Reading with High School Students

How to manage reading with high school students. Tips from a reading expert.
Reading with high school students? I asked an expert!
I took *zero* classes in college or graduate school that focused on reading with high school students. I think the assumption is that older students can read, and we secondary teachers should delve into texts – analyzing, critiquing, examining.

Well.

That is not the situation I always find. Sometimes, I wish I were a reading specialist. I know that other ELA teachers probably face the same questions I have.

I sat down with my neighbor and close friend Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven—a high school teacher with that reading specialist certification. After much back and forth, we combined my concerns for reading with high school students into two main ideas. My questions and her answers are below.

In my high school classes, I try to squeeze every second of the class period. How and why should I set time aside for individual reading?

Success in this world is largely dependent upon literacy. Research has proven that choice reading (with texts that are just right) is the most important element when it comes to encouraging students to read more on their own. Teachers need to engage students with meaningful, relevant texts, and the majority of the time, this cannot be achieved through whole-class novels.

Independent reading increases students’ vocabularies, reading comprehension abilities, and overall literacy skills; most importantly, it gives a positive connotation to reading. Kids who are allowed to read for pleasure often start to see it as a lifelong hobby instead of a daily school chore that is always accompanied by work. 

When paired with conferring, independent reading helps us to build relationships with our students. We can address every reading literature standard when we connect whole-class lessons to independent reading. And, we can differentiate, challenging students who need to be pushed while scaffolding for the ones who aren’t yet as far along on the learning progression.

While all aspects of an ELA curriculum are valuable, independent reading has the potential to increase students’ success both in the academic setting and in life. It’s tempting to eliminate independent reading time from our curriculum due to time constraints, but it just doesn’t make sense to do so when we look at all the research.

This is the independent reading program that I have found to be the most positive and rewarding for all levels of learners in my classroom.

Reading with high school students - the tricks and the methods for helping secondary students succeed with reading.

I took zero ‘reading classes’ in college. Sometimes, I have students who struggle with reading. I want to help them, but I also don’t want to make them miserable with questions, highlighting, sticky notes…

What’s the balance? What are realistic approaches to use with these students?

Disrupting thinking is an issue, for sure. On one hand, scaffolding texts is an integral part of a successful reading unit. Still, there is such a thing as killing a love for reading with burdensome activities which can either be perceived as frustrating or busywork to students.

To me, it’s about the balance. I enjoy, in whole-class reading lessons, modeling reading strategies using the think aloud method. Then, in smaller groups, it’s better to target reading strategies we know students need to develop. Understanding the learning progression for reading skills can help us to challenge students when they are ready. And, independently, students can apply these skills and strategies to their own texts.  

As far as “activities,” we definitely need to be researching new strategies to make reading comprehension activities feel like less of a chore. There’s no need to assign a project after every novel a student finishes. And, it hasn’t been effective for me to give a comprehension question homework assignment with every text. 

It really depends on our purpose for the work. Why do we want students to complete it, and what is the most efficient and engaging way to have them show their thinking? Let’s build those into our classroom reading culture.

As far as realistic approaches, teachers need to build students’ background schema before approaching an unfamiliar or challenging text. I often use video clips and songs that are related but in a surprising way. Students also enjoy short web-quest assignments and mini jigsaw research projects to help them grasp the historical context they need to understand complex texts.

During reading, teachers can ask students questions that relate the text to their own lives. To add fresh variety, we can use: 

…and more! to encourage students to look back at a text several times without even realizing they are doing so. Rereading is a key ingredient to truly understanding multiple layers of meaning in a text, but finding creative approaches to get students to analyze the story further is the key.

Finally, if the class is reading a whole-class novel, we have to make sure students have the scaffolding they need to be successful. Incorporating choice through different avenues is important. There’s nothing wrong with asking students to annotate the text once in while, for instance, but building in some variety and choice for how to do so helps (and if those options can appeal to different learning styles, even better).

***

And… those are the answers Melissa gave me about reading with high school students. I hope these answers give you insight into helping your secondary students with reading.

Melissa has taught English at the secondary level for eleven years. She specializes in the flipped classroom and the co-teaching experience. Using her masters degrees in Curriculum & Instruction and Reading, Melissa has worked with at-risk teenagers, inclusion classes, college-bound pupils, and gifted-talented students. She also holds a reading specialist certification. You can read more of her teaching tips, including thoughts about classroom management, reading comprehension, grammar instruction, differentiation strategies, writing activities, vocabulary retention, and best-practice teaching approaches on her blog, Reading and Writing Haven, or follow her on IG @readingandwritinghaven or on Facebook.

Interested in other interviews? I sat down with a college professor for ideas about teaching writing.