Applying Literacy Strategies to All Content Areas
Even though we may closely
monitor the acquisition of basic skills in
reading, mathematics and writing, there may
still be a question of whether students are
really understanding what they are expected
to learn. Deficits of comprehension are very
subtle and have the potential to make school
uninteresting and intimidating for many students.
Different students reveal
different levels of comprehension. Children
who are deficient in their understanding may
be over reliant on memory and try to store
and regurgitate material they cannot analyze
or interpret. These problems are especially
common in students in the sixth through the
twelfth grades. Students have various weaknesses
in language processing. Some students have
difficulty following directions, interpreting
verbal explanations and understanding what
they read. Some may have difficulties because
of superficial understanding of word meanings
and some may have difficulty because they are
English Language Learners. Students may know
some words vaguely but may be unaware of the
connections with other words, their shades
of meaning, their applications and implications.
As the curriculum becomes more complex, students
are exposed to a wave of vocabulary that may
be removed from the experience of everyday
life. There may also be technical vocabulary
that is subject specific and rarely used in
the everyday context.
Understanding new information
depends on attaching it to what you already
know. Some students have limited access to
their own prior knowledge, so it is difficult
to make sense of new inputs. Other students
cannot hold onto new information in short-term
memory, especially if the teacher is going
at a fast pace or delivering information in
large chunks. These kids become disoriented
and frustrated by oral directions, copying
from the board, taking notes and comprehending
ideas all simultaneously.
Since all content areas
involve reading and understanding, it would
be helpful to employ strategies borrowed from
current trends in literacy.
Anticipation guides are
a prereading strategy. They provide teachers
and students the opportunity to discuss the
content of what they are about to read and
identify important information. Students
might answer a set of questions about the
text before reading, and then revisit their
statements to compare answers after the passage
Graphic organizers for
vocabulary development use a quadrant card.
One quadrant for the new word, one for the
student’s definition, one for associations
or examples of the word, one for antonyms
or illustrations. A binder ring can keep
the cards organized alphabetically.
Reciprocal teaching encourages
student-teacher dialog and engagement with
the text to increase reading comprehension.
Working in a group of four, each student
takes on a role related to summarizer, question
generator, predictor and clarifier. As students
read a passage, their roles help them focus
on pertinent information, clarify information
or words, and use prior knowledge to anticipate
where the text may lead. The goal is for
students to use these strategies when they
Scaffolded reading experience consists
of a prereading, during reading and postreading
activity that can be used in any genre. Students
are supported through each of the processes
until the scaffolds can be removed and there
is evidence of understanding. Activities
are designed to provide successful experiences
that are teacher-supported until the student
can manage independently.
A teacher who understands
that students learn in “different ways
on different days” and adjusts his or
her style accordingly controls the way students
approach learning tasks and the classroom experience.
By ensuring that there is support for understanding,
students have a better chance of becoming more
engaged in the learning process and less likely
to tune out on complex tasks.
Levine, Mel. “Getting
at Getting It: The Quest for Comprehension,” www.allkindsofminds.org,
“Spreading the Word – Literacy Coaches Share Comprehension Strategies,” ASCD
Education Update, Feb., 2005.
I hope you’ve found
these basics helpful. If you have a question
or suggestion, don’t hesitate to e-mail
Come across an outdated link?
Please visit The Wayback Machine to find what you are looking for.