At the middle and secondary levels, teachers are traditionally isolated by content area and grade. And although, we, as professionals, understand the hypocrisy in a traditional educational environment (life is not so neatly departmentalized, the blurring of concepts, skills, and content exists); it is difficult for some educators to see the relationship between what is being taught in their classroom and what is being taught down the hall. Calling upon our elementary educator friends, we are reminded that literacy is the thread that ties all of the areas together. And through the practicing and mastering of these literacy skills, our students gain opportunities, understanding, and communication skills that they will use long after they leave through the doors of our schools. Today’s students must be able to locate, understand, evaluate, and use written information and multiple literacies in both their personal and academic lives.
In theory, this connection of literacy throughout the content areas helps to reinforce reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in all students; in reality, fear and frustration runs rampant in the minds of teachers when they hear the words “All teachers are reading and writing teachers”.
To create a culture of literacy within a building, an “All Hands on Deck” approach is needed for systematic change. No longer can pockets of excellence in reading comprehension instruction exist; focused goals and high-quality, sustained learning must occur to equip all teachers properly. Along with a toolbox filled with comprehension strategies and understanding of text structures and styles, I tend to agree with the thinking of Fisher and Frey as to the clarification of my position on this:
“We do not believe that ‘all content teachers are teachers of reading.’ We are not discussing reading comprehension with the expectation that this take front and center in every math, science, history, arts, or elective course. However, reading and understanding texts is a central feature of every course” (11). So, while literacy may not be the focus in each classroom, everyday, it is an essential component to every class.
The key is, You, as the teacher, are the best reader and writer in the classroom. Modeling your thought process when discerning information in content-specific text is essential. Take, for instance, an industrial arts educator. Teaching literacy would not include a study on Huck Finn, but rather, modeling and practice in reading and comprehending texts normally found in that area. How does an architect read a blueprint? When looking at a bookshelf, how does a woodworker interpret design, structure, angles, etc. We read fiction with the intent of identifying plot, conflict, characters; these same strategies would not be applied to informational text.
Strategy: Gradual Release of Responsibility
Structural framework used to increase reading comprehension containing four components. The framework is organic in nature, meaning, there is no specific order or rate in which to use each component. Formative assessment identifies student needs and allows teacher differentiation. Technology integration is one solution to differentiate within the classroom to meet the needs of all students. (After each component, a technology integration tip is listed)
1. “I do” Minilesson in which the teacher establishes the focus, goal, or concept and models the thinking aloud to the class. (Technology Tip: A teacher or class YouTube channel. Students are able to rewatch minilesson containing the teacher modeling the comprehension strategy, or choose from a collection of videos with the same focus but different content)
2. “We do” Teacher prompts, questions, and cues students’ thinking through guided instruction and facilitation. (Technology Tip: Try a tool, such as EdPuzzle, to embed questions, cues, and prompts into videos)
3. “Do it together” Collaboratively, students apply previous learning with academic discourse to complete a task. (Technology Tip: Voicethread captures the thinking of students through text, voice, and annotations. Provide one task for the class, and allow collaborative group work to be demonstrated and shared on VT)
4. “Do it alone” Students, individually, apply understanding to an authentic task. (Technology Tip: Students use Explain Everything to demonstrate individual application of learning on an original task)
Gradual Release of Responsibility is a framework that can be applied across content and grade-level. Modeling your thinking aloud on how one approaches texts/visuals/graphs in our content area, supports comprehension strategies used to understand information. And although literacy is typically thought of as an ELA standard, it plays an essential role in the lives of our students; equipping them for future endeavors when life isn’t so neatly divided by subject area!