Author Spotlight: Adrienne Gear – Reading Power
No, I did not. Reading Power strategies are based on research, conducted by P. David Pearson (my hero) and many others, into what good readers do when they read. Pearson’s extensive research in the early 80’s defined several common strategies used by proficient readers while they read to enhance their understanding of the text. This research is the foundation upon which Reading Power is based. It is also the foundation of our provincial Language Arts Curriculum, as well as many other comprehension programs being implemented in different districts across the province, including: SMART Reading (New Westminster), Reading 44 (North Vancouver) and Developing Readers (Surrey).
Meta-cognition is having an awareness of your own thinking (“thinking about your thinking”) and is the foundation upon which Reading Power is based. By teaching students from a very early age that reading is “not just what’s going on in the book but what’s going on in your head ” we are helping them develop into meta-cognitive readers. This is invaluable learning because the roots of critical thinking begin with the knowledge of how thought influences our understanding. Seeing a kindergarten student hold up a small thinking bubble attached to a Popsicle stick and saying “That part reminds me of …” is an example of how meta-cognition can be integrated into classroom practice. In retrospect, I often feel that I should have named this approach “Thinking Power”, instead of “Reading Power”, because I realise now that these strategies are not just conducive to thinking through a text, but thinking through anything.
I have never considered Reading Power as a “replacement for” but more of an “addition to”. It is the additional layer that we add to our reading instruction which focuses students on the “thinking” part of reading. Other components of a balanced reading program, including instruction in phonological awareness (in early primary), vocabulary instruction (word sorting and/or spelling), guided reading, and literature circles are all equally important. Given the enormous amount of content we need to cover, adding “one more thing to teach” can be sometimes a little overwhelming. My recommendation is that you block off two 40-45 minute periods per week for Reading Power. Put it into your time table. Give your students “Reading Power” duo tangs to keep all their work in but keep it separate from other reading lessons. This way, students begin to see it the importance and the intention of the lessons. After teaching reading power for a while, you will, no doubt, begin to see how often the language and strategies become embedded and integrated into other subject areas. Students might “make connections” when reading from their history text book; they may “visualise” a word problem in Maths, or ask questions when doing their science experiment.
Developing a common language around comprehension is a significant factor in the successful implementation of Reading Power and the development, over time, of our students becoming more proficient readers. As students move up through the grades, the complexity of the texts they are reading may change, but if the language of thinking remains constant, the strategies are more likely to become embedded and integrated naturally. Here are some ways to promote the language of thinking in your school:
- Display Reading Power interactive posters in every classroom, resource room and in the library
- Model the language as much as possible in your classroom and school, outside of your reading lessons. For example: when making PA announcements: “I’m inferring from the view from my office window that it will be an inside day today”
- Focus on a specific strategy throughout the whole school: i.e. – January is “QUESTIONING” month.
- Bulletin board displays – photos of students or staff members reading their favourite book with “thinking bubbles” posted around the picture
Teachers have found the Reading Power book lists very helpful, particularly for those who may not be as familiar with the strategies or the approach. Many schools have created Reading Power “book bins”, which are a collection of “CONNECT” books in one tub and a collection of “VISUALISE” books in another. These book collections are not necessary – however, they do make your life a bit easier! Having to go through a list and FIND the books proves to be more time consuming than having the books already gathered and ready to use. However, there is a concern that the book lists have become more important than the strategies. The truth is, once you begin to really become familiar with the strategies, you will find yourself mentally categorising books whenever you read them. Eventually, the goal is for you to begin to find your own books and to create your own lists of favourite books to add to your collection. I cannot read a picture book now without thinking “Oh… this would be perfect for……! (connecting, visualising, questioning, etc.) Some schools create Primary and Intermediate Reading Power book bins, which help to avoid that dreaded “Oh, we read this book last year!” comment. Replenishing the book collections with a few new titles can be done once a year. Once your school has been implementing Reading Power for several years, the books from each tub might be mixed together – this way, students are invited to read, think and identify specifically WHICH strategies they find themselves using, eventually moving them from isolation to application.
