The Reading Puzzle
by Lisa Frase
Reading is a puzzle made up of fluid pieces. The pieces are rearranged based on current research, student needs and the teacher's instructional style. The pieces flow together, overlapping, constantly breathing, growing, and evolving.
The presentation of the puzzle will depend upon the teacher's philosophy. The current debate between whole language and phonics is causing a new thought to emerge: a balance between the two competitors. It is possible to go from whole to part to whole again without compromising either underlying idea. It is also possible to embrace both the global and the linear thinker, and then help these thinkers stretch their thinking.
During the whole language hey-days, phonics were often put on the back burner - the baby was put out with the bathwater, as the old saying goes. Today, as phonics makes a comeback, the contribution of authentic literature, learning within context, print-rich classrooms, and warm-inviting classrooms have held their rightful place in our schools. As we begin to recreate the base of the puzzle, we are finding that it takes many pieces in order to make complete picture.
David Pearson's research has given us the foundation of what good readers do when attending to text. Metacognitive research has taught us to actively teach children to think about their thinking as they practice using the strategies of effective readers. We are now learning to model our own thinking through the use of "think alouds," and then slowly release responsibility to our students. We have learned this through our journey with Mosaic of Thought by Keene and Zimmerman. And now we have been given the gift of practical application with the help of Harvey and Goudvis in their book, Strategies That Work.
Reading strategies must be explicitly taught for extended periods of time through a variety of text structures. The researched based strategies are as follows:
STRATEGIES GOOD READERS USE
- Preview the text and set a purpose for reading.
- Make predictions. Confirm or adjust your predictions.
- Decide whether to skim, scan or study the text.
- Ask yourself questions about the text and look for the answers.
- Think about what you already know about the topic.
- Think about the author's purpose for writing.
- Make mental pictures in your mind.
- Think about what the text reminds you of in your own life, from other text, in the world, or from another text by the same author.
- Decide what is important, and what is not important.
- Think about the big idea, or theme.
- Reread the parts that you don't understand.
- Break words into "chunks" and / or use context clues to figure our words that you don't know.
Comprehension and vocabulary skills are still very important to the reader. There has been much concern about teaching skills in isolation over the years. A well written literature selection or nonfiction piece can be utilized as a building block for directly teaching comprehension and vocabulary skills. Skills such as cause-effect, sequence of events or fact and opinion can be pulled out of the text, taught directly, explicitly or inductively, and then put back into the text. Applying the skill through writing can increase long term transfer.
Oral fluency is at the forefront of discussion in the reading arena. Increasing fluency can help a child attend to the meaning and enhance comprehension. Oral fluency adds to the expression of speech through tone, inflection, and rate. Guidelines for oral fluency rates can be found at www.texasreading.org. Children need multiple opportunities to practice reading with short text at their independent reading level. Fluency can be practiced through the use of plays, reader's theater, poetry, and short stories.
There are a variety of methods that teachers can use to teach reading - whole group, guided reading, cooperative reading, or individualized reading. One instructional method is not a panacea. Teachers should strive to vary their methods based on their student's needs. Students who are exposed to a variety of text structures / genres during instruction will greatly benefit from the thoughtful selections. It is important to strive to meet children at their instructional reading level, and build from there. In addition, children should be taught to make book selections on their independent reading level (Vgotsky's Zone of Proximal Development) for their personal reading time. The independent reading level is where a child can read comfortably with 95% accuracy on their own. This is where a child's schema is built. A child who reads consistently on their independent reading level will increase in comprehension, and their vocabulary will naturally grow.
Reading aloud is the cornerstone of the reading puzzle. Through daily read alouds, a teacher is modeling fluency (rate, tone, inflection), expression (character voices), and quality writing. Read alouds provide teachers a motivational tool for encouraging children to engage in text. Read alouds are the springboard for directly teaching skills, and explicitly teaching strategies. Children can be exposed to a variety of genres, authors, and themes through the use of read alouds. They are powerful, and often underestimated teaching tool.
The bridge from reading to application is through writing. Writing is the left hand. Children can learn to read like writers and write like readers. They can explore the author's craft, and discover the joy of writing for themselves. Children can learn to be a master of their words through the modeling that authentic text provides. Though a child may never grow to become a professional writer, they can learn to express their thoughts and communicate effectively by approaching writing through the power of reading.
Teaching is a never ending learning cycle. And the teaching of reading is an ever changing puzzle with time tested attributes, new discoveries, and the weaving of art and science. Keene and Zimmerman speak of an "unspoken hunger" in teachers who continue to seek new knowledge and mingle it in with their own. It is possible that this unspoken hunger will drive us to continuously move the pieces of the puzzle so that they fit perfectly for each child that we teach.