Part 1: More with Purpose: Intentional Reading with Older Readers
The clock is ticking, the days on the calendar are drawing short, and every teacher knows time is limited. For all readers, every moment in the classroom is critical; this imperative is certainly true for the older reader.
With careful planning and clear attention, including a focus on meaningful assessments and relevant materials, teachers can help students grow in their literacy development—even in middle school and beyond. While one approach to reading development is a focus on volume—reading more and more—this blog post makes the case that reading more is made even more helpful with intentional focus.
Put simply, providing book after book, choice after choice, and text after text for readers who are striving can build practice. However, an awareness of the particular needs of readers, including comprehension, vocabulary development, fluency, decoding needs, and specific characteristics of individual students should be part of this educational process. Teachers are experts, and their work takes place within the context of a classroom where both active and purposeful reading is occurring.
What do teachers need to build these critical steps?
The first step is to engage in meaningful assessment. This can be tricky when working with older readers, because not all students will self-identify or readily engage with reading assessments for fear of embarrassment. Considering audience is key, and this might mean working with students one on one or during a more individual instruction time. This means teachers can tailor instruction based on reading profiles and the steps we know, based on decades of research, that work with readers across grade levels.
From assessment, teachers need a strong knowledge of reading development, including the initial steps in phonological awareness and word patterns. If students are demonstrating repeated problems with particular sounds and word families, even in later years of education, they still need support in these areas. We cannot assume readers have mastered early steps just because of their age or grade level. For the older reader, the work of literacy is not all about decoding, but the act of reading itself as a process of breaking down words and sounds cannot be ignored in favor of guessing and engaging in activities that do not have anything to do with reading.
Yes, students will also need attention to vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. This means reading aloud for the sound of words, pausing to consider questions, engaging in retelling, and maintaining an understanding of elements of literature and informational texts is all key in reading. That seems like a lot because it is.
Teachers need not be overwhelmed, nor should the rush to reading be overwhelming for students, either. Instead, beginning with next steps forward based on assessment and then finding appropriate texts for instruction is a beginning marker. From there, teachers can truly work more to build positive reading experiences with students. This work is not done in the absence of meaningful instruction, and this process is not simply about having lots of books on hand—although access to materials is certainly helpful for teachers.
Students can benefit from approaches that allow teachers the space to gain and apply expert knowledge of literacy instruction. For instance, asking older readers to engage with text in manageable pieces, including close attention to potentially problematic and abstract sections, can be a helpful scaffold. Varying the ways reading occurs in class, including paired and small-group readings, can give students opportunities to hear their peers’ thinking about what they are reading. Or, engaging with text as a teacher reads aloud to model navigating a difficult text, can provide strong examples for fluency and comprehension building. Not all reading work needs to be done silently because teachers also need a tuned-in listening for student responses and growth in literacy.
Working with older readers can present challenges, but literacy growth is still possible, doable, and essential.