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Understand How Your Students Read to Make Class Time More Effective

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Reading is one of education's greatest drains of time. Helping your students read to learn (and learn to read) can help you overcome this potential pitfall to your class schedule or curriculum, using simple techniques that involve natural learning and gentle repetition.

Reading: Education's Greatest Time-Thief

Reading takes time, and it takes it greedily. Don't get me wrong; it's the most efficient method of information transfer humanity has come up with. That being said, reading is usually one of the most time-consuming parts of your students' education.

Between reading excerpts from the text in class, reading homework assignments, and even reading your PowerPoint slides, you may find your class time being overwhelmed by this classic time-thief.

With that in mind, let's talk about how you can maximize your time in the classroom by understanding how your students read both at home and in class. There are several techniques that can help you out here, and the first one we'll cover is discerning their basic reading level.

Working with Your Student's Reading Level

In my teaching experience, the level at which your students read defines roughly the speed at which you can teach them. Their study at home is going to have to keep up with your teaching in class, or they'll miss out on understanding a lot of crucial stuff.

Sometimes 1-on-1 teaching can be essential to helping your student make the most of their reading.

If you're short on ways to adapt your curriculum to the progress of your students, you can check out this article for some useful ways to work with students that may be moving faster or slower due to their reading ability. Here, however, we're going to talk about how you can work with the reading level specifically.

For students with lower reading ability, one technique you may find helpful is to work with a student's parents on their reading ability, or enlist their help in assisting your student with reading comprehension. If they want to read alongside their child, or answer questions about the terminology, pronunciation, or overarching significance of their assigned study sections, this can help your student be prepared long before they're sitting at their desk in class.

If you go this route, be sure to get feedback and advice from the parents on how their child's reading is progressing, and how well they understand the material.

On the other hand, some of your students may read far beyond what is typical for their age. If their assignment is too easy or offers no challenge, this can also create problems in the classroom, allowing them to disengage from the lessons or get distracted easily.

To remedy this, you might consider giving optional reading. While it's not mandatory, it gives those who read well some guidance on where they might continue their study, to help them dig deeper into the material, rather than just reading ahead before it's helpful. Also, an incentive for completing the optional reading, such as bonus points on a quiz or some above-and-beyond type of reward, can make it a much more appealing track for a student to take.

Next, let's take on the subject of reading comprehension.

Techniques to Ensure Reading Comprehension

The following has probably happened to you already.

Sometimes you'll have a student read a passage, which they'll do just fine. They look up at you, you ask them about the passage, and they go 'What?' It's as if they're surprised that some level of comprehension was necessary to make the reading worthwhile.

This can be incredibly frustrating.

Thankfully, there are some preparatory techniques that allow your class to search for the important portions of what they're reading. When you ask someone to read from the text, you have to be ready to prepare them for what they're about to read. Give the class a teaser for the section, such as posting a question and then following up with 'Let's look for the answer in this next paragraph.'

You can also give out your reading assignment while assigning two or three of the reader's classmates to listen carefully for the meaning of the read portion.

If you have a younger audience (or sometimes even an older one), giving incentives for reading comprehension can still be a good practice as long as the rules for any prizes given are clearly defined.

Essentially, if you're going to give prizes or privileges out for reading or comprehending, then explain the rules for winning those prizes at the start of class. According to Julia G. Thompson, there are three general guidelines to making this technique work: make sure your rules are 'stated in positive terms, general enough to cover a broad range of student activity, and easy for students to remember.'

Other techniques for maximizing reading comprehension and avoiding wasted time include paraphrasing the text before reading, and then having a student paraphrase it in their own words afterward, or giving the whole class a few moments to read over a section of particularly dense or difficult text and then present what they learned from it afterward.

Learning to Read is a Journey

You're probably going to run into problems with poor reading skills whether you use these tools or not. The techniques presented above can minimize the damage to your class schedule, but it's still vital to keep in mind that these students are learning to read under your supervision.

You have the power to help your students master this life skill.

While you might not be their reading teacher, the more you can help them polish their reading ability, the more success they'll have in academics later in life. If you have a student who is struggling to keep up with reading at home or in class, try several different methods to encourage them.

Reading isn't a skill everyone picks up naturally. They may be eight or eighteen, but if they feel like they're behind the rest of the class, you have the power to keep them from just giving up. The tools mentioned above are meant to make their learning process smoother, more natural, and positively reinforced by gentle repetition.

Above all, just remind them: reading takes time.

By Stuart Mayo
January 2017
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