if all content teachers used this system of helping students to read, in every secondary grade, in every subject, there would be no reading problems in the United States. I believe her.

With these steps, content teacher are not teaching reading. They are helping students to read difficult or boring materials. RayS.

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