Monday, October 14, 2013

Strategy in Reading: the 3 Rs +1

The following post was created for an Additional Qualifications class (Reading Specialist, Part 2). 

Using Retell, Relate, and Reflect

At its simplest level, the 3R prompts - retell, relate, reflect - are about summarizing, making connections, and thinking deeply about a reading (fiction or non-fiction). It is a simple way to organize student responses, but can be a powerful way to engage critical analysis, especially when paired with scaffolded instruction (eg. providing sentence stems, think-alouds, guided practice, descriptive feedback). 

However, if the prompts are too vague, it can be challenging for students to understand how to adequately respond. The use of success criteria or a rubric helps alleviate this concern.

Below is an example of the strategy in use with texts about reading.

Front CoverTovani, Cris (2004). Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Content Comprehension , Grades 6-12. Markham: Pembroke/ Stenhouse.

"The only reason to teach kids how to be strategic readers is to help them become more thoughtful about their reading." - Cris Tovani (9)
This comment from Tovani really resonated with me; we spend much of our time "teaching" strategies, but do we really ensure that they are well integrated into students' reading habits? Ideally, they should internalize this process. I also really like Tovani's suggestion that we focus on a few really powerful strategies and teach them really well (5-6). I relate to this because, as a teacher of adolescents who struggle with literacy, I have spent a lot of my time trying to find the "magic bullet" solution (which, of course, doesn't exist). I have used many of the strategies in Tovani's book, but I am not sure that I have helped students learn them really well. I can think of a couple of strategies that we've used regularly, which is part of the key to making it a habit. More important though, is Tovani's final point in the introduction of this book:
"Meaning doesn't arrive because we have highlighted text or used sticky notes or written the right swords on a comprehension worksheet. Meaning arrives because we are purposefully engaged in thinking while we read." (9)

I love the text feature at the end of each of Tovani's chapters -- the "What works" questions for reflection and a "Teaching Point" to focus on. This book will provide very helpful for my work; points such as, "Good readers don't need end-of-the-chapter questions or isolated skill sheets. They ask their own questions, based upon their need for a deeper understanding of specific aspects of the text." These summaries at the end of each chapter are great as "take-aways" and are truly cross-curricular in nature. I love the focus on authenticity in reading; this is such an important part of helping students become better readers. If we continue to ask them to read materials that they neither care about nor like, then of course they won't read that fascinating article on the history of Canadian law (just because we find it fascinating doesn't mean they will too!)

That said, there is something about a teacher's enthusiasm and passion for a subject that, in turn, excites kids. They need to see reading strategies modelled and explained clearly. And nothing does that better than the Read-Aloud (especially when paired with explicit instruction of strategies, like the Think-Aloud).

Fisher, Douglas, James Flood, Diane Lapp, and Nancy Frey (2004). "Interactive read-alouds: Is there a common set of implementation practices?" International Reading Association (pp. 8-17).

Oster, Leslie (2001). Using the Think-Aloud for Reading Instruction. The Reading Teacher Vol. 55, No.1 September 2001 (pp. 64-69).

The Read-Aloud takes some work to do, but is not a difficult strategy to employ in any classroom. It's important to use more complex texts for read-alouds; if it's too easy, you may lose students. As Fisher et al argue, "Read-aloud texts, which are typically more difficult for children than their independent reading texts, are often followed by a brief discussion of the events and themes." I especially like this as a practice for guided reading; we should be challenging all levels of readers in our classrooms.

Also outlined as important is the need for reading fluency - something that not all of the teachers in the study were able to do (14). I found the Frey et al article really interesting as it suggests that there is a "right" and "wrong" way to do the read-aloud; yes, it's always a good idea to read-aloud, but what's more important are the strategies and supports that go with it.

"Because children move from hearing to reading to telling to writing original stories that include the literary patterns to which they are exposed (Peck, 1989), the read-aloud is paramount in a child's literacy development." (Fisher et al, p15)
Teachers need to be explicitly trained and need to practice this skill to ensure that it has a positive impact. I especially like that the article outlines a study of the skill; too often we (literacy leaders and teachers) jump from one strategy to the next big thing. It' s always good to have evidence to support the use of a strategy as best practice.

Another effective practice is that of the Think-Aloud, which pairs well with the Read-Aloud, as Fisher et al explained (13). The explicit use of discussion prompts or questions before, during, and after reading help students see and hear what good readers do (to borrow Tovani's phrase). Leslie Oster's article explains the use of the think-aloud as as assessment tool (especially assessment as learning or for metacognitive awareness) and an instructional tool, which demonstrates the power of this strategy. I find it fun to use this in class; students get a kick out of hearing a teacher explain his/her thinking and hearing the connections their teacher makes.  It can be challenging, as it's not always a linear process, but paired with a graphic organizer (and here's where Retell, Relate, Reflect would work well), it is powerful. I like that Oster talks about pushing students to go deeper, moving beyond the obvious (ideas explicitly stated in the text and even inferences) to critical analysis while still validating their obvious observations (66). Validating a student's idea is so important, especially for a reluctant reader. If a student is struggling with comprehension, then just identifying an obvious statement about the text is necessary, if only to build confidence in reading. Paired with this is the student's ability to ask a question; even reluctant readers should be able to articulate questions (they might need guidance to come up with higher level questions), as Tovani pointed out to the students in the demonstration class (3).

To sum up, I return to Tovani's central idea for literacy instruction:
"Instead of thinking of this work as teaching 'content-area reading' or 'reading at the secondary level', I think of it as teaching students how to remember and reuse the information we ask them to read." (7) 
I firmly believe that literacy underlies everything we do as educators. It does not matter what subject-specific curriculum is being taught if a student cannot access and comprehend the information. Secondary school teachers have a responsibility to continue direct instruction in literacy; I would argue that good teaching relies on being able to help students access text in responsible manner.  Students need to feel empowered to react to the information they are expected to read and comprehend; they need the skills to read, retell, relate, reflect, and react accordingly. 
"Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their imaginations so they can create the world of the future. In a complex and sometimes even dangerous world, their ability to read will be crucial. Continual instruction beyond the early grades is needed." (Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw, & Rycik, 1999, p.3 as quoted in Vacca)
Vacca, Richard T. (2002).  "From Efficient Decoders to Strategic Readers." Educational Ledership. ASCD. Vol. 60, No. 3. Reading and Writing in the Content Areas. Pages 6-11.

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