Reading critically is different from reading for pleasure. Students read critically to discover information. Often classroom libraries are set-up by teachers in a corner of the classroom and filled with a variety of books for students to choose from. It has been my experience that these libraries are not effective. I have observed that students choose their book of choice for independent reading either through an online source, such as Big Universe or at the library, hence the basket of books in the classroom seems to collect dust and seldom are rotated throughout the year. In order to teach students to read critically, it is necessary that the reading material in the classroom library be arranged so that students can independently practice the following SEVEN READING STRATEGIES:
Scanning or previewing - - Skimming - - Annotating or Note taking - - Highlighting - - Contextualizing - - Reflecting - - Evaluating Arguments
In general, classroom space is limited, so use of the library section in the classroom, as a reading area where students can access a variety of reading activities that reinforce the subject matter covered in Language Arts, History and Science is a more productive use of independent reading time and use of the classroom library, more commonly known as Drop, Everything And Read, or D.E.A.R. In this way, students can consistently apply the seven reading strategies during D.E.A.R. time to support the student’s efforts in validating information taught. Critical thinking while reading helps students to monitor their understanding.
In Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. the following activities acknowledge and respect what students already know and their need to know more. If classroom libraries focused in the following three areas, a teacher’s classroom would be structured to differentiate content areas for students throughout the year:
1. Have learning materials available other than text. Not all learners enjoy or acquire knowledge from text, therefore use other materials such as audio recordings, videos, DVDs, CDs, websites, or computer simulations that will allow students to digest the required information.
2. Highlight key points in the text. Some learners read text and believe all the material is highly relevant. Highlighting helps them focus on the most relevant and important notes.
3. Provide varied levels of reading materials. from elementary to college-level texts and trade books and professional journals from the field of study. These materials will expose the learners to the professional language of the field of discipline, as well as provide a wider range of subject diversity. The students can then develop a professional vocabulary list.
Further, Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., elaborates on SEVEN specific critical reading and thinking areas in Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century: Scanning or Previewing - - Skimming - - Annotating or Note-Taking - - Highlighting - - Contextualizing - - Reflecting - - Evaluating Arguments. Consequently, when these seven areas facilitated by teacher instruction in the classroom library; as independent activities that are teacher differentiated and students acted; overall improvement in critical reading skills will be achieved.
Scanning or Previewing – Students look for specific words or repeated words in the table of contents, section or chapter headings, and introduction or conclusion paragraphs. This is also an effective strategy to pique interest in the topic.
Design a basket in your classroom library labeled “scanning or previewing.” Teach students that in this basket they are to only scan or preview the selected books. Have them make a list in their reading notebook and/or log of the materials and/or books that you have asked them to scan or preview. You can be creative with this, and cover a variety of subject material that you have taught or are planning to teach during the quarter. The scan or preview books help students to connect the goals and/or objectives connected to your lesson plans. Further, the scan/preview section of your classroom library can build upon ideas that go beyond what you have taught and also provide a review of the subject matter discussed. For accountability, have students record in their reading notebooks the materials that they have scanned/previewed.
Skimming – Students read the text quickly the first time through and focus attention on the main points and ideas for further investigating.
Label a basket, filled with reading material, called “Skimming.” Instruct students to read this skimming section material focusing only on the main points. In doing so, each book should have a corresponding graphic organizer kept in the students reading notebook. The skimming basket is helpful for most students to learn how to focus and read material quickly, independently, and without having to read the entire book!
Annotating or Note-Taking: As readers begin a more in-depth or intensive reading of the text, they should take notes that succinctly summarize the main ideas in each section. They should also write questions or comments that will suggest further investigation.
Again, label a basket in the classroom library called: “Annotating/Note-Taking.” Have prepared material for students to read and take notes on. Simply recording the book on their reading log is not enough. Require that students summarize the main ideas with prepared graphic organizers, and a variety of graphic organizers are used for this reading activity. The Annotating/Note-Taking basket may not necessarily have to be a basket of books, but this can contain a selection of teacher created articles that support topics in History and/or Science.
Highlighting: Use of a highlighter, used by readers who may want to draw attention to specific words or phrases. Be careful students don’t overuse this strategy, as not everything is important and they shouldn’t end up citing entire sections rather than statements. Key words or sentences that may support or provide evidence for validation should be selected.
Label a basket “Highlighting” and provide students with opportunities to highlight reading material. This is a fantastic way to introduce study guides. Have blank copies of study guides or other short paragraphs that you have already highlighted, and require students to highlight their copy just like the model you created. Students may be asked to highlight packets of reading material pre-selected by the teacher that corresponds to lessons.
Contextualizing: Readers should investigate the historical, political, economic, and social context of the writing for greater understanding of the author’s lens. In this basket labeled “Contextualizing” students are asked to read and respond in their reading notebooks. Contextualization asks students to put information into context; making sense of information from the situation or location in which the information found in time and place and to understand how these factors shape its content.
Reflecting – Students should take notes on their thoughts and reflections on their own beliefs and values and compare and contrast them with the author’s. The “Reflecting” basket is similar to contextualizing, except the student responses would be much more personal as they reflect on the text in a more personal way.
Evaluating Arguments – After substantial reading of the text, students should begin to evaluate the author’s arguments or ideas. At this point readers may find other sources that support or oppose the author’s point of view. The “Evaluating Arguments” basket would be challenging and fun for students to have the opportunity to use another source of information to support their point-of-view, again a critical thinking reading strategy.
Utilize the library in your classroom for instructional purposes. Design reading activities across the above referenced areas: Scanning or Previewing - - Skimming - - Annotating or Note-Taking - - Highlighting - - Contextualizing - - Reflecting - - Evaluating Arguments. Differentiate instruction in your classroom library can be easily created and modified accordingly in the primary grades 2-5, and is an excellent way to utilize the library for classroom instruction. Students will always have something to do when they finish their work, and they will be constantly engaged in reading while improving critical thinking skills.