Using A Problem-based Approach to teaching reading in Readers Workshop

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I am teaching a course using Vicki Vinton’s book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach and we are diving into understanding and trying to use a problem-based approach to teaching reading. We are striving to understand how this approach can be used within a readers workshop approach where skills and strategies have been pushed front and center with the use of explicit modeling during the focus lesson and individual conferring sessions.

The problem-based approach keeps the focus on reading for meaning or understanding, not reading to necessarily to complete a task or practice a skill. I like to say a problem-based approach to teaching reading, teaches students to read for meaning while using skills and strategies as needed as tools to enhance the meaning making processes they are going through, not become the focus. It shifts the focus from isolated skills and strategies to using skills and strategies to expand and deepen understanding by helping students continually connect and clarify by bringing pieces together for fuller understandings.

Instead of teaching skills and strategies in isolation it helps students integrate those skills and strategies with a clear purpose, meaning. It does not break apart reading comprehension into individualized components that a lot of readers in classrooms never connect back together.

In this approach the central point of the focus lesson is not to model the reading task, strategy or skills in isolation. It is to model the thinking a reader goes through when deciding what skills or strategy to use and maybe what task they may need to accomplish to understand their reading deeper. This is more of the role teachers are being asked to take on within math and sciences lessons across the country.

This approach asks students to ask questions like what strategy can help me here? You have to continually observe students noticing what they are doing well and what they are struggling with and then be present and ready to step in to support at the point of need.  You can still meet district curriculum requirements and teach the standards you have to, with a slight shift towards making meaning. We can ask questions like,

What can you try?   What can you do to help yourself understand this section better? What strategy will help you figure out what the writer wants readers to understand here? Why did the writer do that? What does the writer want readers to feel here? What have you figured out?

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We want readers to be constructing knowledge and reading for meaning, not just completing reading tasks in isolation. You have to ask yourself if having students complete reading tasks and to explicitly practice a skill or strategy in isolation would be productive reading or unproductive reading. Often when isolated out the skills and strategies become the focus and reading for meaning is all but forgotten except with your highest readers. If students are not reading to understand the text then reading is often unproductive. Students often end up pitting completing the task their teacher expects against reading the book for meaning. This is an unintentional side effect, but a side effect for many students none the less.

Modeling within this approach needs to be more strategic. As the teacher when you start off by modeling explicitly all the thinking and providing specific texts for student to practice in then transfer usually doesn’t happen. Modeling is a great teaching tool and works great in reading, but can work even better when it is used to set students up to think for themselves, not have us do most of the thinking for them.  We give them a chance to thinking ideas through, maybe evening struggling a bit like we do in math and science.  They have to think things through and experience strategies for themselves in authentic moments for transfer to happen with us noticing and naming what we see and nudging them along to use the most affective and efficient strategies to help enhance meaning.

I plan to suggest ways to integrate using this approach within focus lessons and the readers workshop in the next several blog posts, so please come back and check this blog out again. I hope to suggest ways to still use explicit modeling during focus lessons and conferring when it will help the student enhance meaning and think deeper about a text.

Keep reflecting on your practice!

Troy

Author: Troy F

Reading Specialist

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