photo by riekhavoc on flickr

As I prepare to teach our most basic reading course for college freshmen this fall, I find myself trying to distill what I know about teaching reading to its most basic, crucial components.  I will have these students five days a week, which is intimidating but also freeing – I know that active, creative teaching strategies take time, and meeting every day will give us that time.

So, what is at the heart of reading instruction?  At first I thought I would go micro to macro: start with the smallest parts – words and then details.  Once the students understand the words and recognize the details, the comprehension skills – identifying the main idea, seeing organizational patterns in text, recognizing author’s tone and purpose, etc. – will all start to fall into place.

But as I was writing this (the first time, before Word Press ate it and I had to start over), I realized that before I have students break down paragraphs for words and details, I want them to learn to preview the text before reading. So few students know how to do this or realize how crucial it is for understanding; many students identify previewing as the most useful skill they learn in my reading classes.  Previewing gives us a framework we use to make sense of the details.  So, our semester will consist of playing with words, discovering the power of standing on the mountain top and experiencing the view, then learning to analyze the details.

Today I tried out my plan when I met with a new adjunct teacher, gave her the textbooks and a brief summary of this post as a way to help her decide what to focus on as she begins to plan her classes.  Went well.  She was pleased and encouraged and said this approach made a lot of sense.  (She was also relieved that I didn’t expect her to cover the whole book, but that’s another post for another day.)  Sense is good.  I’m never quite sure how well sense translates to classroom success, but remain ever hopeful.  I’ll let you know.  It’s all in the details.

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