Uncovering the meaning of unfamiliar words while reading independently is a keystone skill for students from the time they start to read, all the way through college and beyond.
Monitoring for Meaning is an adaptable tool that guides students of all ages through this process, supporting them as they move through the cognitive steps of identifying and unpacking new words. As students work to decipher the meaning of difficult or unfamiliar words, they are empowered to access their prior knowledge and use available context clues to form their definitions, before turning to additional resources.
To access additional free K-12 resources from our team, please visit our Resources page.
About the text
Set in the rural South in the 1970s, Alice Walker's short story gives readers a window into the world of an African-American family when a daughter who left for school in the city returns to visit her mother and sister who remained behind. Walker uses quilting and other rural craft work as a metaphor for exploring the historical legacy of the enslavement of Africans in the United States.
Invitations to Create
Finding ways to engage students in the reading of classic texts can be difficult, particularly when so much teaching and learning is happening remotely. Invitations to Create — a method from our Literacy Unbound initiative, which reinvigorates students and teachers through project-based, collaborative curricula developed around challenging texts, ultimately increasing student engagement and building classroom community in the process — offer engaging multimedia prompts that are designed to support students in their reading and understanding of a shared piece of literature. Each invitation offers an opportunity to reflect, analyze, and synthesize the text at hand.
Invitations to Create provide key opportunities to move students from talking about the text to experiencing the text. Through each invitation, students can feel the story in ways that might not otherwise be possible — they can talk from within a text, and speak directly from the perspective of the characters. This process allows rich meaning-making to happen, and will allow you and your students to find ways to experience literature together, even while apart.
Each invitation in this set is focused on a meaningful quote that our team identified as a hotspot for further thinking, discussion, and creation. The hotspots are accompanied by multimedia connections such as historical photographs, audio clips of the quotes, and connections to current events or related media. These connections are meant to inspire further thinking, engagement, and curiosity for students while they're reading.
To access additional free K-12 resources from our team, please visit our Resources page.
By CRISTINA ROMEO COMPTON
When you’re caring for children who are participating in remote learning, it can be challenging to identify and understand their progress and growth as readers. You’re likely wondering: Am I doing this right? Are we making progress? How will I know? When children are in the classroom and engaged in in-person learning, the responsibility for these questions largely lies with their teachers. However, the new normal for teaching and learning requires equal — if not more — participation from parents, in order to support and ensure the advancement of students’ reading skills.
Given how busy we are trying to balance our own work responsibilities along with the needs of our children, it can often feel easiest to default to tools like reading comprehension quizzes, multiple choice tests, or even worksheets to help recognize and assess reading progress at home. While these measures can be helpful, they certainly don’t tell the whole story. We could be missing out on identifying areas of growth and celebration, as well as a robust understanding of our children’s areas of struggle.
But there are promising — and practical — strategies that parents can utilize to help monitor and track the growth of their children's literacy skills. Don't feel as though you need to create your own assessments, rubrics, or projects to achieve this — that is, unless you have the time, capacity, and energy! Instead, consider some quick, informal strategies to monitor students’ growth. These strategies can tell you a lot about a child’s reading behaviors, habits, and progress.
Habits & behaviors of good readers
In her book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Readers, Joanne Kaminski explains, “Kids who are highly effective readers and score high on their state exams seem to have similar habits.” She goes on to explain that she has seen these habits in her own children as well as children she’s taught and tutored. The seven habits she describes are:
This list can be helpful to parents as they look for evidence of their children's reading behaviors. When these behaviors are present, you can feel good that your young learners are on the right track!
As we level up our understanding of a child's reading progress, we can turn to Mosaic of Thought: The Power of Comprehension Strategies, in which the authors Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmermann outline a list of habits that are more reflective of the kind of work students are doing while reading, including:
For parents, a list like this can feel daunting. You may not know how to look for these specific skills, and are likely asking yourself questions, such as: How do I know they are inferring? How can I prompt them to determine what’s important? Identifying skills that children are exhibiting during reading is often left to teachers.
Knowing what to look for
There are ways to simplify the identification of reading habits and skills so that you can determine what children are doing before, during, and after their reading. We can break down more complex reading habits into observable actions, behaviors, or concrete examples that signify the deeper learning that is taking place. When it comes to reading, we can look for the following:
If your child is reading for long(er) periods of time, this is great! Interest and stamina are very important, especially as books increase in demands and complexity.
Have your child read to you! This can be a great way to monitor fluency, decoding, and self-correction strategies on the part of students.
