Using Reading Strategies to Differentiate Reading Instruction
Faculty Mentor: Dawan Coombs, English Department
Struggling readers have often developed learning strategies, but not strategies that
help them become better readers. Consider, a student who is checked out every day
before English to avoid the discomfort of reading aloud, a student who gets up every
few minutes to sharpen pencils to avoid a difficult task, a student who knows how to
look busy in ways that disguise a lack of comprehension. In contrast to these
strategies, reading strategies can empower students to succeed, not merely avoid
reading. This study examined three reading strategies within the context of a
reader’s theatre focused on the drama, The Diary of Anne Frank.
During my student teaching, my students in Read 180 (a reading intervention class)
were invited to participate in a study where they used three reading strategies to
improve reading comprehension. Seven of the ten students in the class chose to
participate. Over the course of the study, students were taught three reading
strategies which were applied to participation in a reader’s theatre using the The
Diary of Anne Frank. The strategies were double-entry journals, Say Something, and
A double-entry journal is a note taking strategy. Using a sheet of paper folded down
the center, students record quotations from the text on the left side of the page
leaving the right side of the page to record their own responses to the quotations
they select for their journals. Say Something, similarly, asks students to comment on
or question the text as they read. After reading a passage, students take turns
“saying something” about what they have just read. They can ask a question, make a
comment, clarify a misunderstanding about the reading, make a prediction, or make
a connection. Finally, on a Likert scale students read general statements about the
text and then decide whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly
disagree with the statement. Their responses must be supported with examples
from the text. Students use the written part of the activity as a springboard for a
discussion about the text.
Students were required to keep a double-entry journal with at least ten entries, one
for each scene of the two act play. Each student participated in Say Something twice
and completed a Likert scale for each of the two acts of the play.
Working with students as test subjects presents challenges. For example, the data
gathered from a smaller than average class size did not allow for a definitive
determination of the effectiveness of these strategies. However, double-entry
journals, Say Something, and Likert scales all had positive results, especially
regarding the improvement of differentiated instruction.
Data samples and observation of double-entry journals suggested that struggling
readers need more scaffolding to select quotations from a text, and second,
struggling readers need more support to record responses to the quotes they select.
Say Something actually served as an effective scaffold for the double-entry journal.
Students were able to practice how to respond passages in the text verbally before
responding in written form.
In addition to scaffolding double-entry journals, Say Something helped students to
question the text as they read and ask for clarification when they did not understand
the reading. Before their first experience with this strategy, students simply read the
words. It was not until after they tried Say Something that students began
questioning the text in ways that deepened their understanding of what they read.
Finally, data from Likert scales suggested struggling readers need modeling and
repetition to master skills. The first Likert scale students completed revealed that
students did not know how to support their answers with examples from the text.
So before students completed the second Likert Scale, they were provided with
additional instruction and a more detailed model. The results showed a noticeable
improvement, supporting one or more answers with specific examples from the
text. The improvement suggests both the benefit of modeling and the value of
repeating reading strategies.
Working with a small class size presents unique challenges to an educational study.
As mentioned above, the small class size prevented definitive results as to the
effectiveness of these three strategies. However, teachers should not be discouraged
from trying and repeating these strategies in their own classrooms. With all three
strategies, there is a wealth of insight as teachers seek to improve instruction in the
classroom in order to better meet the diverse needs of their students. Overall,
struggling readers need more explicit instruction in the purpose of reading
strategies and the transferability of reading strategies across curriculum.
In the end, teacher research requires both a certain level of flexibility and a certain
level of persistence. Educators, especially in the English field, must recognize that
students need help to replace the strategies that prevent improvement in reading
comprehension and then to develop strategies that help them access class
curriculum. Repetition and explicit instruction can help students acquire and
transfer reading strategies, but above all educators must recognize that they benefit
their students most when they engage in continual teacher research and critical
reflection upon their own teaching practices.
Beers, Kylene. “Constructing Meaning, During Reading Strategies.” When Kids Can’t Read, What
Teachers Can Do. Portsmouth: Heinemann. 2003. 102-137. Print.