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December 6, 2012
Vol. 8
No. 5

Reading for Meaning

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Reading for Meaning in a Nutshell

Reading for Meaning is a research-based strategy that helps all readers build the skills that proficient readers use to make sense of challenging texts. Regular use of the strategy gives students the opportunity to practice and master the three phases of critical reading that lead to reading success, including
  • Previewing and predicting before reading.
  • Actively searching for relevant information during reading.
  • Reflecting on learning after reading.

Three Reasons for Using Reading for Meaning to Address the Common Core

  1. Text complexity. Reading Anchor Standard 10 and Appendix A in the Common Core State Standards for ELA & Literacy (NGA Center & CCSSO, 2010a) both call for increasing the complexity of the texts that students are expected to be able to read as they progress through school. Reading for Meaning builds in all students the skills used by proficient readers to extract meaning from even the most rigorous texts.
  2. Evidence. The Common Core's Reading Anchor Standard 1 and Writing Anchor Standards 1 and 9 all highlight the vital role of evidence in supporting thinking. As the English Language Arts standards (NGA Center & CCSSO, 2010a) description of college and career readiness states, "Students cite specific evidence when offering an oral or written interpretation of a text. They use relevant evidence when supporting their own points in writing and speaking, making their reasoning clear to the reader or listener, and they constructively evaluate others' use of evidence" (p. 7). Few strategies put a greater premium on evidence than Reading for Meaning, which provides direct, supported training in how to find, assess, and use relevant textual evidence.
  3. The core skills of reading. Reading for Meaning helps teachers build and assess the exact skills that the Common Core identifies as crucial to students' success, including identifying main ideas, making inferences, and supporting interpretations with evidence. Because Reading for Meaning uses teacher-created statements to guide students' reading, teachers can easily craft statements to address any of the Common Core's standards for reading.

The Research Behind Reading for Meaning

Reading for Meaning is deeply informed by a line of research known as comprehension instruction. Some scholars attribute the beginning of the comprehension instruction movement to Dolores Durkin's (1978/1979) study "What Classroom Observations Reveal About Reading Comprehension Instruction." Durkin discovered that most teachers were setting students up for failure by making the false assumption that comprehension—the very thing students were being tested on—did not need to be taught. As long as students were reading the words correctly and fluently, teachers assumed that they were "getting it."
Thanks in part to Durkin's findings, a new generation of researchers began investigating the hidden skills and cognitive processes that underlie reading comprehension. A number of researchers (see, for example, Pressley & Afflerbach, 1995; Wyatt et al., 1993) focused their attention on a simple but unexplored question: What do great readers do when they read? By studying the behaviors of skilled readers, these researchers reached some important conclusions about what it takes to read for meaning, including these three:
  1. Good reading is active reading. Pressley (2006) observed, "In general, the conscious processing that is excellent reading begins before reading, continues during reading, and persists after reading is completed." Thus, good readers are actively engaged not only during reading but also before reading (when they call up what they already know about the topic and establish a purpose for reading) and after reading (when they reflect on and seek to deepen their understanding).
  2. Comprehension involves a repertoire of skills, or reading and thinking strategies. Zimmermann and Hutchins (2003) synthesize the findings of the research on proficient readers by identifying "seven keys to comprehension," a set of skills that includes making connections to background knowledge, drawing inferences, and determining importance.
  3. These comprehension skills can be taught successfully to nearly all readers, including young and emerging readers. In Mosaic of Thought (2007), Keene and Zimmermann show how teachers at all grade levels teach comprehension skills in their classrooms. What's more, a wide body of research shows that teaching students comprehension skills has "a significant and lasting effect on students' understanding" (Keene, 2010, p. 70).
Reading for Meaning is designed around these research findings. The strategy breaks reading into three phases (before, during, and after reading) and develops in students of all ages the processing skills they need during each phase to build deep understanding.

Implementing Reading for Meaning in the Classroom

  1. Identify a short text that you want students to "read for meaning." Any kind of text is fine—a poem, an article, a blog post, a primary document, a fable, or a scene from a play. Mathematical word problems, data charts, and visual sources like paintings and photographs also work well. The "Other Considerations" section of this chapter provides more details on nontextual applications.
  2. Generate a list of statements about the text. Students will ultimately search the text for evidence that supports or refutes each statement. Statements can be objectively true or false, or they can be open to interpretation and designed to provoke discussion and debate. They can be customized to fit whichever skills, standards, or objectives you're working on—for example, identifying main ideas or analyzing characters and ideas.
  3. Introduce the topic of the text and have students preview the statements before they begin reading. Encourage students to think about what they already know about the topic and to use the statements to make some predictions about the text.
  4. Have students record evidence for and against each statement while (or after) they read.
  5. Have students discuss their evidence in pairs or small groups. Encourage groups to reach consensus about which statements are supported and which are refuted by the text. If they are stuck, have them rewrite any problematic statements in a way that enables them to reach consensus.
  6. Conduct a whole-class discussion in which students share and justify their positions. If necessary, help students clarify their thinking and call their attention to evidence that they might have missed or misinterpreted.
  7. Use students' responses to evaluate their understanding of the reading and their ability to support a position with evidence.
Read more of the book.

Durkin, D. (1978/1979). What classroom observations reveal about reading comprehension instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 14, 481–533.

Keene, E. O. (2010). New horizons in comprehension. Educational Leadership, 67(6), 69–73.

Keene, E. O., & Zimmerman, S. (2007). Mosaic of thought: The power of comprehension strategy instruction (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). (2010a). Common core state standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Washington, DC: Author.

Pressley, M. (2006). Reading instruction that works: The case for balanced teaching (3rd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.

Pressley, M., & Afflerbach, P. (1995). Verbal protocols of reading: The nature of constructively responsive reading. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Wyatt, D., Pressley, M., El-Dinary, P. B., Stein, S., Evans, P., & Brown, R. (1993). Comprehension strategies, worth and credibility monitoring, and evaluations: Cold and hot cognition when experts read professional articles that are important to them. Learning and Individual Differences, 5, 49–72.

Zimmermann, S., & Hutchins, C. (2003). 7 keys to comprehension: How to help your kids read it and get it! New York: Three Rivers Press.

Harvey Silver is president of Silver Strong & Associates and Thoughtful Education Press. An experienced educator, presenter, and coach, Silver has conducted thousands of workshops for schools, districts, and state education organizations throughout the United States.

Silver is the author of several articles and books on instructional tools and strategies, including some ASCD bestsellers: The Core SixThe Strategic Teacher,  So Each May Learn, and Teaching What Matters Most.

With the late Richard Strong, Silver developed The Thoughtful Classroom—a renowned professional development initiative dedicated to "making students as important as standards” and collaborated with Matthew J. Perini to develop the Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework.

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