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Integrating Reading and Writing Instruction Into Content-Area Classrooms

The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that in 2022, the average reading score at both fourth and eighth grade decreased by 3 points compared to 2019. At fourth grade, the average reading score was lower than all previous assessment years going back to 2005 and was not significantly different in comparison to 1992.  Reading advocacy groups have a renewed focus on adolescent literacy. What should local schools do?


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From Cynthia Greenleaf, co-director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative

Students need access to materials on their current literacy levels to supplement instruction. Your media specialist or local public librarian can help.

Those readers and writers who struggle most might need even more intervention and support to be successful. Get parents involved too. Teach them a few strategies to reinforce at home -- the same ones being reinforced across the curriculum.

Focus on meta-cognition. Use think-aloud techniques to show students new thinking strategies you want them to acquire. Help students foster the ability to think; the core of strong reading. Make the problem-solving process that good readers use visible to struggling students.

Build a team. And that doesn't apply just to high schools. Middle and elementary schools also can benefit from a focus on reading and writing in content areas.

Facilitate open discussions between content area teachers, reading specialists, and administration. Focus on reading and writing as the means to raise overall achievement. Face the realities of your student body and encourage all teachers to integrate reading and writing strategies into their content instruction.

That doesn't mean that subject-area teachers should compromise their content. Each teacher should concentrate on one or two strategies, with an administrator or specialist coordinating and following up with coaching (very important!). Devote a short segment of each staff meeting to teacher modeling and discussion. Easy strategies for content area teachers to use include:

  • prediction
  • questioning
  • summarization
  • activating background knowledge
  • previewing and skimming
  • visualization
  • use of graphic tools
  • idea generation/prewriting/note taking
  • organization

Don't forget motivation. When students improve reading and writing skills and see a personal connection to learning, they develop new interest. Likewise, teachers who see students improve develop renewed zeal. Let a teacher try it once; they'll never look back," says Roland Smith, an author of books for children and young adults, who recommends that teachers use fiction in the content area classroom. He and many other authors have designed curriculum to make connections between content area learning and their books. You also can select micro-texts (excerpts) to enhance learning.

William Bintz, professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Kentucky states, Teaching reading [and writing] especially in middle and high school isn't just an addition to an already bloated curriculum; it allows teachers to create personally meaningful curriculum." No matter what your curriculum or grade level is, students gain more when they have the tools of reading and writing to help them understand it.


About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller uses her library science degree from Florida State University as the foundation of her work. With more than ten years experience as an independent literacy consultant working with teachers, parents, librarians, and non-profit family-friendly organizations, she has conducted research initiatives and best practice studies in the areas of beginning reading instruction, emergent literacy and volunteer tutoring. She currently is listed on the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse Registry of Outcome Evaluators.


Article by Cathy Puett Miller
Education World
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