The ability to understand and interpret a written text is essential not only for academic success, but for successful participation in many aspects of adult life. PISA data shows that U.S. students lag behind their international peers in reading: in the U.S., only about 8% of students reach the highest levels of proficiency, compared to 13% in Canada and 25% in Shanghai.
To help students improve their reading skills, high-performing schools focus class time on text analysis and critical thinking, rather than surface-level tasks such as plot summary. They have rigorous, consistent standards for evaluating students, and they incorporate reading skills into all subject areas.
Best Practices in Reading Instruction:
1. Develop a rigorous set of internal standards. To create consistency across teachers, and to foster high expectations for student achievement, successful schools design rigorous standards to assess student reading. Standards focus on students’ ability to analyze text and apply a critical perspective. All teachers are trained on the standards, and schools create rubrics to make it easy for teachers to assess students against them.
2. Focus on text analysis and critical thinking, rather than plot summary. At high performing schools, students spend class time discussing and analyzing text, rather than simply recalling what they read. Writing tasks require students to read text closely, interpret what they have read, and make connections with other written materials.
For example, teachers at several GLN member schools have incorporated a “Socratic Seminar” into their lesson plans, to allow students to discuss their views, ask critical questions, and engage deeply with a text.
3. Develop reading and writing skills in all classes, not just English. High performing schools encourage teachers in all subject areas to focus on reading and writing skills. Along with English teachers, science, math, and history teachers also give assignments that require students to read, comprehend, and analyze text. Students get support in adjusting their writing styles for different subject areas.