I tell teachers in my workshops – Once you have finished teaching all the reading powers – you are NOT finished! You have actually just started! The goal of reading power is to develop strategic readers, not a reader who knows a list of strategies. So it is imperative that we explain to our students that now it is up to them to apply the strategies they have learned. I give the analogy of a “thinking toolbox”: “My job as your teacher is to teach you the specific thinking tools you need to use when you are reading. Your job, as a reader, is to bring your thinking toolbox into the text whenever you are reading. Choose the tool that will help deepen your understanding. It might be a connection, it might be that you ask a question. Good readers are aware of and use all of their thinking tools when they read any book”. In an intermediate classroom, we use Lit. Circles as an opportunity to apply our Reading Powers. In a primary classroom, the teacher might read a picture book out loud, but not specify WHICH Reading Power they will be using. “Let’s see what happens when I read this book and use ALL of my Reading Powers.” Modelling making a connection on one page and then asking a question on the other is showing young students that good readers use ALL their thinking tools when they read any book.
If you have never taught Reading Power before, I recommend focusing on either Fiction or Nonfiction the first year, so as not to become too overwhelmed. Once you have become more familiar with the approach, then you could begin to combine them. Because there are a number of strategies that are used in both fiction and nonfiction, I tend teach the concept first, then apply it to both types of texts. “What does this look like when we read fiction? What does it look like when we read nonfiction?” Dividing my year into five 2 month chunks (see below) helps me to achieve this. January and February are my big Nonfiction months – where I focus on the two strategies specific to reading informational texts.
- SEPTEMBER, OCTOBER – Connect (F and NF)
- NOVEMBER, DECEMBER – Visualise (F)
- JANUARY, FEBRUARY – Nonfiction – Zoom In, Determine Importance
- MARCH, APRIL – Question/Infer (F and NF)
- MAY, JUNE – Transform (F and NF)
In my experience, certain books do indeed lend themselves better to certain strategies than others. I developed Reading Power book lists as a way of supporting teachers as they model and teach each strategy and to support students when they practice the strategy. My goal is for the students to apply all of the reading power strategies to any book they read. On order to achieve that, we begin by focusing on one strategy at a time. Choosing the right book to support each strategy initially helps the reader to feel more confident, leading to more successful independent application.
Fiction: For reading fiction, I recommend books based on specific topics for each Reading Power strategy.
Reading Power Strategy and Suggested Topic Links
- CONNECT family, friendship, feelings, school, siblings, losing a tooth, holidays
- QUESTION poverty, homelessness, war, friendship issues, historical, fantasy
- VISUALISE descriptive, poetry, seasons, weather, places
- INFER wordless picture books, books with very little text, comics, AUTHORS: Chris Van Alsburg, David Weisner,
- TRANSFORM war, peace, homelessness, kindness, making a difference, taking risks, overcoming adversity, bullying
Nonfiction: For nonfiction, books collections are more useful if they are used according to the content area you are focusing on, particularly in science or social studies. Certain content areas lend themselves better to certain Reading Powers.
Nonfiction Reading Power Strategy and Suggested Content Area Links
- ZOOM-IN Life Cycles, Weather, Plants, Animals, Mapping
- QUESTION/INFER Animals, Space, Weather, Extreme Environments, Force and Motion, Electricity
- DETERMINE IMPORTANCE History, Biography, Human Body, Global Warming, Weather, Space, Environment
- CONNECT All About Me, Family and Community, Seasons, People Around the World, Cultural Diversity, Biography, Weather
- TRANSFORM Environment, Global Warming, Endangered Animals, Recycling, Biography, Global Citizenship/Stewardship, History
When working part time in the library, I once had a student ask me “Am I allowed to make a connection with a library book?” Certainly, students who are learning and practising Reading Power in their classroom should be given many opportunities to practice their thinking outside their classroom. The Library is the central hubbub for Literacy in a school. Having the teacher librarian model the language of thinking while they read aloud can only help to reinforce students’ learning. Classroom teachers may remind the TL which particular strategy they are working on in class, so that the TL can make that a focus during their read-aloud. Teacher librarians in many schools have also worked hard to support Reading Power by ordering many of the recommended Reading Power books. Some keep separate shelves for these books, while others put small labels on the spine of the recommended books (“V” for Visualise, “C” for Connect, etc.) so that teachers can locate them with ease.