Comprehension and thinking skills:
A simple set of questions can be very telling when it comes to a child’s predicting, inferring, and comprehension skills. You can use these same questions each time they read, and students can either answer for you, or as part of writing and drawing exercise. Here are some suggestions for what you can ask a child before, during, and after they read:
Thoughts about reading
Talk to your child about what they are reading. Ask them about the kinds of books they are reading, what they're enjoying (or not enjoying), and why. This can help you gain insight into your child’s general attitude toward reading, the kinds of books they gravitate toward, and the types of books that they find easiest to read.
When you've got young learners in your home, you deserve a lot of credit for balancing work, at-home learning, childcare, and household tasks. What you’ve been able to do during this unique time has been nothing short of remarkable. Remember that when it comes to supporting learning at home, we can monitor a child's reading progress with simple strategies that make the process feel useful and manageable for everyone involved. Start with a strategy that feels feasible and accessible, and build from there. Happy reading!
By CRISTINA ROMEO COMPTON
Distance learning can be challenging, especially for our young, emerging readers. In the classroom, young students are exposed to print-rich environments, and are supported and guided through a multitude of literacy activities such as phonics, guided reading, shared reading, and direct reading instruction. Now that learning is taking place in the home, there are growing concerns about the deficits young students will experience, particularly when it comes to reading. What can we do? How and when should we do it? And how can parents prioritize reading practices at home?
As a Master’s student, the focus of my thesis included understanding and improving the reading habits and attitudes of my third grade students. I launched my study by administering a survey, and provided them with a number of statements including, I like to read, I prefer reading to watching TV, and I read more than I watch TV. I had students read each statement, and then circle an emoji that best matched their feelings about the statement (ranging from positive to negative).
My students’ responses, along with my observations, were pretty discouraging. I noticed many of my students didn’t want to read, or would read for a few minutes before putting their book down and saying, “I’m done.” I was determined to do something. In the next phase of my work, I reached out to parents of those students with particularly negative responses to the survey, and asked if they would be willing to participate in my study. Their participation included signing a contract in which they agreed to engage in three specific literacy practices at home: reading aloud, shared reading, and independent reading.
It is these three literacy practices that I think parents should prioritize, as I believe they are simple, effective, and particularly helpful when it comes to supporting reading development outside of the classroom.
Reading aloud promotes fluency and exposure. Exposure plays a significant role in reading development and cultivating a positive attitude towards reading. The parents who participated in my study agreed to read to their children for 20 minutes a day, at least three times a week. I would encourage all parents to do the same. If you can do nothing else, read aloud to your child! Expose your children to as many books as possible, and regularly engage in read alouds. This can be incorporated into a lunch break, added to a bedtime routine, or even occur first thing in the morning — whatever works best for you. If this feels too difficult, there are many read aloud resources available online that can support you, such as Epic, which offers a massive digital library for children aged 12 and under, and YouTube, which offers free access to a variety of voices and titles to choose from.
If you’re ready, interested, and able to step up your read aloud game, you can engage your children further by asking simple questions: What do you notice? What does this make you think? What are you learning about ____? This kind of work promotes comprehension and inferencing skills.
The tried and true think-aloud protocol — in which you share what you’re thinking and what you’re predicting — can also be a powerful model for children. I even do this with my 8-month-old. As her mother I know she’s brilliant (of course!), but can accept she is clearly too young to do deep thinking work on her own, so I point to the pictures and the words in each book, narrating what they are, for as long as she lets me. It’s never too young to cultivate a love for books!
Fountas and Pinnell define shared reading as a reading experience in which children and their teacher engage in multiple read alouds of an “enlarged version of a text that provides opportunities for students to expand their reading competencies. The goals of the first reading are to ensure that students enjoy the text and think about the meaning. After the first reading, students take part in multiple, subsequent readings to notice more about the text.” From there, students discuss the text, and parents or educators determine next steps for support.
Ideally, parents would be able to put on their teacher hat while reading with their children, tracking and pointing to the words together, sounding words out along the way. Shared reading like this can help improve the rate at which children read, increase their fluency, and add to their enjoyment for reading.
Don’t be discouraged if this feels outside of your reach. Shared reading can also mean simply engaging in shared reading time, without any additional components. Each family member can select a text of their choosing, and read near each other. Whether this happens first thing in the morning, as you read the newspaper or your favorite magazine and enjoy a cup of coffee, or before bed, as you are winding down the day and in search of some quiet time. Being exposed to others who are reading can have a positive effect on a child’s attitudes and habits around reading, as it did for my young readers.
