One of things we know for sure is that generic and very general strategies for literacy don’t work across the content areas. While we’ve been trained that if we teach kids some highly effective strategies, they can use them across the curriculum with ease, that’s just not quite right.
Here’s why: the text is different and the way the reader must approach the text is different!
Let me give you an example: When I read literature, I am looking to get the gist of the text most of the time…the gist or big picture is enough for me to keep reading and fully comprehend one part of the text to another.
When I’m reading math text, every single, solitary word is crucial to my understanding of that task or topic or operation. For example, the word “the” is significant in math (as opposed to the word “a” in math, which means someone different!) but in literature, it’s totally less significant!
When we look at science text, we know that every single word isn’t important, but a hierarchy of information is important. (And this isn’t necessarily the case in math….I know…UGH!)
When I read science textbooks, i am paying attention to the meaning across paragraphs so that I can understand the final outcome or step. Sometimes in scientific text, the full understanding comes AFTER I’ve read the text because each individual chunk of the text leads to the understanding of the next. I couldn’t take the same approach in math because each individual step has to be fully understood in order to proceed!
So…to tame this mess, I’ve come up with 5 simple steps that teachers of history/social studies can use to teach their kids how to manage textbook reading in their content area! (Psst…history/social studies teachers: if you don’t teach kids to do this, no one will! You matter!)
- Think of meaning as cumulative, paragraph by paragraph – don’t get stuck in individual words or phrases during your first pass through the text
- Translate or “talk through” the ideas within the text as you read – pretend that you are having a conversation with the author
- Read the whole text (or larger portion of the text) before you take note – again, understanding what to take notes on will often come after you’ve read
- Focus first on understanding concepts first and then focus on the details
- Go back after you first read through the text to use visuals or graphics to help you summarize