This book was classroom-changing for me when I first read it. The timing could not have been better. The book was brand new and I was in my first year of teaching. My master teacher told me that I should read the book I Don’t Get it: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers.
Right away I was drawn to the practical nature of this book. With classroom snippets and student dialogue, Cris Tovani illustrates her points about reading comprehension issues in the classroom – not at the elementary level but at the junior-high and high school level. This resonated with me as I was teaching four sections of 11th grade students, and most of the them had an independent reading level of 8th or 9th grade. They struggled with our American Literature McDougal Littell textbook. When I foolishly assigned “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as a homework reading assignment, not one of my students was able to write a coherent summary of the reading. I looked at their homework – and they did try – and I was crushed. I knew they were struggling but I was at a loss for how to help them. I knew how to create lessons plans and address the standards. I could write summaries and read to the class but I knew there was more I should be able to do for my students. Cris Tovani showed me exactly what I needed to do to help my students.
So what will you find in this book?
Fake reading. Yep, Cris Tovani discusses what so many teachers see in their classrooms every day. Students “fake” read and make it through the assignments and discussions without actually reading – or comprehending. So what is there to do? First of all, we need to understand the realities of what reading really is and “redefine” our perception of reading. Reading is not just about decoding words. Reading is about constructing meaning and using cueing systems in our to comprehend challenging texts.
Right away, Cris doesn’t want teachers to feel overwhelmed by this information and the thought of teaching cueing systems. She quickly points out two absolutely fundamental ideas that all teachers can do to help their students improve their reading comprehension: 1. Become a passionate reader of what you teach. 2. Model how good readers read. Both of these ideas permeate her book as she discusses specific strategies that will help teachers improve reading comprehension in their classroom.
This leads us to strategic reading. Good readers have a purpose when they read. Having a clear focus on a reading assignment will help students stay focused and cue in to the important information. With a vague purpose (“You will have a test on this chapter tomorrow.”) students have difficulty zeroing in on what the important information and making sense of the concepts in their reading assignment. Thinking aloud and modeling the reading process will help your students see how a good reader makes sense of text, makes connections, and determines important ideas and questions. Marking the text also helps students connect, engage and interact with the text. Following up on marking text, double-entry diaries (as well as other interactive, dialectical journaling) can help students make sense of challenging texts.
What happens when a reader gets confused? First off, we need to teach students how to recognize when they are stuck and confused. Students who struggle with reading don’t always realize the point where they lose track in the reading process. Before they realize it, they finish the entire chapter even though they stopped interacting with the text pages earlier. Helping them identify the point where they first encountered confusion is the first step. Now what? Here is where we encounter fix-up strategies. Rereading is something students are often told, but there are many other fix-up strategies beyond rereading. Cris Tovani will walk you through a multitude of strategies, such as making text connections, making predictions, stopping to think about what you already know and read, asking questions, writing, visualizing, retelling, recognizing patterns in text structure, reading rates, and other ideas that will help your students repair the confusion.
Perhaps most important is Tovani’s discussion of how to teach reading strategies to your students. Not just creating lesson plans that utilize modeling, double-entry diaries, or comprehension constructors. Teaching students how to use these important strategies will help them beyond that particular lesson where you ask your students to make text-to-self and text-to-text connections in a double-entry diary. The strategies will help them become better readers in all of their classes and beyond.
Most of all, Tovani’s book resonates with optimism, energy and enthusiasm for her students and her teaching. When I finished the book, I was energized and excited. I was no longer in despair about my students reading abilities; I had a text in hand (and highlighters – I bought about 100 highlighters in 3 different colors after I read this book – I was so excited to teach my students how to mark and annotate a text!). I had multiple fix-up strategies to add to my reading toolbox. I set off with my highlighters, started posters with reading fix-up strategies and my students and I continued to make amazing improvement over the course of the year. And years later, I still find myself referring back to this book, rereading paragraphs and sections. It is an excellent reminder of the reasons we teach and the possibilities in the classroom, each and every day.
Have you read Cris Tovani’s book? What are your favorite reading comprehension textbooks for the classroom?