The final activity in my study involved an agreement from parents to provide quiet and uninterrupted time and space to engage in independent reading for at least 20 minutes a day. One of the biggest challenges to reading at home, according to my third graders, is the lack of space and opportunity to read alone. Children are often sharing rooms, household tasks and chores need to be done, and child care responsibilities need to be managed. This, I’m sure, has only been exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis, as everyone is now living and working from home. Home can feel even more chaotic than before, and quiet time can be a challenge. However, if you can find a calm space where children can engage in independent reading even for even small periods of time each day, it can have a positive impact on reading abilities. This space might be the corner of a room, on a bed, or even in the bathroom. We have to get creative!
If you’re ready to level up your independent reading game, task your child with practicing one simple strategy while they read. This might include asking them to jot down questions as they read, notice and note (What do you notice? What does this make you think?), or it could involve a challenge to find words that start with certain letters or that contain certain blends, such as Bl or Cr. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just one strategy that will allow children to practice on their own, and then share with you.
The last tip I’ll leave you with is: if it feels like these strategies aren’t working for your readers, be prepared to throw all these strategies to the wind. Put the book down, and try again later. This is a challenging time — stress and emotions are running high — and we all know that the dynamic between parents and children, when it comes to learning, can be difficult and unpredictable. Some days our children want our help, and sometimes they don’t want anything to do with us! Give yourself some grace and flexibility. Trust that what you’re doing is enough, and remember that one day will not create lasting, negative implications for your child’s reading abilities. Be kind to yourself and to your children, and remember that tomorrow is another day.
By DR. ROBERTA LENGER KANG
When my son was five years old, his Kindergarten teacher assigned the class 20 minutes of reading for homework every night. We would sit on the couch together, and he would read to me. We didn’t get but two or three pages into the book when his mind would begin to wander, he’d start making silly jokes, or pretend to get really sleepy. I tried to be persistent. I’d prop him up on my lap, and encourage that we point at each word on the page together, sounding them out one by one. He would just sit silently.
I asked him what was wrong, and after some time in silence, he mustered the courage to whisper, “There’s a word on the page that’s bothering me.” That’s what he said -- bothering. It was as if the word was out on the playground taunting him to jump off the swing, or in the cafeteria ready to steal his lunch money. The word was bothering him.
This was the first time it occured to me that reading is an emotional experience.
The second time it occured to me was when I presented a workshop on reading complex texts at Teachers College. The workshop was designed for a group of middle school teachers from New York City who were embarking on a literacy initiative at their school. As part of my workshop, I wanted to explore what makes a text complex, and why. I passed out seven different excerpts from seven different fields (legal, medical, literary, mathematical, computer science, crafting, and sports) and asked the teachers to read the texts and rank them according to easiest to most difficult. While everyone was engaged in reading, I saw one teacher pick up one of the texts, promptly put it back down again, and then push the paper all the way to the edge of the table where it flew off and fell to the floor.
In debriefing the experience, I asked the teacher to share with the group the strong response he had to this text. He said, “The moment I looked at it, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to understand it, and it made me feel sick to my stomach. I just wanted to get the paper as far away from me as possible.”
Reading is an emotional experience
We’ve all had this happen to us from time to time. For some, it’s when we’re reading an old English poem, or maybe it’s reading through a mathematical proof, or reading the instructions for filling out paperwork for the IRS. The big a-ha moment for us as educators is that the same reaction we might have when it comes to reading complex texts, may be the same reaction our students are having on a daily basis when we assign texts in our content areas.
Here’s something else I learned from this workshop: there isn’t one type of text that’s easy, and another type of text that’s difficult. I’ve conducted this same workshop with hundreds of educators and every time, I find that different people find complexity in different texts. Our experiences with text complexity are typically based on four criteria:
It’s these four criteria that inform the emotions we feel while reading. The more criteria we’re able to match to the text, the easier it seems to us. The easier the text is to read, the better we feel about ourselves. The better we feel, the more our confidence grows and our interest in reading increases. The fewer criteria we’re able to match to the text, the more difficult it seems to us, the worse we feel about ourselves. Our confidence decreases and our interest in reading decreases.
Helping students find meaning in texts
It’s possible we’re inadvertently creating spaces where students become less interested, less confident, and less comfortable with reading because of these emotional interactions with “difficult” texts. But there are some simple solutions that we can implement if we carefully consider the four criteria for making meaning:
These four steps are not always easy, but if we’re planning with these essentials in mind, we have the power to rapidly transform resistant or reluctant readers in any content area.
TAGS: LITERACY, READING, ROBERTA LENGER KANG