Imagine reading an article about a topic totally unfamiliar to you. You read the it once, memorize a few terms for a test, and then forget about it forever. Now imagine that the teacher provides examples of the key ideas and connects the new content to what you already know. You are challenged to evaluate and analyze the ideas in the article. You revisit the text to find evidence for your arguments. You generate questions and revise your misconceptions about the topic. In a few weeks, you still remember the article and can refer to it when you encounter a related idea; it has become relevant to you.
When students attain deep understanding of a text, they:
Explain the text thoroughly, understanding who, what, where, and when.
Assess, compare, and understand why and how.
Apply ideas from the text in new ways such as by writing an original essay or creating a project based on ideas from the text.
There are three key roadblocks that prevent students from achieving depth in their reading:
The skills and discipline that expert readers use to navigate a text are far from easy or natural. Reading for depth requires focused attention, the willingness to slow down and re-read certain passages, and a critical perspective that questions, evaluates, and engages in a discourse with the text. This way of thinking is not obvious and often will not happen without guidance and structure.
Gaps in content knowledge, language barriers, or reading impairments make comprehension a struggle. Even with the best of intentions, students who cannot make sense of what they read will not achieve depth.
They may be putting in a high level of effort, but the cognitive skills are still unfamiliar to them. Because their thinking is invisible, they continue to repeat the same mistakes, rely on misconceptions, and may ultimately stop trying.
The solution to overcoming the roadblocks above is to help teachers activate, support, and reveal student thinking.
Activating thinking entails showing students how to read for depth and ensuring that they adopt the strategies and thought processes of expert readers. Teachers activate thinking by modeling close reading, asking higher-order questions, facilitating discussion, and encouraging students to annotate while they read.
Supporting thinking enables students to access the text and receive the guidance they need. Teachers support thinking by making it possible for students to overcome common reading obstacles such as gaps in content knowledge or vocabulary deficits. Technology helps students make sense of the words by offering dyslexic settings, built-in foreign language dictionaries, and text-to-speech.
Revealing thinking is a means of demonstrating the learning process in order to improve it. Teachers and students need to see how students construct knowledge to assess learning strategies and understand where students are struggling. Revealing thinking consists of having students write extensively while they read, encouraging metacognition, and providing effective feedback for deeper learning.