Comprehension instruction can be a challenge for many reading teachers. In this post, I am going to share six books with you that have helped shape how I teach reading comprehension in my classroom. It is no secret to my friends and family that I have a true love of professional resource books about anything and everything to do with education. When I travel for conferences, I always have one tucked into my purse to read in the airport. At the beach, I would rather read the latest book about brain-based learning than a new fiction romance novel. Reading has always been a huge part of who I am, but reading about teaching is a passion of mine. Here’s a picture of a book I was reading at the beach this past September. I was so happy to be soaking up the sun and some great literacy research!
Call reading about vocabulary instruction on a beach vacation a little crazy, but I believe that consistently continuing to devour books, opinions, research, and various perspectives about students, instructional methods, and learning is what has truly shaped who I’ve become as a teacher, what I stand for and against in the world of education, and why I teach the way I do. I also think that in order for educators to continue to improve their craft, a desire for continuous learning and professional development has to be initiated by the teacher. When teachers pick up a book about a topic or subject they are truly interested in, they will intentionally make great changes in their classrooms. It has always been my personal philosophy that if I am going to ask my students to read about the world around them, I need to be willing to do the same. In addition, being an avid reader of educational resource books has provided me with a constant excitement and thirst for teaching. If you’re someone who is feeling “blah” about school this year, you find yourself bored with your daily routines, or you feel as though you’re losing some of your spark or passion, I encourage you to pick up a book. Read it, devour it, relate it to your own classroom, apply the ideas, and soak in a newfound excitement for what is happening to you as a teacher. It’s called growth, and it’s a pretty remarkable way to keep the spark alive throughout your teaching career!
Six Resource Books for Reading Comprehension
The past couple of conferences I have presented at, several people have asked me to recommend some professional resource books for teaching reading. As you can imagine, I have read so many that putting them all into one blog post would be a bit daunting. Therefore, I’m going to be writing several posts over the next several months to share my favorite professional development books, and focus on one specific area of literacy at a time. Today, I’m sharing six of my favorite books for teaching reading comprehension. I’m providing a link to the resource on Amazon (affiliate link) so that you can easily add it to your cart if you decide it is one you’d like to dig into! I’m also sharing a quick summary for you of what I love most about the book. Each of these six books have shaped who I am as a reading teacher, and more specifically, how I teach comprehension in my classroom. Along the way, I’ll also share six pieces of advice for teaching comprehension to your primary or struggling readers. I hope you enjoy, and I hope this list is helpful for you as you continue your own professional journey as an educator. Ready? Let’s gets started!
Understand Why You Teach Students How To Read:
The 7 Keys To Comprehension by Susan Zimmermann and Chryse Hutchins– Understand why you teach students how to read. That sounds way too simple, right? However, I sometimes worry that in our quest to get students to become life-long, independent, fluent readers, we forget the golden rule of reading: We read to understand. If we don’t put comprehension at the focus of everything we do within our literacy instruction, we aren’t really teaching students how to read. Students need to understand what they read. Teachers need to know the important strategies to teach students in order to help them understand what they read. The 7 Keys to Comprehension is an excellent book to begin your journey in studying comprehension instruction. I love this book because it gives provides practical guidance for seven strategies for comprehension success. These seven “keys to comprehension” include:
- Creating Mental Images
- Use Background Knowledge
- Ask Questions
- Make Inferences
- Determine the Most Important Ideas or Themes
- Synthesize Information
- Use Fix-Up Strategies
The book is a wonderful book for parents, too. It gives suggestions for preschool readers, emerging readers, and advanced readers in each of the seven areas of comprehension. The book also has a section for each strategy that provides suggestions for how teachers can work with parents to improve their child’s comprehension skills.
Make Comprehension Visible for Readers
Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor- If we use cubes, tens and ones blocks, and counters to make math hands-on and concrete for our students, we need to be doing the same thing for our comprehension instruction. Tanny McGregor’s Comprehension Connections book provides hands-on lessons to teach the important comprehension strategies that are discussed in The 7 Keys for Comprehension. In Tanny’s book, she shares how to make the abstract concepts become real for readers through concrete experiences. This book is a favorite among many reading teachers. As primary teachers, we know how important hands-on learning is for students, so it’s no surprise that we need to make reading hands-on, too! Tanny’s book will give you amazing lessons that you can instantly apply!
Over the past several years, I continued to see the positive effects concrete experiences were having on my students, and I wanted to continue to provide new, hands-on comprehension lessons for my kids! I started to create and come up with lots of hands-on and unique ideas for comprehension lessons of my own, and the result and engagement from my little readers has been nothing short of amazing! If you’re desiring to bring more engagement, visible thinking, and concrete experiences into your whole group comprehension lessons, you will love the following blog posts and resources:
Teach Students How To Engage With The Text
Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis- This is the book I turn to after I have used a hands-on, concrete lesson to teach a comprehension strategy. It provides tons of different ways for students to apply a reading strategy to a piece of text, and it includes tons of graphic organizers, thinking sheets, and examples of student work. When I am lesson planning and looking for ways to help my students apply a reading strategy to a piece of text within a small group lesson, I frequently find myself pulling Strategies That Work off of my bookshelf. Perhaps one of my favorite features of this book is the final section. Harvey and Goudvis have included wonderful reference lists for teachers such as great texts for social studies and science content, magazines, website references, and even anchor chart examples. This is a resource book I turn to year after year!
