Top 6 mistakes to avoid when teaching non-fiction reading comprehension. 

Top Mistake # 2: Provide Nonfiction Text Without a Specific Reading Focus

GUEST COLUMN | by Harriet Isecke

We know that students come to us with very different needs and abilities. Continually giving students text they cannot comprehend only increases their frustration and makes them feel that reading is boring or useless. If students are always given text that is too difficult, they begin to associate school, and/or the subject in which they are given this frustrating reading, as pointless. They may either give up reading altogether or just do “fake reading” so they don’t get in trouble. Often students, who have not read or understood the text, get away with it in class, because they wait for another student to make a comment and then they piggyback off of what that student says. Sometimes they even piggyback off of what the teacher says.

Effective software programs help students at different skill levels. There are some important things to keep in mind when selecting suitable comprehension software. Make sure that the text provided is well written, accurate, clear and interesting to students. If it is has new concepts and/or vocabulary that is unfamiliar to the students, make sure that the program provides clear definitions and vocabulary instruction. The text should be relevant, and well-written so that it will inspire students to delve deeply into the topic.

Here is what to look for:

1. Topic: What will students learn by using this software? What are the instructional goals?

2. How well-written is the text? How relevant and topical is it? Will students be able to relate to it? Will it keep the students engaged?

3. How accurate is it?

4. Is the text clearly written? Are new terms defined? Are there graphics that help depict meaning?

It is also important for software programs to teach students strategies that will help them make sense of confusing text. If you are choosing software for students to use that will help them learn information, check to see if the program does the following: 

  • Provide a focus for reading by verbally explaining what students should look for as they read.
  • Determine which strategies are most useful in constructing meaning of a specific text and present those strategies. It is best if this type of strategic thinking is demonstrated to the students.
  • Include vocabulary activities that students can do in advance of the reading and while they read.
  • Have clear directions about what students will do with the information they learn. Will they answer questions or take notes? Will they be required to teach others what they have learned?

Note-making

Teaching students how to take notes is important. Once you set the focus for reading you can teach students how to take notes that will promote comprehension. Some software has note taking built in. If not, the teacher can design simple graphic organizers, using Google Docs, for students to take notes. Review all directions with students. 

Sample Note Taking Graphic Organizers

Let’s say your goal is to have your students read text, take a stand, and make a cogent argument for their stand. You may have them take notes on a T-chart that you can put into a Google Doc. Students can write the pros of the argument on one side and the cons on another. After that they can group the pros and cons in categories for making their arguments.

Central Question: Describe the problem for which you want students to take a stand.
Directions: Explain what you want the students to read and how you want them to take notes.
Pros Cons
·        

 

·        

 

If your goal is to have students understand the main points of a piece of nonfiction text, the software you choose needs to teach them what to look for. Students should always review the titles, headings, subheadings, topic sentences and first and last paragraphs. You can then ask students to find the three most important things they have learned and present their reasoning. The class can then discuss/debate what is most important and why.

In the next edition, learn some effective ways to avoid mistake # 3: Watering down information for struggling readers.

Harriet Isecke is an award-winning author and educator and CEO/Founder of Mtelegence dba Readorium, an automatically adaptive science reading comprehension program that is recommended by the National Science Teachers Association. A Cool Tool finalist in the Ed Tech Digest 2016 Competition, Readorium also won the 2018 International Reimagine Award for K-12 Educationand the 2016 CODiE Award for Best Reading Solution. Readorium uses the strategies described above. Write to: harriet.isecke@readorium.com  Learn more at www.readorium.com