Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Teaching How to Read in High School

When I started my career as a high school social studies teacher, I took many things for granted when it came to my students.  One particular thing I took for granted was that my students knew how to read (and all its related competencies - e.g. synthesis, main idea, making inferences, etc). 

Call me naive, I know.

Interestingly enough, my naivety was supported by the fact that, as a trained high school social studies teacher, the reading process and how to teach it was never deciphered for me! 
These two factors contributed to my blissful ignorance.

Fast forward to today.

For some time now, I have been hearing from teachers that students are struggling with many of the core reading competencies.  Teachers, in various content areas, continue to comment on how many students “can’t read” and are struggling with “understanding” what they are reading. 

Some want to blame social media or technology for this “slide” in reading skills.  Some, in our profession, shun the idea of “21st Century Learning” because they see it as eroding our students' literacy skills.

As a school we have decided that it is precisely because of social media and its emerging technologies, that our students need to be more literate than ever before.

We are not going to take the literacy skills of students for granted any longer.  

As our community navigates through “21st Century Learning” and “Personalized Learning” – we realize that literacy is a core competency that all of us (not just English teachers) need to teach.

For us, this process started a few years ago.  We invited a literacy expert to meet with our staff to conduct a in-service on the reading process.  Since that time we have been developing an action plan to integrate literacy instruction throughout our school.

This past year our “Literacy Learning Team” - a collection of teachers representing every department in the school, came together to pilot a reading program for our Gr. 8 students. 
The process began with administering a reading assessment tool (RAD) to each of our Gr. 8 students.  The team looked at the results and discovered some important findings.  Namely that the majority of our students needed attention in two areas of the reading process: Targeting Main Idea and Making Inferences
Equipped with this information, the team of teachers, regardless of their content areas, used specific lessons/resources to teach those specific reading competencies.  Teaching the skills related to targeting main idea and making inferences became very intentional.

A few weeks ago the team did an analysis of the year end assessment for our Gr. 8 students.  The results looked promising.

Next year, we intend on caring forward with this pilot project with our new incoming Gr. 8’s.  Our long term goal is to have every teacher in the building comfortable with literacy instruction.  Our teachers must be able to decode and teach the reading process to our students. 

The 21st Century demands that our students be more literate than ever.  As a consequence, all teachers (not just teachers of elementary age students) need to be intentional about teaching our students how to read!

1 comment:

  1. Such an important piece, Johnny. When I was a HS teacher, I remember a department head bringing in a reading expert and us science teachers sitting there going "isn't this the job of elementary school teachers?". Now that I work at an elementary school, I see the transition "away" from teaching reading. Many feel that once students can read words and sentences, they are good enough. The teaching of reading MUST continue throughout education so students can learn the bigger skills like you mentioned. Finding the main idea, summarizing, and bringing the students lives into the reading is so important. Reading is NOT something that should be taught ONLY in elem schools.

    Thanks for sharing!