Get to the Core of Reading Comprehension

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By Laureen Reynolds, SDE PresenterBlogPostGraphic_GettotheCore

We all have favorite activities and strategies that we use to build students’ comprehension skills, and traditionally, comprehension instruction has focused on sequencing and retelling events. So, now that we’re really good at that, let’s go further and get our students to dig deeper into what we read. Not only is focusing on deeper thinking and comprehension good for our students, it’s also Common Core and 21st Century skill-friendly. No matter what camp you’re in, it’s important.

First and foremost, no matter who you teach, remember that good reading comprehension starts with good listening comprehension. Even if you teach students who read, it’s important to think out loud and demonstrate the habits that make you a good reader. And, if the little people in front of you each day don’t yet read, it’s never too early to start. The best way to do this is to read fabulous books out loud.

Common Core has challenged us with reading a broader range of more complex texts to and with our students, all in the name of developing a deeper, more global understanding of the past, present, and, potentially, the future (for starters). This broader range of more complex texts will likely bring us to using unfamiliar text in our classrooms.

When we read unfamiliar text to our students, we automatically require them to think more deeply. A text can be unfamiliar in a few different ways: It can represent a time or era that is unfamiliar to students (Pickle-Patch Bathtub by Frances Kennedy is one of my all-time favorites); it can represent an unfamiliar format like a play, a comic, or a poem; it can also be unfamiliar in its content (try Steve Jenkins’ book Bones: Skeletons and How They Work). Books that share a different perspective of a known event (Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds) also represent unfamiliar – a unique take on a time, place, or event. In the above-mentioned book, the story of the Rosa Parks bus incident is told through the eyes of a young boy.

Of course, a text can be unfamiliar simply because it is one your students don’t know, one they are not likely to have heard in previous grades or at home. This is where new releases come in handy. When we read the same books to students year after year, we don’t encourage their thinking to develop.  And, when we read aloud books that are at our students’ reading level instead of well above it, we also hinder their ability to build stronger comprehension skills – if the story is shallow, so is the thinking.

Some of my new favorites (all released in the last 18 months or so) are: Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade,  The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and New Colors , Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo DaVinci (trust me on this one), Z is for Moose (for the younger set), 14 Cows for America (a 9/11 story, but not what you think), Stars, and Saving Audie: A Pit Bull Puppy Gets a Second Chance. By the way, all but one of these are true, so they fulfill some of our ‘informational text’ quota with a big bang.

Next month, I will continue this conversation with you and we’ll talk about building better comprehension, critical thinking, and listening and speaking skills by asking great questions about the books you’re sharing. See you then!

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