As teachers, we know that the ability to read is probably our students’ single most valuable tool in their quest for academic achievement. But here’s another way to look at it: students’ ability to read is our most valuable tool in our quest to introduce subject matter to students. We all have a stake in this. When students can’t read at grade level, no one wins.
Consider these facts about student literacy:
- The more students read, the more skilled they become at reading. That is why we can’t just support their developing skills in English language arts classes anymore. It has to be a school-wide effort. Realize that, from a literacy standpoint, learning to read the rules of field hockey in PE class, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in English class, and California Invasive Plant Council’s “Invasive Plant Inventory” in science class is equally valuable.
- Giving students a choice in their reading material increases their motivation. Remember, the textbook is not the curriculum! There’s a whole world of reading material out there—about every possible topic on your syllabus. It gives students a sense of ownership when they have a say in what they read. Think about it. We certainly have more incentive to read material that we ourselves choose, and our students are no different. Additionally, offering a choice of reading material makes it easier for you to differentiate and meet the needs of different-level readers in your classroom.
- Using strategies that promote active reading will help build students’ content knowledge and reading comprehension skills. Doing active reading activities in your classroom doesn’t require a mysterious skill set, magic wands, or even an advanced degree. In fact, there’s a very good chance you’re already doing some of it. And it won’t take time away from the content, because your students will be actually reading the content.
If you’ve never used an active reading strategy before—things like anticipation, read-alouds, and summarization—how do you begin? Here’s a simple step: Take a few moments to find out what active reading strategies are being used in your students’ ELA classes right now. (Ask the ELA teacher to explain them to you if necessary. You can return the favor when he or she asks you for recommendations for informational texts that might relate to ELA literature selections.) Then pick one strategy and adapt it for your subject matter in your classroom. I bet you’ll be delighted with the results.
Dr. Katie McKnight is an educator, author, and consultant. Her career in education began as a high school English teacher in the Chicago Public School system more than 20 years ago. She received her B.A. degree from George Washington University, her M.Ed. from Northeastern Illinois University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Today, she serves as a Distinguished Professor of Research at National Louis University.