Over the past few weeks I have spoken with middle school educators around how to help students who are not reading on grade level access complex, grade level texts. Over the past years we have seen a slight rise in Lexile Levels, an increase in ELL students and a growing gap in grade level demands. Additionally, many educators believe that foundational reading skills are taught during elementary school years, moving us away from strategies and into content as students reach middle school. This week I would like to provide a few thoughts and resources to address this growing problem.
If you are a middle school teacher, there is a Model Curriculum Unit gem hidden amongst the units online. The unit is called Starting Complex Text Mini-Unit and was designed to explicitly teach strategies students need in order to comprehend and discuss a longer text. It was written using the 5th grade text, Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Don’t let the 5th grade book fool you. What you will find inside this unit are differentiated reading options for struggling students. These include instructional practices such as paired reading, using an audio version of the text, or creating small groups. As you reading through the individual lessons, educators will find even more differentiated options and ideas. What I love about this unit is that is follows the thinking of providing students in Middle with explicit reading instruction that is differentiated to meet their needs.
I am a big believer in the power of academic conversations around a complex text. I find that providing students’ opportunities to share their thinking allows a deeper interaction for the students to analyze and internalize texts, themes and big ideas. Recently the Teaching Channel released a new video and the accompanying teaching and instructional materials around deepening text analysis through student talk. In this video you will be transported into a 6th grade classroom where the teacher, Viet-ly Nguyen sets expectations for the assignment. You can see how she takes time to lay ground rules around talk through a participation protocol. Additionally, she speaks about planning questions that are debatable or have multiple answers and reasoning to enhance overall comprehension for her students. By setting the stage, she is putting them in control of their learning. Additionally, Nguyen speaks about pairing ELL or struggling students with stronger students in order for them to hear the academic language and fluency in the classroom. This video can be used to help inform teachers of what an engaged conversation looks like, and the planning which coincides in order to make the lesson a success.