Teacherscribe’s Teaching Thoughts #41
Reading is more than “decoding.”
You decoded the passage on cricket yesterday, but did it make sense? You decoded the word, but you lacked prior knowledge and context.
Just like many of our students.
In that passage there were no words that you need to sound out or re-read. So it’s a greater issue than just phonics. A fraction of our students struggle with phonics or sounding out words.
So the problem isn’t just not being able to ‘decode’ what is read.
One way to try and help our struggling reads is to remember that reading is an active, constructive process.
What the authors of the book, Subjects Matter: Exceeding Standards Through Powerful Content-Area Reading not about the reason they chose their passage on cricket, is because if they chose a passage on teaching, teachers would have breezed through it without much thinking. Instead they wanted to give us a piece that slowed us down to mimic the process many of our students have to struggle through when reading our textbooks.
In fact, if you were like me at all, when you were reading the cricket piece, you could feel yourself thinking. I was trying to guess what the passage was really about as I read. In other words, I was interacting with the text.
At first, I thought maybe the authors were testing me by switching around the subjects (flip flopping Bowlers for Batsmen). But that didn’t make sense.
Then I thought maybe the authors were substituting jibberish nouns for others that would make the piece make more sense to me. But I didn’t think that was legit either.
Finally, I gave up that line of thinking and just read my way through thinking it must be about some type of game or sport that I am totally unfamiliar with.
And that was true.
The point is that the meaning of a piece isn’t just there on the page. It occurs when the reader brings background knowledge (sufficient or appropriate background knowledge) to a text.
For example, I’ve read more words than a lot of people in the school. But if you give me a piece on hunting, clay target shooting, or construction management, I’m going to struggle. I lack the adequate background knowledge – or schema – to make it click for me. I’d need to do a lot of front loading to gain that background knowledge first before I could even make true sense of the piece.
So be sure before you assign readings, make sure your students have the proper background knowledge or schema to make it work.
That’s why I spend a whole day trying to clue kids in on what the Puritans were like and what their religious beliefs were and how Hawthorne tends to write before I assign “Young Goodman Brown.” If I didn’t do that, they’d read it and hate it because they wouldn’t know what the hell was going on.
Don’t get me wrong, that still happens to a lot of students, which is why I have them read it on their own, and then we listen to it aloud as a class on a second reading. I do a lot of connecting the dots for them there. Then the piece starts to show itself and become easier for them to comprehend.