Strategies for teaching informational text
One of the biggest complaints I hear about Common Core is the push toward informational texts. This is often accompanied by the complaint that we are no longer allowing students to read for the sake of reading. Just yesterday, a teacher said to me, "I wish we could read novels. With all these informational texts, kids are losing the love of reading."
Minutes later, I went to Facebook and noticed my friends sharing articles. I hopped on Twitter and noticed the same trend. They weren't just sharing the articles, either. They were geeking out on the ideas. We are naturally inclined to find information fascinating - to the point that we have to share it out to the world. Nobody on Facebook is getting a grade for it. They're sharing an article because they found it relevant.
As a classroom teacher, I want to see that same level of excitement as students engage with informational texts. The following are eight strategies to make informational reading fun again.
1. Student Choice
When I first taught reading, I allowed students to choose novels during silent reading time. I made a huge deal out of the genres that were available. I asked students to develop a personal taste. However, I didn't allow students to select their own informational texts. This was odd, given the fact that every student had at least one interest that he or she was passionate about. If I had simply asked, "What information do you want to find?" rather than "What do you want to read?", I would have been able to help students fall in love with informational texts. Now, as a journalism teacher, I begin with student choice and the natural desire to find information.
2. Think More and Work Less
Often when a student gets frustrated with informational reading, it has less to do with reading and more to do with the work required. When students read one page and answer nine text-dependent questions, they get frustrated by the work. When teachers ask students to practice strategies mentally (such as thinking about clarifying questions rather than actually writing the questions), students spend more time reading. This, in turn, leads to reading endurance.
3. Keep the Strategies Flexible
Close reading isn't a bad thing. However, too often close reading becomes a lockstep procedure rather than a flexible strategy. Students focus on whether they are doing the process correctly instead of thinking about the information in the text. I've seen students stare at a poster worrying about what color they are supposed to use when highlighting a text rather than thinking about the accuracy of information and the bias of the source.
4. Personalized Practice
Informational reading becomes more fun when students feel like they are improving as readers. This is why I ask students to look at the standards to identify which areas they have mastered and which areas still require improvement. Before reading, students select two strategies that are strengths and one that is a weakness. Instead of the hurried, frantic race of a pacing guide, students are given the time to practice a reading strategy until they have mastered it.
5. Solve a Problem
Outside of the classroom, one of the most common motives for seeking out an informational text is the desire to solve a problem. Too often, though, students are simply answering text-dependent questions that do little more than test comprehension. What if we started informational reading with student inquiry? What if we allowed students to see informational texts as an integrated part of research? When this happens, informational texts become challenging and relevant to an actual context. That, in turn, makes the task of reading fun again.
6. Make Something
One of the best parts of teaching photojournalism is that students get a chance to use the information for making something new. This could be research for a podcast, facts for a video, or information for an article and editorial. Similarly, when I taught all subjects in a self-contained class, students often read informational texts as an integrated part of project-based learning. The reading remained fun because it was a vital part of what they were creating.
7. Embrace Technology
Too often, students are asked to read informational texts in a way that doesn't reflect the current context of our world. They highlight photocopied articles or take notes on textbook chapters. When teachers embrace technology, students can find more specific informational texts that fit their interests.
8. Don't Shy Away From the Conflict
Teachers do a disservice to students when they treat information as inherently neutral. Informational reading becomes fun when students see the conflict inherent in any informational text. They should be examining the bias of the language and analyzing the social, political, and economic forces at work in an author's argument. As they think critically about the conflict in a source, students see informational reading as the inherently dangerous act that it is.
There is no guarantee that every student will love every text. However, I have found that these eight strategies have helped students regain the inherent love of informational reading.