Development of literate abilities is one of the main targets of the middle school. It can be achieved by various means, among which teaching reading is one of the most effective ones. Teaching reading is closely interconnected with personal and public empowerment of both teacher and student and with social, cultural, and political circumstances in which the reading skills are developed.
There exist numerous techniques to teach reading. In the present work we will analyze the teaching reading strategies that flow from the general learning strategies worked out by Jerome Bruner and Lev Vygotsky whose contribution to the teacher’s appreciation of the process of education cannot be overestimated. We will also study the learning strategy proposed by Howard Gardner. The strategies that we will outline refer to a culturally diverse group of seventh graders at an urban middle school.
The theory of Explicit Teaching developed by Bruner is particularly effective for reading procedures. It is based on presenting the materials in small portions when the teacher checks the student’s understanding and evokes his or her active participation during the class. The teaching reading is performed in the following way: review of the previously learned material, presenting new material, teacher guided practice, corrections and feedback, the student’s independent practice and daily, weekly and monthly reviews that follow after learning the new material.
The principles of collaborative learning are also applicable for the teaching reading. The students divide in teams, read the material needed and then share the knowledge got with each other. The discussion that comes after the reading helps the students reflect what they have read as well as to develop their logical thinking and speaking abilities. Regarding the young age of the students under consideration we can assume that the groups will be awarded somehow as at this age it acquires particular significance.
Also, teaching reading is successful when techniques of discovery learning are implemented. The students should be challenged to discover something new while reading. Therefore, the texts that the students read should be carefully chosen. They should correspond to the following principles:
- Correlation with the life experience;
- The context that makes students willing and able to learn.
As the strategy discussed will be applied in the culturally diverse class, the texts should regard the principals of multicultural development. They should provide information about various cultures and be equally interesting for students of various cultures.
The instructions which the teacher gives before reading should be easily understood by the students and designed to facilitate the exploration of the text.
It is possible that after reading the students will interpret the material they have read in some creative way. This may be various adaptations or imaginary courts. In general, it can be everything that might help the students to understand the material better.
What the teacher should beware of is to have low expectations for students as they often ruin any teaching strategy.
If we consider teaching reading in terms of Lev Vygotsky, approach we will see that it is an integral part of the constructivist learning theory. The student’s reading skills should be developed connecting new knowledge to previously learned one. The texts that the students read should broaden the knowledge acquired before. The student’s interest to the text should be evoked by means of appropriate links the teacher makes from one text for reading to another. The “zone of proximal” defined by Vygotsky should be constantly broadened by some new information that children acquire from the text under the teacher’s supervision. Thus, reading skills will be developing together with the general outlook of the student.
Vygotsky paid his special attention to the use of game in the learning process. Teaching reading is not an exception. The students of the seventh grade will willingly take part in the pre-reading games as well as the games that follow the reading. The teacher should use the game as a method of arousing the student’s interest.
As we can see the teaching strategies discussed above differ in their approach to the problem. The teaching reading strategy suggested by Bruner refers to behavior theory whereas the teaching strategy proposed by Vygotsky refers to the constructivist theory. It seems that the teacher should benefit from both theories as a successful combination of them. Neither approach by itself is effective all the time; the teacher should know how to vary the approaches so that they were effective. We should also point out that parental involvement in teaching reading increases the effectiveness of the technique used.
Implementing the ideas of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence also seems to be useful for teaching reading. Gardner suggests one more conception of learning. According to it, the students’ opinions about the best way to teach are carefully considered by the teacher and corresponding conclusions are made. Students are free to choose the topics of the texts they are going to read. Consequently, the student’s interest to learning increases. Gardner’s approach predetermines the usage of the interdisciplinary units for reading and creating the students’ projects related to the topic studied. The way the student’s reading skills are assessed is chosen by the student. In this way the student will easily understand what he or she has achieved. Moreover, the student will clearly see the criteria he or she needs to meet and this contributes to the overall student’s success. With Gardner’s technique the student will understand and appreciate his or her strengths, will identify the activities that will stimulate learning. Thus, starting with reading and implementing this technique to other subjects the student will effectively direct his or her learning.
The teaching reading strategies under consideration correspond to the requirements of the Non Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) which defines the principles of the scientifically based research. One of the basic aspects of the research of this type implies the development of the student’s knowledge in close connection with reading development, reading instruction and overcoming reading difficulties. Improvement of teaching reading techniques serves as one of the main keys to the overall improvement of the whole educational system, as its development is impossible without improvement of the teacher’s performance.
We find all the theories analyzed above applicable for the culturally diverse group of seventh graders at an urban middle school and have a burning desire to see their practical implementation in the conditions of real learning.
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Van der Veer, R. (2007). Lev Vygotsky: continuum library of educational thought. Continuum.