Teaching Reading in the 21st Century

Instructor: David Raudenbush
Teaching reading has changed in the 21st Century. Young readers need to be prepared to meet more demanding expectations and to read in a digital world.

Welcome to the Future

So you don't have a pair of anti-gravity sneakers in your closet or a flying car in the garage? That's too bad. The 21st Century, so far, isn't as futuristic as science fiction in the last century predicted.

In some ways, teaching reading in the 21st Century isn't much different than it was in the 20th Century. However, teachers must prepare children for a more demanding world, with higher expectations for students entering college or moving into careers. Furthermore, the nature of how people read has changed. For example, people now do a great deal of reading on digital media, like computers and smartphones. Since the nature of how we read has changed, it only makes sense that we need to change how we teach reading in the 21st Century.

Computers are a tool for reading teachers in the 21st Century
Digital literacy

Standards-Based Instruction

Not that long ago, reading teachers needed a fairly simple set of instructional tools. In the primary grades, you needed the alphabet posted above the chalkboard. You may have used some phonics worksheets. You probably worked from a simple reading book with a few words on each page, like 'look' and 'see.' As students progressed through the elementary grades, they read stories from basal readers, textbooks with stories formatted for reading lessons. Under this system, measuring student progress was often left up to the teacher.

Today's reading teacher operates in a world of standards-based instruction. The state and federal governments adopt lists of standards or expectations that they expect students to meet by the end of each grade level. Most states use a standardized test to monitor how well students perform against these standards.

The Common Core State Standards are a recent example of instructional standards. These standards, adopted by many states, encourage more rigorous instruction and higher expectations. In reading instruction, the CCSS pushed for students in all grades to read more nonfiction than they did in the past. They raised the level of text complexity, requiring students to read more challenging texts at every grade level. These standards also encouraged teaching students to use a reading technique called close reading.

The Common Core developers felt previous reading instruction focused too much on front-loading strategies to build vocabulary and background knowledge. The close reading replaces front-loading with a thorough examination of the vocabulary and sentence structure the author uses. This method builds comprehension based on 'the words themselves,' a phrase often used in Common Core materials.

Standards-based reading instruction has a couple goals. First, it aims to improve the United State's standing in the best educational systems in the world rankings. For decades, the US lagged behind other industrialized nations in reading and math achievement. Another goal is to make certain that more students are prepared for college through more challenging reading instruction.

Learning Programs

One-on-one communication between teachers and students remains a vital link in learning how to read. Additionally, teaching reading in the 21st Century involves interaction between students and computers. Today's student can learn reading skills using educational computer programs sometimes called interactive learning technologies.

A student clicking away on a computer might not seem like reading instruction to some teachers. Digital programs have their advantages. For example, students spend time engaged with the reading material, moving at their own pace, rather than waiting for the next direction from the teacher. Programs can adjust to the reading level of each student, so the learning is more customized to every child's needs.

A typical integrated technology lesson on a computer might start with activities to teach new vocabulary words or reading skills followed by students reading a passage. As they read, they answer vocabulary and comprehension questions. Students also get instantaneous feedback from these programs, allowing them to learn from their mistakes and improve their reading skills.

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