Each month District 90 places a spotlight on a specific literacy strategy. Students and teachers across the District talk about the monthly strategy and share ideas with one another. Research tells us that these tools must be explicitly taught while a child has the close support of a teacher or parent and is exposed to an instructional level text. Students cannot wait to master these skills until they encounter complex text, above their reading level, when they venture out to college or the workplace.
The research on this topic is rich and informative. We know what good readers do. Good readers have mastered specific skills that help them comprehend (or remember) text. As a skilled reader, you naturally make inferences, connect your background knowledge to the information you read, and summarize or predict what the author might say next. When reading easier text, you do each of those without thinking. However, when you encounter more complex or difficult text, you will find yourself being more aware of the steps. For example, if you’re reading a novel for enjoyment, you won’t find yourself needing to make notes of important events or themes. However, if you try to navigate a technical journal at work or a complex textbook in a graduate class, you will take notes and thoughtfully summarize the material as you consume it.
The District 90 March Literacy Strategy focus is “Text Features.” Text features include all of the components of a story or article that are not the main body of the text. Examples of text features are: table of contents, index, glossary, headings, bold words, sidebars, pictures and captions, and labeled diagrams.
Good readers don’t allow themselves to become distracted by the text features, but understand how to use them to better comprehend the topic. For example, good readers recognize that an author might try to show significance by using bold or headings. They also recognize that sidebars or call-out boxes sometimes simply offer additional information, but may not be as important as the main body of the text.
Help your child improve his/her comprehension skills by talking about pictures and diagrams you encounter when reading. Decide together if the text feature was important to the author’s message, or were instead just an “interesting additional fact.” Helping your child weigh the importance of a text feature will help him/her know how much time to spend on the feature. For example, good readers know they shouldn’t spend time reading the glossary, but instead should use it when they encounter an unfamiliar word.
As with any comprehension strategy, it’s especially important that your child master this skill before encountering complex text, or text that is above your child’s instructional reading level. Think back to when you were in high school or college, and encountered a difficult text. If you didn’t know when to focus on and when to tune out the text features, you might have struggled even more with the complex text. Teaching children this skill early in their reading skill development will help them master even the most difficult of texts in the future.