Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts (#2)

“Key Point 1: If we expect students to find meaning, ‘we need to be certain that today’s curriculum contains connections to their past experiences, not just ours’ (Sousa 2001, p. 49).... This teacher should have done a lot more frontloading of the text so that students could get past the unfamiliarity of the story and begin seeing the beauty and the universal truths inherent in the novel…. But if students can’t get past the unfamiliarity of the setting, if they can’t identify with the time period, if the novel does not connect to their world and what they bring to the printed page, they may not take the leap necessary to get to these universal issues…. The potential for failure is present any time we ask students to read a text that is far removed from their world….
Key Point 2: ‘How a person feels about a learning situation determines the amount of attention devoted to it’ (Sousa 2001, p. 43).
Having background knowledge before reading may not be enough. Students need to care about what they are reading. They must see the relevance of the assignment. They must have an answer when they ask themselves the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ As a teacher, I should be prepared for this question”
— Gallagher, 2004, pp. 28-29

In a meeting last week, I had the opportunity of sharing this quote when talking about our culture and curricula in my school. Both of these sentiments given by Gallagher (2004) were given nods.

This past summer the Language Arts teachers in my district came together to align our standards and focus on a standard-driven curriculum. One thing I suggested to our department was to utilize the backwards design method, so teachers can give authenticity, relevance, and meaning to their units and assessments. I am hoping that in the next few years, I can teach to Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) and coax colleagues to begin constructing their curricula accordingly. It would apply these two sentiments given by Gallagher (2004) most definitely.

“As my students embark on any new literary work, I consider four key questions:
1. Have I provided my students with a reading focus?
2. Are my students willing and able to embrace confusion?
3. Can my students monitor their own comprehension?
4. Do my students know any fix-it strategies to assist them when their comprehension begins to falter?”
— Gallagher, 2004, pp. 53-54

I am going to be applying these questions to reflect on from now on. I do believe that in order for you to know whether your learners can embrace confusion, you have to implement a culture that makes it so. It is the antecedent to any solution a predicament needs.

Essentially, there are many things an educator must equip their learners with before going out into the wilderness alone. I often think back to my Outdoor Adventures course during my senior year in high school to demonstrate how teachers should prepare their learners. The big winter camping trip would take place in the Boundary Waters, where a small group of us kids would set out on our own to survive for a week. With no adult or teacher there, we would have to be well-equipped and trained for this endeavor. Many things could go wrong, so we had a radio just in case. But food, water, and shelter were our responsibilities out in the snowy wilderness. Of course, our teacher would need to provide this support of understandings and proper training for us prior to this trip. Needless to say, my crew and I survived because of how well prepared we were thanks to our teacher. In this way, we must be diligent in making sure our learners are ready to get to that independent level in their skills. If some are not there yet, we concede to the Gradual Release Model and allow for reteaching opportunities, explicit modeling, collaboration, and known expectations to help our learners get there in ways they are capable of.

Gallagher, K. (2004).  Deeper reading: Comprehending challenging texts, 4-12. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.