Five Strategies for Teaching Reading Skills to 4th-6th Graders
In August of 2010, California began its adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) designed to drastically improve the quality of achievement in math and English language arts/literacy. Gone are the days of a student’s mundane recall of a particular reading, merely drawing from their own knowledge and experience. By 2014-15’s school year, student readers were challenged to be able to answer questions about a text based on an in-depth analysis appropriate to their grade level.
For 4th through 6th graders, the CCSS requirements for reading skills ratcheted up with the intent to require students to develop their skills in terms of identifying key ideas, details, craft, structure, and test their threshold for integration of knowledge and ideas. For example, a 4th grader must learn to refer to specific details when summarizing a reading (whether orally or in written form) as well as explain their understanding of characters, settings, or events. 5th graders should recall accurate details and compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events. Their recall must be in-depth with reference to quotations from their reading. By the 6th grade, a student will learn to cite evidence in support of a text’s analysis. Their summaries should exclude their own personal opinions in lieu of identification of how characters respond or change to a reading’s plot evolution.
The recognition of craft and structure is tested in the 4th grade by the student’s ability to explain the major differences between prose, plays, and poems. Students will refer to structural elements such as character, setting, and first and third person narrations within their written and oral recollections. These skills continue to be challenged ever moreso, and by the 6th grade, a reader will thoughtfully evaluate how the structure of the text contributes to the narrator’s point of view, and the development of theme, setting, and plot. Via their reading skills, 4th through 6th graders should be able to demonstrate integration of knowledge and ideas by their ability to increasingly improve upon their ability scrutinize a reading, even to include visual and multimedia elements.
By the end of their student’s academic year, educators must secure scaffolding in place which will help students segue into their next grade level. Edutopia’s Consulting Online Editor, Rebecca Alber, asserts in her article, “How Important is Teaching Literacy in All Content Areas?”, that advancing students should confidently be able to refer to “...strategies for pre-, during, and after reading, such as: previewing text, reading for a purpose, making predictions and connections…”, and an even further challenge to educators and parents to “...inspire both a love for reading, and build reading stamina in our students (this means eyes and mind on the page for more than a minute!)”. With all of these standards and lofty goals in mind, I have researched five strategies for teaching reading skills to 4th through 6th graders which not only adheres to CCSS, but also enhance the reading experience for different types of learners.
#1 Guided Reading Groups
Source: Teaching To Inspire
Reading skills for grades 4th through 6th are developed while reading curriculum-required poems, plays, and prose. Reading groups allow the sharing of the reading experience with fellow students at the same level. Educator Jennifer Findley, shares her strategy for teaching reading to her 5th grade class. In her online blog, Teaching to Inspire, Findley explains the benefit of breaking her class up into groups of 4-6 students, each group representing readers below, on, and above their grade level. These kind of guided reading groups don’t necessarily need to have multiple sets of books in order for it to work, magazines and reusable, laminated print-outs of poetry or short passages can work as well. The groups allow Findley to encourage dialogue and foster deeper consideration of a text by reviewing difficult vocabulary words, reviewing what was previously read (setting up for a compare/contrast discussion), and be able to check-in on a student’s reading skills by listening to them read. From this observation, an educator can then plan for individual guidance and/or parent involvement in encouraging development of reading skills and achievement of CCSS. This kind of guided reading group strategy would benefit an entire class by not only having a dedicated amount of time specifically dedicated to reading, but can create an atmosphere of anticipation for student’s to get together into groups and create a safe space to study a reading and practice articulating their growing knowledge of craft and structure, as well as recalling key ideas and details. Additionally, an educator will be able to keep a running tab on a student’s range of reading based on which reading group they are placed in and/or advanced to, thus being able to make clear goals on a student’s end of year reading skills.
#2 Questions Before, During, and After Reading
Source: Teacher Vision
A complement to a student’s technical ability to read could be teaching inquisitiveness when approaching a text, which would require a student to ponder what they are reading in a more meaningful way. Teaching a student to actively inquire about what they are reading and how that reading compares (or not) to another text, requires the student to do more than discovering main characters, or identifying a setting. An educator can model this kind approach to a reading by posing questions to the class prior to beginning a reading (What is the author’s purpose in writing this? What predictions can we make based on the title?). Emulating how to “think out loud” can encourage a learner to follow the thread of questions they may come upon on their own but perhaps become discouraged when an answer isn’t readily available. Having stopping points along a reading can allow a discussion to take place as the class stops to revel in their wonder, learn from one another, and grow their understanding of words and phrases, explore how a series of chapters or scenes provide structure, and even look into a narrator’s point of view.