Students requiring extra support in reading also can be given opportunities to practice their “thinking” in small groups. In my experience, struggling readers are not necessarily struggling thinkers. While the focus of reading support for beginning readers is usually on building phonemic awareness and decoding skills, resource teachers can still find opportunities to intentionally integrate the language of thinking into the lesson. After a focus on a specific decoding skill, such as “look for the little word in the big word”, during a pull out session with struggling readers, model to the students one of the reading powers. “Boys and girls, when I read the part on this page about the dog, I was making a connection. This reminds me of my dog and how my dog always greets me at the door when I come home. Even if I’ve had a bad day, my dog makes me feel happy again. Could you all find a page now, where you make a connection and then I’m going to ask you to share it with us.”
If our goal is to develop thoughtful, strategic thinkers, then our assessment needs to be reflective of that goal. Spending purposeful and authentic instructional time devoted to teaching thinking and then turning around and asking students to answer 10 literal comprehension questions does not fairly or accurately assess what we’ve taught. While there are important skills required for being able to accurately respond to a question about a passage in a full and complete sentence, my feeling is that the only way we can accurately assess students’ thinking is if they share their thinking with us. I also feel that this assessment of thinking should not be exclusively conducted in a paper/pencil format. Written output is rarely a reflection of cognitive ability, therefore we need to ensure that our students are given equal opportunity to share their thinking with us orally. Formative school wide reading assessments, such as DART, RAD, DRA, Whole Class Reading Assessment (from Vernon SD), conducted two or three times a year is an important measure for helping teachers to see the gaps in their students learning and then to plan and provide specific instruction to fill those gaps. Informal, ongoing assessment is also an important an informative way of supporting your students learning. Below are some recommendations:
- Listening for evidence of your students’ using the language of thinking in other areas of learning
- Listening to partner talk – circulate the room while your students engage in “partner talk” during the lesson
- Conferring with students – have students respond orally during a individual conference
- Independent written assessment – open ended to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding of the reading strategies.
Students should be given many opportunities to read short pieces of text at or slightly below their reading level to practice a specific strategy. Below are some recommendations:
The following resources include reproducible passages at various grade levels to use for practising and assessing reading and thinking:
- Harvey, Stephanie & Goudvis, Anne. Comprehension Toolkit. Heinmann. (Intermediate and Primary kits available)
- Harvey, Stephanie & Goudvis, Anne. Toolkit Texts. Heinmann. (reproducible nonfiction passages available in Gr. 2-3, Gr. 4-5 & Gr. 6-7)
- Nonfiction Reading Practice– Evan Moore Publishing Company. (Three different levels of texts – available in separate books for each grade. Order through Amazon.com – can purchase as a text or to download online)
- Hi Low Nonfiction Reading Passages for Struggling Readers. Scholastic.
- Nonfiction Reading Passages for Independent Practice. Scholastic.
Recommended Professional Resources on Comprehension Assessment:
- Browlie, Faye & Jeroski, Sharon. Reading and Responding (revised edition) Thomson Nelson, 2006
- Keene, Ellin. Assessing Comprehension Thinking Strategies. Shell Education. 2007.
- Peters, Cathie & Gardner, Jennifer. Whole Class Reading Assessment. Kamloops School District.
Originally posted on Adrienne Gear’s website