By high school, most teachers don’t help their students read better.
Instead, this is what typically happens: The teacher assigns a reading for homework, gives questions to answer, and then gets frustrated when students don’t complete the assignment. In exasperation: “Why don’t they read?”
The truth is, Students gave up reading a long time ago — for most of them, around the sixth or seventh grade.
The only way to bring reading back is to emphasize it, stay committed to it, make it public in the classroom, and teach students how to do it.
Think-alouds are my favorite way to inject real reading into the classroom. In a think-aloud, the reader shares her thinking while reading a text out loud. Instead of just reading the words, the reader stops to engage with the text and to monitor comprehension.
There are several types of think-alouds. Here are four:
1. Activating the reader’s voice. There are no “rules” to this one. The point is just to notice what you’re thinking while you read and to make those thoughts known.
2. Making meaning of a text. The emphasis here is to monitor your understanding, see what you understand vs. what you don’t, and to surface fix-it strategies that help you comprehend a text.
3. Emphasizing reading strategies. What do good readers do in addition to monitoring their understanding? In this think aloud, you focus on predicting, summarizing, connecting, questioning, and other strategies that skilled readers employ to get a deeper understanding of a text.
4. Focusing on content or research. Here you go into the reading with one question in mind to answer. You don’t comment on anything besides this central question. (This one is great for History and Science classes.)
At first, the think-aloud process is awkward for students. Some students may not yet recognize their “reader’s voice,” while others may spend most of their effort decoding rather than making meaning. Other students may feel vulnerable reading in front of others. (Creating safety is important.)
Even though they might be weird, think-alouds make reading public and right there in front of the classroom. We can no longer keep reading hidden. Our students’ struggle with reading will not go away if we don’t deal with it directly.
In the next weeks, my colleagues and I are going to be recording student examples of think-alouds. I’m excited to begin this process of making reading public. More to come!