|2nd grader independently reading with a flashlight. (Newark, NJ. 2014)|
Please note: This post is based on a chapter for three upcoming e-books that explicate how to increase learner knowledge and comprehension through read alouds and independent reading at grades 3, 4 and 5. I am in the process of writing these books and they will be available through iTunes.
Important Research on Independent Reading
In addition to developing children’s knowledge through reading aloud quality texts--ones that students would likely not be able to read on their own--independent reading is also essential. The volume of reading children do matters as volume helps to build stamina and content knowledge. When considering independent reading we will want to keep two things in mind:
- We will want to teach children how to name and explore topics of interest.
- We will want to ensure that children can find texts that reflect those interests.
We will also want to know explicitly which methods of independent reading work best at increasing students’ comprehension of text. What are the best uses of independent reading time? This was the question that researchers studied in order to determine which practices yielded the mist significant increases in comprehension. Cathy Collins Block, Sheri Parris, Kelly Reed, Cinnamon Whitely and Maggie Cleveland (2009) concluded:
The highest comprehension scores for all populations occurred through three approaches. When struggling readers received 20 min of instruction with 1 of these 3 approaches, their literacy growth was equal to or greater than that of their peers. Implications are that treatments using classroom books produced significantly higher comprehension scores than workbook practice or extending basal treatments.
The approaches they studied included:
- Workbook practice (meaning pages of practice containing short passages)
- Individualized schema-based learning (meaning that the teacher circulated in the room and had mini-conferences with students, providing one-on-one support with a three-step strategy of praising the student, doing a quick re-teach and/or think aloud, and then returning to check back in with the student later on)
- Situated practice (meaning that students were asked to use their independent reading to practice the skill that had been taught during the whole-class lesson)
- Conceptual learning (meaning that students choose two non-fiction books on the same topic and read them back-to-back, and use that to answer higher-order questions)
- Transactional learning (meaning students read a teacher-chosen book related to a thematic topic the class had been studying and then had a 5-minute class discussion)
- Traditional instruction (meaning the control condition where students simply read out of the basal reader for 20 minutes)
The three best practices that produced significantly higher comprehension scores were:
- individualized schema-based learning,
- conceptual learning,
- transactional learning.
The three shared these features:
- allowing student choice of books to be read for guided independent reading practice,
- the reading of more than seven pages of continuous text from fiction or nonfiction classroom books, and
- 15–20 min of silent reading that contained specific teacher actions.
Individualized Schema Based Instruction: Recalling Detail
One way you can maximize the reading aloud lessons is to scaffold students use of strategies they learned during the read aloud lesson with their independent reading in order for them to problem solve at points of difficulty and to delve deeply into the text. Fifth grade teacher Rich Kleine demonstrates this in the video in the next page. Watch as Rick circulates in the room and has mini-conferences with students, providing one-on-one support with a three-step strategy of praising the student, doing a quick re-teach and/or think aloud, and then returning to check back in with the student later on. In this portion of the film we watch Rick as he confers with a student about word knowledge and reinforces a reading goal he has established with the student. Individualized Schema Based instruction produced the greatest gains for recalling details.
Conceptual Learning: Main Idea
Conceptual learning is silent reading of two student-selected, same topic, nonfiction books that are read back to back. The researchers found that
when students read two nonfiction books on the same subject back to back, they become stronger at finding main ideas (p. 278).
Creating classroom libraries that contain multiple expository titles about the same topic is important so that students are able to read two texts about the same topic back to back and have choice while doing so. In the Year of Wonder project I am doing with Jazleen Othman, an elementary teacher at Park Elementary School in Newark, NJ--students have spent the last few weeks immersed in the study of Charles Darwin and adaptations. I began the project by reading aloud Jason Chin's Island: A Story of the Galápagos and the students, Jazleen and I worked hard to make sense of how some of the finches adapted and produced larger-billed finches. Through dramatic tableaux, students retold the story the next week and instead of continuing the read aloud, Jazleen and I provided students with a collection of books that they worked together in small groups and pairs to read.
The books included:
The books included:
- Campbell, Eileen & Judy Rand. (2011). Charlie and Kiwi: An Evolutionary Adventure. Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. New York: Atheneum. This is a link to the website, Charlie & Kiwi’s Evolutionary Adventure, that accompanies the book. (The students loved the website!)
- Gibbons, Alan. (2008). Lifeline: Charles Darwin. Illustrated by Leo Brown. New York: Henry Holt.
- Jenkins, Steve. (2002). Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution. New York: Houghton MIfflin.
- Lasky, Kathryn. (2009). One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin. Illustrated by Matthew Trueman. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
- Loxton, Daniel. (2010). Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.
- McGinty, Alice B. (2009). Darwin: With Glimpses into His Private Journal & Letters. Illustrated by Mary Azarian. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
- Pringle, Lawrence. (2011). Billions of Years Ago Amazing Changes: The Story of Evolution. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mill Press.
- Schanzer, Rosalyn. (2009). What Darwin Saw: The Journey that Changed the World. Washington D.C.: National Geographic.
- Weaver, Anne H. (2007). The Voyage of the Beetle. Illustrated by George Lawrence. University of New Mexico Press.
- Wood, A.J. and Clint Twist. (2009). Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure. Templar.
We scaffolded the reading as needed and students had been immersed in reading and writing nonfiction based on their interests for the prior month.
Transactional Learning: Summarizing
Transactional Learning is silent reading of a fictional text related to a thematic unit followed by a brief group discussion of the text. Transactional learning produced the greatest gains for summarizing. The researchers clarify how transactional learning occurred during the study:
In the current study, transactional learning occurred when students read teacher selected fiction classroom books related to a thematic unit under study. After reading, students conversed about how the information in each book tied to the theme and could be applied to their lives. This learning environment replicated thematic units that included independent silent reading of classroom books and a class discussion following the reading of these books (p. 264).
James Britton (1970) told us that “All learning floats on a sea of talk” (p. 164). Creating the conditions where students can engage in meaningful discussion is important. Teaching students specific discussion protocols and strategies can greatly help them to build ideas with each other. Above is a slideshare containing information about ten different discussion protocols that is based on this work of Stephen Brookfield and Stephen Preskill.
Block, Parris, Reed, Whiteley and Cleveland (2009) concluded that:
silent reading periods appear to need teacher monitoring so that students’ questions can be answered as soon as they arise and students can be held accountable for what they read through teacher-led discussions relative to a general theme (p. 279).
Block, C.C., Parris, S.R., Reed, K.L., Whiteley,C.S. and M.D. Cleveland. (2009). Instructional approaches that significantly increase reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Society, 101 (2), 262-281.
Britton, J. (1970). Language and learning. Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press.
Brookfield, Stephen D. and Preskill, Stephen (2009-05-18). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms (Jossey Bass Higher and Adult Education). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.