Utilizing “Reading for Meaning” to Raise Achievement for All Students

This is my fourteenth year in education overall, sixth year serving as a school board member, and second year teaching 5th grade. My school is a Title I school, and although the opportunity gap is large, our students and their families still have high expectations for the education and experiences we can provide and are dedicated to meeting every challenge. Because I wanted to ensure that I was delivering quality instruction that was aligned to the Common Core Standards, I went beyond our assigned curriculum and starting searching for proven, effective strategies on my own. I asked my mentor, and she introduced me to a specific repeated routine called “Reading for Meaning.”

“Reading for Meaning” allowed me to align an outdated, clunky reading curriculum with the current Common Core Standards plus scaffold skills like critical thinking so that all of my students were appropriately challenged. Here’s what it looks like: The teacher provides a list of statements about a text, demonstration, or data table, etc. Then students preview the statements before reading. While reading, they look for evidence that supports or refutes each claim. Students record the evidence at their ability level, which means some may draw if their writing skills are not yet developed.  Finally, students discuss their reasoning for the decisions they made. In my class, the discussion usually turns into a debate where students eventually vote and reach consensus on some particularly controversial claim of the day. Before I started using the strategy, my class discussions felt stunted and sounded dull or would easily get off-topic. I struggled with asking questions that encouraged my students to think critically.

The magic of this routine is that it allows students to discover their own viewpoints and learn to navigate environments where people hold different opinions about the same issues. My students are encouraged to lean on their inferences so they can build an argument and then use concrete resources like the text to provide evidence. What I love most about the routine is “statements can be designed to fit whatever skills you’re addressing.”1 Finally, it allows the students to step forward and do the heavy lifting of learning while the teacher steps back as facilitator (and sometimes referee!).

Now they are answering and debating questions such as “Why is the ocean considered a resource?” and “Why do people refute the claim that climate change is a problem?” This past month, while reading a text about scientists studying sunfish, a student stated that they “agree that the ocean is a resource because ocean life migrates all over like the sunfish, so we have to stop polluting the whole thing, not just parts of it.” Next, I asked who agreed, and students voted. Then a student that disagreed stated, “I refute that the ocean is a resource because the text says that scientists study the sunfish to influence public opinion, and people haven’t changed their habits about polluting it. Look at all the plastic bottles we drink out of in the class!” Students either nodded yes or shook their heads no emphatically, and some started talking with their neighbors while others started yelling out. Their passion made the room buzz with excitement. After a few rounds of “for and against” arguments, we took a final vote. Every student then wrote about their opinion using evidence from text.

In the end, strategies like “Reading for Meaning” can help every student gain high-quality educational experiences that build skills for success. Using other repeated routines that weave in habits of learning and relational skills is a powerful tool that every educator can use daily. I recommend that teachers look at Tools for Thoughtful Assessment and Routines for Reasoning (for math) to help expand their understanding of repeated routines and unlock their own excellent classroom experience. Utilizing strategies that help students meet ever-higher standards is one way to prepare them for success in our 21st-century society.

Katie Paetz currently teaches 5th grade in Arizona. Katie believes children learn best when communities and teachers come together to inspire students to find their passions and develop useful skills. She is the past president of the Osborn School Board and is serving her second term. On the board, she passed inclusive sex education policies, culturally relevant curriculum, and restorative practices that make school equitable for all students. Katie serves as the only teacher on the City of Phoenix Traumatic Incident Intervention Resources Ad Hoc Committee where she works with volunteers to provide innovative solutions to the trauma crisis.