From The Marshall Memo (2/18/14). Summary by Kim Marshall. Used with permission.
Rethinking Small-Group Instruction with Informational Texts
In (an) important article in The Reading Teacher
, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey (University of San Diego) question the traditional model for small-group reading instruction: students working with leveled texts, with texts doing the scaffolding.
The problem, say Fisher and Frey, is that the criteria most schools have been using for “instructional level” don’t have a strong research base and appear to have been set too low. “There is evidence that school texts starting in grade 3 have been getting easier,” they say. “Have our expectations been lowered? Should we focus on scaffolding of complex texts rather than leveling texts, especially in content areas such as social studies, science, and art that require complex thinking about information?”
Spurred on by some recent research and the Common Core’s Lexile levels for each grade’s texts, Fisher and Frey have come to agree with Alfred Tatum’s 2013 statement, “leveled texts lead to leveled lives.” They now believe “there are far too many students who are in leveled texts all the way through school, until they drop out.”
What is the alternative? More complex and more demanding reading material, students challenged more, and the teacher, rather than the text, serving as the primary means of scaffolding.
“Scaffolded reading is a time to stretch students to grapple with text that is more difficult than they can access on their own,” say Fisher and Frey. “This principle of scaffolding is at the heart of Vygotskian pedagogy… So doesn’t it follow that this is exactly the time to ramp up the complexity level of an informational text?”
Teaching students to read and understand challenging informational texts requires that teachers use several approaches and formats:
► Reading aloud to students, modeling thinking about text structure, figuring out words together, and explicitly teaching comprehension strategies;
► Close reading of complex, demanding texts, usually with the whole class, using repeated readings, text-dependent questions, annotation, and extended discussion, all aimed at extracting meaning, building knowledge, drawing conclusions, and formulating arguments supported by evidence in the text;
► Students reading independently in a wide variety of self-selected texts to build background knowledge and vocabulary;
► Students reading with peers and discussing the content.
“It cannot be overstated,” say Fisher and Frey, “learners need a host of experiences with rich informational texts and a sliding scale of scaffolds and supports to access the information contained in them.”
They believe it’s a mistake to move from whole-class close reading to conventional small group work with leveled texts. Their concern is that students will fail to develop the skills and habits needed to understand complex texts in “the very structure that was intended to provide that access.”
Small groups are ideal for providing intensive teacher contact. There are three more powerful ways that teachers use small groups to scaffold reading instruction with complex informational texts:
► As an extension of close reading – for example, developing text-dependent questions with students;
► As a preview for later reading – for example, getting students ready for a collaborative reading task;
► As an opportunity to address the skill needs of specific students – for example, helping several students who are having difficulty with comparing and contrasting.
FROM: “Scaffolded Reading Instruction of Content-Area Texts” by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey in The Reading Teacher
, February 2014 (Vol. 67, #5, p. 347-351). Abstract.
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