Discussion Is Key
The Comprehension Experience by W. Dorsey Hammond and Denise D. Nessel- In my classroom, our oral language routine, Think, Talk, Teach sets the tone for conversation and discussion within our classroom. If I want my students to be skillful at discussions, I need to make sure I am intentionally teaching these skills within my lesson plans. (You can find my resource for oral language, Think Talk Teach, by clicking here.) Why am I sharing this with you? Your students’ oral language skills are directly related to their comprehension abilities. One piece of advice that I share with teachers in all of my presentations on small group reading is a tiny sentence that carries a BIG purpose: Conversation is key. Simply put, I firmly believe that having an engaging discussion about the book we read with students at the small group table (or during a whole group read aloud) is perhaps the greatest comprehension “activity” we can give to our students. It’s easy, however, for teachers to think they discussed the book with their students, when a lot of times, the teacher is the only one actively participating in the “discussion.” In the book, The Comprehension Experience, Hammon and Nessel give teachers the tools they need to facilitate engaging discussions that require students to think deeply about the text. The authors share thought-provoking questions for a variety of comprehension strategies that teachers can ask before, during, and after a text. They also discuss the important differences between a teacher-centered discussion and a student-centered discussion. THIS, my friends, is an important key to comprehension. True comprehension is not a child who answers a question that the teacher wants to hear. True comprehension is when a child can express their own thoughts, ideas, opinions, and responses to the text. The Comprehension Experience will help you create richly engaging discussions that promote higher order thinking skills for your students.
Give Students Direct Instruction with Fix-Up Strategies
The Cafe Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser – As we mentioned before, an important area of comprehension that you’ll want to provide instruction on is the idea of “Fix-Up Strategies,” which was presented within the book, The 7 Keys to Comprehension. Fix-Up Strategies are things readers do when they recognize that they don’t understand what they just read. They include strategies such as asking questions, rereading, skipping ahead, using the dictionary to understand an unknown word or phrase, etc. The Cafe Book is an excellent resource book that provides reading teachers with the tools, teacher-language, and lesson ideas to teach fix-up strategies for comprehension. The main focus of this book is to teach educators how to use strategy groups and reading conferences within the literacy block. However, for me, the magic of this book likes in the Ready Reference Forms in the back. In the Appendix, the authors have created a page for each reading strategy. It lists the goal, definition, purpose for the strategy, a secret to success, how to teach it, and troubleshooting notes. This Appendix section is GOLD for reading teachers who want a quick and easy reference sheet while they are working with their students. I put all of the Ready Reference Forms in a section of my reading binder so that they are at my fingertips during small groups. (You can read more about my Small Group Reading Binder by clicking HERE.)
Connect Reading Comprehension Skills to Writing
Comprehension from the Ground Up by Sharon Taberski- Sharon’s book simply has it all! She gives teachers the why, what, how, and when for all things comprehension during the Reading Workshop. Grab this book if you’re looking for ways to improve anything from your mini-lessons to advice on how to level books – and everything in between! She even discusses research on the importance of independent reading time and the power of reading logs within the classroom. As someone who uses reading logs on a weekly basis within my own classroom, this was refreshing and reaffirming to read about! (You can find the meaningful reading logs we use in my room to review and focus on comprehension strategies by clicking HERE.) What I love most about this book is the wealth of knowledge, ideas, and strategies Taberski shares for weaving writing into your Reading Block in purposeful ways. For example, Sharon shares how she taught students about character traits using books with strong characters, such as Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, by Kevin Henkes. Then, she wove this comprehension strategy into her writing instruction as her students worked on narrative writing pieces. Sharon even shares some of the graphic organizers she uses for her reading-writing connections on the CD that accompanies the book. Comprehension from the Ground Up is a great resource book for any teacher who is looking for research and ways to improve his or her whole group mini-lessons, small group reading instruction, writing instruction, and so much more.
Read, Read, Read!
Of course, my bonus piece of advice (and the most important one) is to provide plenty of time for students to practice reading in your classroom and at home. Our students do not become better readers through worksheets. Our students become better readers by reading lots and lots and lots of books and pieces of text! Although comprehension instruction can seem daunting at times, if we arm ourselves with great research from top literacy experts in the field of education, we can rest assured that we will continue to improve our instructional strategies! Furthermore, as we devour professional resource books to help us continually improve as teachers, we also continue to improve our students’ lives and our schools. I hope this list of resource books was helpful for you! Look out for a future post and list of resource books that shaped how I teach small group reading in my classroom.
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