#3 Online Interactive Language Arts Skill Builders
Technology can be an asset to an educator looking for visual or multimedia aids to support reading comprehension and skills. There are student learners who will respond with greater understanding to an interactive guide guised as a bit of fun online. For educators who have access to computers/tablets, using online apps or games designed to teach groups, individual, or small groups of readers can be an enhancement within a classroom setting. For example, a game like Inference Battleship allows a student to play the traditional strategy game, but in order to make a “hit” on the opponent’s Battleship, the student must read a sentence or short paragraph and reach a conclusion based on the reading. Another online activity for on or above grade level readers (5th, 6th graders) involves a student reading a short story and answering questions about the story, plot, and development after. This type of activity is more straightforward and doesn’t necessarily offer a game to play, but perhaps completing a number of these individual readings would warrant at small prize or privilege. This site could also be shared with parents to encourage them to support reading at home and create another alternative for earning privileges such as a weekly or bi-monthly allowance.
#4 Brain Movies
Another strategy for teaching reading skills for 4th through 6th graders is to teach visualization. This kind of mental imagery allows a student (who self-identifies as creative or perhaps not) to stimulate their sensory nervous system. It can be a misconception to assume a student is naturally or always creative, so to alleviate that misnomer an educator may facilitate imagined images for a poem or play. This can encourage readers to consider more than just what is written -- such as how the reading makes them feel. Do they have anything in common with the characters? How is the setting different from their own schools or neighborhoods? Sharing their Brain Movies with one another allows students to practice citing evidence from their readings, quoting accurately when explaining their visions, as well as learning how to compare and contrast what they’ve read to what they “see” in their mind.
#5 Every Library a Makerspace
Source: Maker Education
To address not only Core Standards but the need to creatively teach reading skills to 4th through 6th graders--as well as be mindful of hands-on or project-based learners, high school Library Media Specialist, Laura Fleming, speaks highly of the “maker movement” as a catalyst to bridging reading skills to experiential learning. Fleming writes in her article entitled, “Literacy in the Making,” the maker movement is oftentimes solely associated with contemporary STEM-related concepts, but “This maker movement isn’t necessarily something new. For years in my library, I have allowed opportunities for my students to play and tinker with reading and writing. As a library media specialist, I felt that I had the scope and the affordances to make that possible, to enable activities that were outside of the sometimes strict classroom regimen. Those early experiences were my first attempts at creating a maker culture.” Often times, a dedicated Makerspace is created within a library (school or public) and is usually a “...physical place in the library where informal, collaborative learning can happen through hands-on creation, using any combination of technology, industrial arts, and fine arts that is not readily available for home use”, as defined by Leanne Bowler. This ambitious strategy not only addresses the need to bring youth back to libraries, both in schools and in communities, but it encourages abstract learning and creativity. For example, a library with a Makerspace that offers fabrics and materials for sewing encourages learning a finite skill, and allows a reader to perhaps think about what the characters in their reading would wear. What if they made a doll of a character, dressed it as described in their reading, and also considered how differently the doll would be dressed if the story/play/poem had a different ending? This kind of assignment can allow individuals and groups of students to play as they read. Even a classroom can have a designated area for a Makerspace if going to the library is not convenient. Play-dough and a smartphone could allow students to consider a scene from their reading and produce a short film. This would require analysis of the reading, collaboration for groups, and even writing a summarized script.
Literacy For All!
Throughout my research, I discovered several flexible ways to enhance reading skills in and out of the classroom and with consideration to parent involvement for 4th through 6th graders. There is no one perfect or concrete way to teach and encourage reading, as all students are different and learn differently. Having several ideas to approach a class as a whole or individual students and who have difficulty reading--or perhaps lack interest--can encourage growth and maturity, as well as continue to challenge those readers who are beyond their grade level. CCSS is a guide to pinpoint how well a student should be doing within various skill sets. Keeping those achievement markers in mind while designing supportive and creative curriculum for a class can lead to a student’s success in reading at the end of their academic school year, as well as keeping with the goals of Common Core State Standards.