Are you teaching struggling readers at the high school level and looking for ways to scaffold comprehension of complex texts? In this post, read about four reading strategies that are imperative to support students’ metacognitive processes.
As I’ve spent time working with various levels of high school learners, I’ve experimented with direct instruction of reading strategies. While there is a movement for schools to focus less on teaching reading skills and more on fostering a love for reading, I see the necessity for both.
In order for students to love reading, they need to be good at it. Even as I earned my master’s degree in reading as an adult, I learned more about what good readers do. When I am cognizant of the strategies I’m using to make meaning from the text, I feel empowered. We should want our students to feel that same sense of control, purpose, and accomplishment as they approach the reading process.
Do professional athletes achieve their skill level without practice? Do famous chefs become successful without honing their culinary skills for years? Of course not. In that same way, readers (especially struggling readers) need to be taught how to tackle difficult texts. Students’ love for reading often emerges after they connect with a text that is relevant to their lives and that they can read independently and confidently.
What then, should teachers focus on when it comes to teaching students to master and monitor their own comprehension? All reading strategies are equal, but some reading strategies are more equal than others. When working with struggling readers, it’s important not to overwhelm them. Giving them too many strategies can cause confusion and even resistance. The four strategies that follow are the ones I have found to directly impact basic comprehension of a text.
Help struggling readers prepare to approach the text by teaching them how to preview. Tell students about text features, show them examples, explain their purposes, and talk about how readers should use text features to better navigate a the piece purposefully. In my classroom, we practice identifying text features in fiction and nonfiction texts, in visual texts, and on the web. This process – previewing the text features to gather information – is a critical first step in predicting.
Once you have previewed the text with students, guide them through the initial prediction process. I provide my struggling readers with a couple templates to fill in.
- Based upon ______________ (specific information gathered from text features), I predict ___________ (students’ specific prediction about what they will read).
- I predict ___________ because __________.
I teach my students that fictional text predictions should focus on plot, setting, characters, and theme; nonfiction predictions should be centered around the main points and author’s purpose. When making predictions, identifying an author’s purpose for writing (to inform, persuade, argue, compare, entertain, etc.) helps students to make more educated guesses about the content.
The real benefit with predicting, however, is the part that often is forgotten. As students read, have them actively monitor their predictions. Pause to allow them to add to or alter their predictions as they reflect on new textual evidence.
Teachers need to anticipate places in complex texts where students will be confused if they don’t make inferences about the author’s intended meaning. During my reading strategies unit, I cover different types of inferences students can make. We study examples, and we practice inferring together.
Because struggling readers can become extremely confused if they don’t make required inferences with complex texts, I don’t ask them to read inference-heavy texts on their own (Think: “Masque of the Red Death,” “The Scarlet Ibis,” To Kill a Mockingbird).
On reading guides, include inference questions, and use the word “infer” or “inference” in the question so that students begin to understand that’s what they are doing as they read between the lines. For instance, What can we infer about Doodle after reading that he cried at the beauty of Old Woman Swamp?
Train struggling students to ask themselves whether they might be missing an inference when comprehension begins to falter and confusion settles in its place.
Summarizing is my go-to reading strategy. When working with my enriched students who are reading a difficult text, it’s imperative. Using summarizing with struggling readers is even more important – if that’s possible. When reading a text with your class, pause frequently to check for understanding. I rarely ask struggling readers to read anything in their zone of frustration independently. As you read together, teach them to reflect on short segments of the text. Pose questions to get them thinking.
- Why did everyone think that Doodle was going to die?
- Tell me the three most important things that have happened so far in chronological order.
- Why did Doodle cry when trying to train with Brother?
After reading a fictional text, we reflect on the whole piece and write a five-sentence summary – one sentence for each part of the plot. When summarizing nonfiction texts, I ask students to pretend like they are reporters. It gives them a specific process to follow, which reduces the guesswork and uncertainty.
Questioning is a strategy that struggling readers don’t always understand. When teachers pose questions, they can respond, but asking students to pose their own? That’s difficult. Still, it’s valuable to teach students how to ask questions about what they are reading.
I tell my students:
- When you feel your mind beginning to wander from the text, draw yourself back in by pausing and asking clarification questions about what you just read.
- When you feel confused about what you are reading, ask questions out loud. Talk to a friend or to the teacher. If you are at home, write your questions down so that we can discuss them during class.
- When you think you understand the text, look for deeper layers of meaning. Ask yourself, What might the author be saying about theme, life, conflict, people, stereotypes, or culture?
Introduce your struggling readers to thick and thin questions, to “right-there” and “think and search” questions. Teach them the difference between a basic comprehension question and a discussion question. Also, make sure students understand when and why to use each type.
Teaching reading in high school is a process of trial and error. Teachers have to find what works best for their own students’ needs. In my experience, these four reading comprehension strategies are critical to scaffolding struggling readers’ comprehension. Teaching students to be engaged, active readers is one of the keys to successful reading instruction. We can do that by explicitly teaching reading strategies they can add to their reading tool belts. If you have related ideas to share, please drop them in the comments.
WHAT TO READ NEXT:
- How to Teach Students to Summarize Nonfiction
- How to Motivate Struggling Readers
- How to Address Reading Comprehension Gaps in High School
I like to use a variety of scaffolding materials when working with reading comprehension. The tools use similar wording and prompts, but the change in format keeps students from getting bored. These are two simple tools to use to encourage older students to read actively. They are great as formative assessments and can be graded quickly or simply used as discussion pieces.