Text Types, Strategies, and Disciplinary Tasks: Fundamentals of Teaching Reading Comprehension in the Content Areas

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Dr. Lee discusses powerful predictors of reading achievement and the factors that influence comprehension. She addresses the need to teach not only generic reading strategies, but also discipline-specific strategies to develop comprehension across the content areas of science, mathematics, history and literature. She presents typical sources of difficulty for adolescents in understanding content area texts and recommends strategies to address these skill deficits.

Session Recordings

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Key Concepts

  1. <p>The most powerful predictors of reading achievement are fluency, prior knowledge, vocabulary, amount of reading, ability to monitor comprehension, and the effort made to make sense of what is being read.</p>
  2. <p>Many factors influence comprehension – prior knowledge of the topic, vocabulary, sentence structure and complexity of text structure.&nbsp; Knowledge in one area can compensate for less knowledge in other areas.</p>
  3. <p>Students need to be taught generic comprehension strategies to learn to monitor their comprehension, to pose questions, draw on what they know, make and test predictions, and to summarize and make connections while reading.</p>
  4. <p>Discipline-specific comprehension strategies also need to be explicitly taught by content area teachers. The sources of difficulty vary by the type of text and content-specific vocabulary must be taught.</p>
  5. <p>Teachers need to collaborate and organize instruction in reading comprehension in all subject areas. The school must create opportunities for sustained study among teachers so they may work together to improve reading comprehension for adolescent learners.</p>

Implications For Teachers

  1. Work with other content area teachers to select texts that are appropriate for your students. Lexile scores alone, which show the level of decoding required, but not the level of comprehension demanded to understand the text, cannot do this. Examine the sentence structure and complexity of the text when selecting reading material.
  2. Use materials beyond the textbooks to help students become proficient readers in various forms of text. Teach routines that structure students’ reading and engage them in the content. Provide reading practices that “force” students to read a lot and think with purpose.
  3. Pre-teach critical content vocabulary. Build prior knowledge of topics without texts, and then expand knowledge with reading, as opposed to assigning a reading followed by questions to answer independently.
  4. Teach students how to examine the text for signals of meaning – headings, subtopics, visuals, diagrams, etc. – and how they relate to the text. Teach students to deconstruct complex sentences to better understand the text.
  5. Devise a core set of questions that students can ask as they read assigned materials, to guide their thinking and help make sense of what they are reading. Assess comprehension as both a process and an outcome in all content areas by testing knowledge with readings that have not been assigned in class.

Other Information of Note

Dr. Lee’s Recommended Readings:

Strategies for History teachers: Sam Wineburg, Stanford http://historicalthinkingmatters.org

When the Mathematicians Read the Newspaper by John Paulos