Friday, February 19, 2016

Reading Comprehension Tips

My original degree is for teaching English and World History in grades 6-12, and I never took a class about how to teach people how to read.  Which is sad, because so many adults and students are struggling readers, and all educators need to take a course in reaching struggling readers. I ended up learning about reading strategies WHILE I was teaching in a high school.  My kids weren't reading the sections I assigned in class, no matter how fascinating the section about Ancient China was. And so I had to research how to reach them. I taught them 5+ ways to take notes, so that they could choose the way that worked best for them. I taught them organization skills and made them keep a notebook. I taught them how to research and write a compelling paragraph and essay.  And all of this was in my World History class.  Sure, it wasn't on my syllabus.  But it was necessary and it helped them in all their other classes. This is one reason why I do support parts of the Common Core.  All teachers should be teaching reading, writing, and critical thinking.

I joined the campus Task Force on General Education this year, and this semester we're working on improving the reading skills of our students. Every week a task force member is sending an email to faculty and adjuncts with a different tip. Our chair Nancy Caldwell was nice enough to ask me to send Tip # 1, and here is what I sent today:

Tip #1 to Improve Reading Comprehension: Help your students understand the texts that you use in your classes.

Good readers know how to read textbooks.  We skim first and review headings, look at charts and graphs, and glance at pictures to give us an idea of what we’re about to read.  But struggling readers forget this step and end up reading, re-reading, or just not even trying to read the assignment.  Some of our students were taught the SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recall, Review) method in grade school, but they probably don’t even think about it in your class now. To simplify this process, you can discuss this reading strategy in even simpler terms:

1. Preview
2. Read
3. Review

I help students in the library who think they must read the ENTIRE article to see if it supports their research argument, instead of surveying the article first for hints. Several times I have reminded students to read the abstract and article headings first and then jump to the relevant section. Or use Control+F to find a specific word that they are looking for in the article. 

While this seems simple to most of us, it’s new to many of our students. Learning how to skim and preview a text is a simple skill that is easy to teach, and can be taught in all subject areas.  It only takes a few minutes in class—demonstrate how to preview a reading assignment in your class and see if it makes a difference!

For more information, take a look at some of these links:
Sarah Hill, Information Services Librarian


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