California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Reading across the curriculum

Researcher Michael Schmoker talks about the importance of deep reading and re-reading as cornerstones for authentic literacy that goes beyond teaching students to decode and recognize words.1 Schmoker advocates, on the basis of research, devoting time for reading and meaningful discussion about the passages throughout the day. In fact, he states that an additional 15 minutes of reading each day will increase academic growth by three months.2

In her book Deeper Reading, Kelly Gallagher states that too often students are taught to answer surface questions about passages before they develop a real connection to or understanding of the deeper meaning. She argues that students cannot become successful until teachers help them develop the interest, skills, and confidence to dig deep and uncover important ideas about life.3 The State Board of Education has adopted instructional materials for reading.

Time to Act: An Agenda for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for College and Career Success (PDF; Outside Source) is a 2009 report released by the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy. The report calls on education leaders to restructure schools around literacy, particularly in grades four through twelve.

The report advocates:

  • Hiring teachers skilled in developing literacy instruction in content areas.
  • Building adolescent literacy training into preservice and ongoing professional development for teachers and principals.
  • Using and maintaining statewide data systems that inform all literacy instruction.

The report engages readers using middle and high school case studies that illustrate the main components of a literacy agenda. It provides details for district and school actions that will promote literacy based on the following components demonstrated by “beat-the-odds” schools:

  • The school culture is organized for learning.
  • Information drives decisions.
  • Resources are allocated wisely.
  • Instructional leadership is strong.
  • Professional faculty is committed to student success.
  • Targeted interventions are provided for struggling readers and writers.
  • All content area classes are permeated by a strong literacy focus.

The focus on developing academic literacy across the curriculum is one of the hallmarks of middle grades education.

Reciprocal teaching

In studies of reciprocal teaching as a strategy for helping struggling students, researchers found that reciprocal teaching resulted in greater gains and maintenance over time.4 Reciprocal teaching helps students understand expository texts by calling on the teacher and the students to take turns leading a dialogue about sections of a text by using four main strategies: prediction, questioning, summarizing, and clarifying misleading or complex sections of the text.5 Teachers often assign roles during a reciprocal teaching exercise. Students act as presenter, reader, or note-taker so that they learn a collaborative strategy for understanding material.

According to A. S. Palincsar, reciprocal teaching (Outside Source) strategies serve the following purposes:

  • Summarizing provides students with the opportunity to identify and apply the most important information in the text (either by writing sentences or across paragraphs and across the passage as a whole.)
  • Asking questions reinforces the summarizing strategy. When students generate questions, they first identify the kind of information that is significant enough to provide the substance for a question. They then pose this information in question form and self-test to determine if they can answer their own question. In some cases, the questions focus on the ability to master supporting detail information; others require that the students be able to infer or apply new information from text.
  • Clarifying takes students beyond merely saying the words to understanding the meaning. When the students clarify, they uncover many reasons why text is difficult to understand (e.g., new vocabulary, unclear reference words, and unfamiliar and perhaps difficult concepts).
  • Predicting challenges students to hypothesize what the author will discuss next. This activity builds a purpose for reading: to confirm or disprove their hypotheses. The predicting strategy also facilitates use of text structure as students learn that headings, subheadings, and questions embedded in the text are useful means of anticipating what might occur next.6

Oral reading strategies

In spite of a common perception that oral reading is an elementary school strategy, it has many benefits for middle grades students—especially those who have not developed strong academic literacy. However, oral reading may be daunting to many young adolescents who are going through an awkward phase in their physical development. They shy away from anything that draws attention to them. As a result, oral reading strategies must be fun, and teachers must ensure that students are safe from taunting or heckling if they do not pronounce words correctly.

The following oral reading strategies capitalize on adolescent needs for relationship building and fun. These strategies also increase oral speaking skills, which are a part of academic literacy.

  • Readers' theater encourages students to create plays about material they are learning and to present the play in class. Students get to hear how others use inflection and pacing to convey emotion. The teacher uses the presentation to clarify misconceptions and to make connections between the play and the standards-based lesson.
  • Think-pair-share usually pairs a fluent reader with one who needs help. Students take turns reading to each other and share what they have read so they reinforce comprehension.
  • Popcorn reading keeps students focused since they do not know when their turn will pop. In this strategy, one student reads part of a selection. Another pops in to continue until the next name is called. This strategy helps content area teachers cover text material in class but does not ensure that the student comprehends the material. It is still the teacher’s responsibility to develop metacognitive thinking and comprehension. Through pondering, discussion, and re-reading, students develop comprehension.
  • Literature circles are groups of four to six students who read and discuss a novel or article. Each member of a circle takes a turn guiding the group discussion and receiving practice in leadership, group interaction, "argumentative literacy," and responsibility. The circles also allow students to control their own learning and to discuss ideas and concerns about issues raised by the passage. The Literature Circles Resource Center (Outside Source) provides many resources to help teachers and includes a link to specific strategies for middle schools.
  • Guided reading typically involves the whole class in reading a passage together. It allows the teacher to expose children to a wide range of literature while teaching vocabulary and comprehension strategies.

Researchers suggest that cross-curricular connections help to give students the background knowledge they need to make reading meaningful. Researchers caution against narrowing the curriculum when teachers try to help students improve their reading skills.

Although necessary, being able to read all of the words may not be sufficient because comprehending a text requires other abilities such as knowing the meanings of words, possessing relevant world knowledge, and being able to remember the text already read. Thus, word-reading skill is one of several factors influencing comprehension.7

Related Links

Critical thinking

Writing across the curriculum

1Mike Schmoker, Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning, Alexandria, Va.: Association for Curriculum Development, 2006, 58–60.
2Ibid., 97.
3Kelly Gallagher, Deeper Reading, Portland Maine: Stenhouse, 2004.
4A.S. Palincsar, and A. Brown, "Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-Fostering and Comprehension Monitoring Activities." Cognition and Instruction, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1984) 117–175.
5Reciprocal Teaching: A Reading Strategy (Outside Source), San Diego: Language Arts Cadre 95, San Diego County Office of Education, 1995.
6Reciprocal Teaching (Outside Source), Learning Point Associates.
7L. C. Ehri, "Teaching Phonemic Awareness and Phonics: An Explanation of the National Reading Panel Meta-Analysis," in The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research. Edited by P. McCardle and V. Chhabra. Baltimore: Brooks Publishing, 155.

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