How Reading Comprehension Impacts Subject Matter Learning

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  • 0:00 A Dreaded Conference
  • 0:43 Why it Matters
  • 1:35 Advantages of…
  • 3:10 Humanities Example
  • 3:43 STEM Sample
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

In everything from doing word problems in math class to following directions in science lab, reading comprehension is a vitally important core skill. This lesson explains why it is so important and provides classroom examples.

A Dreaded Conference

It's the sort of parent-teacher conference that teachers dread. Apparently the student always did really well in math, until he got to your class. 'As' have become 'Cs,' and the parent is rightfully concerned. You go over recent homework assignments with the parent, hoping that he will reach the same conclusion you did some time ago. When the questions are straight math problems, the student does extremely well. However, when faced with word problems, the student's performance crumbles. The core of this student's issue with math class is not an issue with numbers, but an issue with reading comprehension. It's a conference that math teachers everywhere have far more often than they would prefer.

Why It Matters

Math teachers often explain to their students that real-world applications of math offer few examples to simply evaluate the equation in front of them. Instead, it often requires mastery of different subjects. Inevitably, the other subject chosen is reading comprehension. However, English teachers are at the center of so much else that is happening in the typical curriculum. History and science homework often involves reading, yet it is in English class that these skills are learned. Foreign language classes assume that a student can at least comprehend her own language. Simply put, reading comprehension is vital to helping students not only succeed in English class, but in every other class they take. In short, our students need an interdisciplinary approach to reading that draws material from several other subjects.

Advantages of Interdisciplinary Reading

The advantages of such interdisciplinary reading are apparent, and not just from ensuring a baseline level of performance in other fields. Ultimately, as educators, we cannot hope to teach students everything that they need to know. At some point, whether it's an elementary school pupil researching butterflies or a college student looking into the motivation of a particular poet, students have to look to other sources. By giving them the basic tools to understand how texts in different fields work and how they are structured, we help them to understand how reading unites all of these fields.

Yet, it's not just a matter of need. It's a fact - some students are simply not excited by the material in a standard English curriculum. By using interdisciplinary reading materials, we can hope to reach a student where her interests lie. If the objective is to further reading skills, does it really matter if a student is performing well when reading a piece of literature or an equally challenging piece of history?

Speaking of challenges, we should not ignore the fact that difficulty coupled with insufficient interest turns off students from wanting to read. Note that I said 'insufficient interest', and not 'lack of interest'. If students press themselves to read a piece of sufficient interest, then they are able to handle more difficult pieces in the future. A middle school student may balk at the thought of reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea due to the weighty language, but after a few articles about submarines throughout history, her interest may get the best of her and motivate her to read the book.

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