At my school, we’re trying to narrow the achievement gap and we’ve been talking about the benefits of adding just 10 minutes of independent reading to all classes.  If each teacher finds a way to incorporate 10 minutes of silent, independent reading once a week, all of our students should get 50 – 70 extra minutes of reading each week, some will get considerably more.   In addition to improving reading skill and stamina, we’re exposing students to new ideas and new vocabulary, all of which should help us help our underperforming students.

We’re a few weeks in, and more and more teachers are stopping to talk to me about the reading going on in their classrooms.  We’ve discussed why silent reading is the best reading (it allows students to think about what they’re reading) and what kinds of texts to read (almost anything!).  One shared concern continues to be how to hold the students accountable for the reading.

Many of us fall back on what our teachers made us do–answer questions.  This works, sort of.  It also creates more work for us (writing questions, grading) and only demonstrates that our students have a superficial understanding of what they’ve read–we know they can skim text to find answers.  We need to help our students dig deeper into the text.  We want them to understand–to make connections, to be able to explain what they’ve read, to use this knowledge after they’ve left our classrooms.

To help our students become more proficient readers–readers who can truly gain understanding from the texts they read–we must provide them with opportunities to practice the strategies used by active, thoughtful readers:

  • connecting prior knowledge to new learning
  • identifying central ideas
  • asking questions about the content
  • clarifying misunderstandings
  • visualizing what they’re reading
  • making predictions and inferences
  • synthesizing information

One of the best ways I’ve found to get kids to think about any text they are reading is also one of the simplest strategies we can employ–two-column notes.  (Often, you’ll see Cornell Notes referred to as two-column notes, and they are, but my definition of two-column notes is a lot more flexible than Cornell.  Read on!)

By simply drawing a T on their paper, students can get to work, practice good reading strategies, and demonstrate their understanding of the content.  You’ll be amazed at the insight you’ll gather about their learning by quickly scanning their bullet-point responses.  Want more?  Extend their thinking by having them write a quick summary underneath their T-chart.

What do they write in the two columns?  That depends on your purpose:

My favorite, for any reading assignment is500x250 imp int

Another multi-purpose format is500x250 learned wonder

Helping students connect to prior knowledge is always essential to improving comprehension, so try500x250 connection

To encourage questioning and inferencing when introducing a new topic500x250 wonder think

And, depending on your content area, you may find these headings work well in your classes:collage

The possibilities are nearly endless and the quick-and-easy format of these notes means that you can add them into any class period with very little preparation.   Give it a try! If you come up with headings you’d like to share, please post them in the comments!


As with many of my best ideas, this one originated from Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis’s Strategies that Work–the book that helped me make the move from English teacher to reading teacher.  I’ve found ways to work their ideas into almost every lesson I’ve ever taught since reading this first edition almost 20 years ago.  It’s that good.   

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