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Activate Students’ Minds with Active Reading

By Phil Kitchel posted 03-28-2023 06:00 AM

  

By Brian Williams, Rebecca Kavel, and Kyle Graham

“I don’t understand! My students can read well, but they struggle to make sense of the text. As a result, student engagement dwindles, text discussions are like pulling teeth, and assessment scores are horrific. Help!”

Do you find yourself saying the same thing? If so, you are not alone. Many beginning teachers struggle to understand that reading well is more than just being able to demonstrate fluency. In fact, being able to read a text accurately, quickly, and with expression is just a step in the meaning-making process. Unfortunately, your students were taught how to read and not how to read to learn. Because of this, they didn’t develop the characteristics of an active reader.

Active reading is the process of actively engaging with a text to develop meaning. Specifically, your students need assistance to bridge gaps in understanding. They need to be able to make the text personal and see how it connects to their backgrounds and activates their prior knowledge. This is where you come in!

Active Reading Graphic Organizer

In response to the challenge many beginning teachers like you face in their classrooms, we propose an active reading graphic organizer to support your students while they read independently. This graphic organizer will prompt your students to answer a series of questions while they read. Specifically, your students will be prompted to

  1. Visualize,

  2. Predict,

  3. Question,

  4. Connect,

  5. Clarify, and

  6. Evaluate.

This active approach to reading is more than your students just answering a series of questions; it gives them multiple opportunities to tap into their prior knowledge. Each component of the graphic organizer requires your students to think about their background and experiences, and filter through their knowledge bank to understand what they’re reading. Ultimately, your students will be able to build on their prior knowledge to create new knowledge, extending their understanding of concepts and ideas in the context of the texts they read. Here is the proposed active reading graphic organizer:

This active approach to reading is more than your students just answering a series of questions; it gives them multiple opportunities to tap into their prior knowledge. Each component of the graphic organizer requires your students to think about their background and experiences, and filter through their knowledge bank to understand what they’re reading. Ultimately, your students will be able to build on their prior knowledge to create new knowledge, extending their understanding of concepts and ideas in the context of the texts they read. Here is the proposed active reading graphic organizer:

Putting the Strategy to Work

Listed below are eight actionable steps for you to successfully implement the active reading graphic organizer in your classroom. After familiarizing students with the key words of the reading tool, the steps prompt you to follow the gradual release model. Ultimately, you are transferring responsibility for the learning process from you to your independent students. This way, you can build student confidence and clear up any misunderstandings along the way.

  1. Define academic vocabulary (visualize, predict, question, connect, clarify, and evaluate).

  2. Read a short passage aloud to students. 

  3. Stop frequently while reading to discuss how you are analyzing the text.

  4. As you share your thoughts, demonstrate to students how you would fill in the active reading graphic organizer.

  5. Have students practice the strategy on a portion of the text with a partner. 

  6. Have students practice the strategy on a portion of the text independently.

  7. Discuss the text with the whole class.

  8. Have students reflect on how the process deepened their understanding of the text.

Concluding Thoughts

Using the active reading graphic organizer will shift how your students think about reading. Your students will now view each text as a document to interact with, finding ways to make connections and build meaning through the activation of prior knowledge. As a result of this mindset shift, your classroom will thrive with respect to participation and achievement data. More importantly, you will be able to successfully complete, and at times extend, lessons because of the knowledge and perspectives your students will gain from what they read. This graphic organizer is a tool that will ultimately activate your students’ minds, allowing them to better comprehend texts and engage deeper with course content and classroom activities.

Dr. Williams is an Associate Professor at North Carolina A&T State University in the Department of Educator Preparation. His research focuses on content area literacy, culturally sustaining pedagogy, and teacher preparation.

Dr. Kavel is a middle school Instructional Coach in the Rowan-Salisbury School System and Adjunct Professor at Louisiana State University Shreveport. Her work focuses on literacy, culturally responsive teaching, and teacher preparation.

Dr. Graham is an EC Instructional Program Specialist in the Davidson County Schools District. Her work focuses on literacy curriculum, teacher preparation, and at-risk and exceptional children.

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