Students begin reading informational text as early as the first grade, although group reading of these texts starts in Kindergarten. Learning requires the ability to learn new content through reading content-area texts (Sousa, 2011). In “Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading Comprehension,” Duke et al. stress the importance of building disciplinary and world knowledge. The authors illustrate the relationship between comprehension and content knowledge: “knowledge begets comprehension begets knowledge in just the sort of virtuous cycle we would like students to experience” (Duke, Stratchan, Pearson, Billman, 2011, p. 55).
The Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading study suggests that “reading, writing, and language (e.g., vocabulary, discourse) are best developed when they are put to work as tools to help students acquire knowledge and inquiry skill in a specific domain” (2012, p.57)
In How the Brain Learns, Sousa describes the process of transfer. Working memory helps to combine the new learning from the immediate memory and the past learning from long-term storage to result in new learning. This process has implications for the comprehension of texts students are currently reading and related texts they will read in the future.
Fisher and Frey offer three ways to scaffold the reading of informational texts:
- use informational texts as an “extension of close reading” (p.350).
- to preview future reading.
- to address skills needed by specific students.
In addition, KWL charts can be used a discussion tool and to help level the playing field of information that students bring to the text. Constructivist practices “question student understanding before sharing teacher knowledge” (157). This is important to facilitate discussion and provide the framework for building on student knowledge. Even if it comes from the perspective of another student.
Sousa suggests that we “conquer vocabulary” before having students read (2011, p.213). Vocabulary instruction allows students to develop their background knowledge as well.
Duke, N., Pearson, D., Strachan, S., & Billman, A. (2011). Essential elements of fostering and teaching reading comprehension. What research has to say about reading instruction, 51-93.
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014). Scaffolded reading instruction of content-area texts.The Reading Teacher, 67(5), 347-351.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Washington, DC: Authors.
Sousa, D. A. (2006). How the brain learns (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.