While the mechanics of reading, such as recognizing words and the sounds that go with them,
are very important, they are really just stepping stones on the path to literacy. The ultimate goal of reading is to be
able to understand the words on a page in a way that is relevant to the reader.
A technique called Reciprocal Teaching offers a way to teach children how to read for meaning. Working together
in a group, students learn how to ask a main-idea question about the story they’ve just read, clarify the meaning of unfamiliar
words, summarize the main idea, and predict what may happen next. Such involvement with the text helps children find and fix the meaning in their minds.
Another technique, called Theme Scheme, encourages students to find how the messages in a story relate to their own lives. Kids are encouraged not just to follow the plot but to understand and relate to the underlying themes and ideas of the story. This technique often lends itself to rich discussions and reinforces the idea that the purpose of reading is to go beyond the printed words on the page to an understanding of meaning.
Motivation and understanding
Another technique, called CORI, differs from many reading programs in that it focuses on reading non-fiction books, incorporating
hands-on experiences and motivating and engaging children. For kids who don’t enjoy fiction – and many boys don’t – CORI offers a new route to reading engagement through non-fiction topics.
During each 18-week CORI reading unit, the teacher offers students the chance to choose from a large collection of irresistible books; guides them in coming up with questions they want to research; shows them how to pluck meaningful facts from books; asks them to integrate their findings in a report; and has them share the highlights with their classmates. The technique offers kids the chance to make their own choices and to interact with their peers, which boosts motivation and lends itself to more engagement with the books and their meanings.
Strategies that work
"Reading for Meaning," the fifth program in the Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers series, features parents, teachers, and researchers who are using strategies that work in helping kids get motivated and engaged with the books they read.
- Children who are excited about a topic are more likely to want to read and understand a book about it. Libraries offer kids the opportunity and the freedom to explore topics beyond their immediate experience. "A visit to a library before the age of six is a life-changing event," says reading consultant Phyllis Hunter. "Research shows that children who visit the library before they enter school begin to think of themselves as readers and begin to think positively about books."
- In an elementary school in Salt Lake City, second- and third-grade teacher Margaret Barnes uses the CORI framework to teach reading comprehension skills to her students. Dr. Emily Swan of the University of Utah comments, "When kids are allowed to ask their own questions and find answers and can express that and communicate that to others, it validates that they’re a learner and that they’re a thinker and a reader and a writer."
- At Frank Love Elementary School in Seattle, reading expert Shira Lubliner uses the powerful Reciprocal Teaching technique, which she created, to improve students’ reading comprehension. The goal of Reciprocal Teaching is to give students the tools they need to run their own discussion groups, taking turns as leaders. By learning how to discuss a text, children learn how to read it for meaning.
- Teacher Robert Vettese uses the Theme Scheme program to help his third graders at Community
School 200 in Harlem discuss complicated stories. After discussing the story, the students reflect on how a story’s theme relates to their own lives.
- In Washington, DC, a group of fathers at a correctional treatment facility are taught how to motivate their children to read and how to lead a discussion about books. Each week, the children travel to the prison to participate in the book club. Having a chance to discuss what they’ve read increases the children’s comprehension. The program also helps the kids become closer to their fathers under very trying circumstances.
What you can do
Encourage your children to read books that interest them. Discuss books together. And together search for meanings. For
practical strategies you can use today, see our Parent Tips. Or send a fun and
encouraging e-card to a special reader in your life.