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Developmental Reading -- Reading Skills for Resource Settings

Helping Struggling Students Use Texts to Support Learning in Content Classes


Developmental Reading -- Reading Skills for Resource Settings

Developmental reading helps support middle and high school students.

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Developmental reading is instructional support for students in content area classes, such as science, social studies, geography and history. Rather than focusing on explicit reading skills, developmental reading helps students understand how information is shared in texts by focusing on:

  • Text features
  • Text type
  • Reading and study strategies.

High School Reading Challenges

Common wisdom states that the first three years of school, grades one through three, should focus on "learning to read" skills. From fourth grade on, the focus needs to be on "reading to learn." That is often a lot easier said than done. Often young children struggle with the continuum of skills needed to decode text. If they arrive at the fourth grade without mastering those skills, they will be doubly challenged when they are expected to learn content by reading. The skills at that level no longer have to do with identifying consonant and vowel sounds, but with more sophisticated challenges. They include:

  • Identifying important ideas and their relationships.
  • New vocabulary specific to the topical context.
  • Making connections between prior knowledge and the content.

Text Features

The ability to identify and use text features helps students navigate and preview content. Those text features include:

  • Table of Content
  • Heading and sub-headings.
  • Illustrations
  • Captions
  • Tables and Charts
  • Glossary
  • Index

Understanding how to use these "text features" is critical for using the text to learn content in content courses. They also can support students study and strategies such as SQ3R to support remembering content and in depth reading. They can also be used to access texts without actually "reading" them, word for word.

Text Types

We use different mind sets and strategies for reading different sorts of texts. When I read Moby Dick I actually skipped some chapters. There was way more information about sperm whales than I will ever need, and it did not drive the narrative. I have hundreds of dollars of text books which I have never completely read, as the course syllabus and the teacher did not consider them important (I hang on to texts that will act as resources for practice.) On the other hand, I have read some books cover to cover that sat on other peoples' coffee tables but were never finished, like The Satanic Verses (loved it) and The Name of the Rose (I am now a big Umberto Ecco fan.)

Many of our students with disabilities will not even open some text books because they are overwhelmed by the amount of print. Knowing how each text type works can alleviate a lot of the pressure and help students use texts as tools, even though they may never enjoy them. They need to distinguish type and purpose of texts, such as:

  • Novels: Novels are meant to be enjoyed, to learn something new about the world, either our own or someone else's (cross cultural.) Novels will be engaged in English classes, in order to help them understand how fiction informs and records popular culture and history. Fiction will be explored across "genre's" the different types of literature, in English classes.
  • Text Books: Despite the range of topics, textbooks share many attributes: Content organized by heading and subheadings, tables and charts, illustrations with captions, often with foot notes and sources, glossaries, indexes for finding information, and chapter summaries that help students prepare for what they will be reading.
  • Journals: Most academic disciplines have professional journals that students will either read or reference if they go to college. Understanding footnoting, bibliography, and synopsis can help students use these both to understand the topic, but to research papers for higher education.
  • History: Many "non-text book" nonfiction history books are used in history classes, as well as providing a lot of adults enjoyment, as they better understand how history has impacted our present institutions and expectations of life. Students need to have some understanding of primary texts used by historians, such as newspapers, personal correspondence and contemporary accounts.
  • Manuals: Manuals are published not only for your car, but for all sorts of procedural needs, from performing medical procedures to operating heavy equipment. Knowing how to find specific information you need while operating equipment of completing a procedure is vital, not only for professionals with college degrees but also technicians and skilled crafts people.

Reading and Studying Strategies

Providing strategies for addressing text will help students with disabilities use their textbooks and reading assignments to support them in educational settings. These strategies can offer visual ways to organize and access information. These strategies may be multisensory and build on peers academic, cognitive or personal strengths. They can include:

  1. SQ3R for Survey (or Scan), Question, Read, Recite, Review.
  2. Study Guides. These can be tasks that will help students read a text, or they can familiarize them with the kinds of questions the teacher will be presenting in the test.
  3. Graphic Organizers: Graphic organizers are visual means to organize classroom content, and can also be used alongside a text to identify and organize important information.

New Vocabulary

Every discipline has its own vocabulary. Students with disabilities need to know how to use knowns (Greek and Latin roots) to build new vocabulary, as well as how to acquire an remember topic specific vocabulary, as well as identifying relationships between subjects.

Knowing how to use glossaries and other text features will help your student learn how to use the texts to understand the meaning of the new vocabulary.

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