When students, or any of us, find ourselves trying to make sense of a difficult text, it's easy to feel frustrated or even hopeless. In today's podcast, we'll hear about a simple strategy for supporting students when they encounter a text that is difficult for them, rereading. In this excerpt from the second edition of When Kids Can't Read—What Teachers Can Do, teacher, author, consultant, and former NCTE President Kylene Beers walks us through how to guide students how to reread productively. This selection from the audiobook is narrated by Meredith Beers, Kylene's daughter.
Below is a transcript of this episode.
Hi, this is Brett from Heinemann. Thanks for joining me on the commute this morning. When students or any of us find ourselves trying to make sense of a difficult text, it's easy to feel frustrated or even hopeless. In today's podcast, we'll hear about a simple strategy for supporting students when they encounter a text that is difficult for them; rereading.
In this excerpt from the second edition of When Kids Can't Read, What Teachers Can Do, teacher, author, consultant, and former NCTE president Kylene Beers walks us through how to guide students how to reread productively. This selection from the audiobook is narrated by Meredith Beers, Kylene's daughter.
Read, Rate, Reread. In 2010, researchers Keith Millis and Anne King found that rereading passages helped students understand expository texts, especially to clarify connections. Several studies from the 1980s reported that repeated readings improved comprehension of texts, and in 2000, researchers Catherine Rosson, John Dunlosky, and Keith Theiti concluded that repeated reading improved metacomprehension.
Some have found this is because working memory improves. Other studies show it is because repeated reading improves access of long-term memory, and some have shown this is because concentration improves with each rereading. Though the readings might vary, the outcome does not. Repeated reading helps us clarify something we initially did not understand.
More recent research by Amy Calendar and Mark McDaniel, however, points out that for less skilled readers, repeated reading of a passage of an academic text is more helpful when the rereading does not occur immediately after the first read. For instance, rereading a passage about volcanoes on Monday and then on Tuesday is more beneficial than reading the passage twice, the second reading happening immediately after the first, unless that rereading is to clarify a specific confusion the student has identified.
Separating the readings by a metacognitive task, jotting notes, identifying confusions, thinking about ways to solve that confusion, sketching a scene, improves the value of the second read. Struggling readers who immediately reread a text with no reflection do not benefit as much as skilled readers who immediately reread a text. Calendar and McDaniel suggest that is because more skilled readers are doing metacognitive work as they read, and less skilled readers are not.
Often though, when I tell some students to reread something, they do not think reading the same stuff again does them any good. That is partly because they operate under the misconception that skilled readers read something once, read it somewhat effortlessly, and get it the first time, every time. Rereading doesn't look any different from reading, so struggling readers don't see how many times proficient readers pause, loop back a few sentences, reread up to a point, reflect, start over completely, and then perhaps proceed slowly. Moreover, as we discuss text with students, we rarely bring up the issue of how often we reread, why we reread, how the rereading differs from the reading, or how we know what sections to reread. Therefore, less skilled readers don't hear teachers or other more skilled readers talk about the sentences, passages, or even chapters that they sometimes reread several times to construct meaning. We need to help these students understand that rereading is something that skilled readers do, and that it is an important way to clarify confusion.
While rereading is a very helpful strategy for clarifying confusion, occasionally, it is helpful to read on. If students tell you that after rereading they still can't figure something out, encourage them to read on, no more than a couple of pages, to see if that helps. To help them understand the value of rereading, take students through a read, rate, reread exercise early in the school year.
Step Inside a Classroom. Read, rate, reread is an exercise you can use to show students how rereading can change their understanding of a text. In a high school class I visited, the teacher distributed Sonrisas, a poem by Pat Mora, and told students to read it three times and each time to rate their understanding on a scale of 1 to 6. If they didn't understand it at all, they were to rate their understanding as a 1, and if they could write the spark notes for the text, they were to give themselves a 6. Each time they read the poem, they were to rate their understanding. After students had finished their third reading of the poem, the teacher asked students to raise their hand if their score had gone up after any of their readings. All students raised their hands. The teacher then asked why they thought each reading improved their comprehension.
At first, students offered an expected explanation, "Because I reread it." The teacher rephrased his question, "What happened the second or third time you read the poem, that did not happen the first time you read it?" Once he worded the question that way, the answers were more specific. Here is one student's explanation for his increasing score, "Slowed down the second time, already had an idea of what it was about, knew what the problem was and could focus on that. Knew which parts I had gotten and could quickly move past those. Had an overall idea so I could see it better in my mind, I already knew which words I didn't know, so I could be thinking about those when I read to find context clues."
One Important Question. I propose that each time students reread, they revise their understanding of the text. The first read of a story, a chapter, a poem, a novel, a webpage, a letter, an editorial cartoon, any sort of text, yields the first draft of understanding. Readers revise that draft through every rereading. That process of reading, revising, reading, revising, leads me to suggest that the reading process is more like the writing process than we might have realized. For instance, both reading and writing depend upon revision. We've all seen enough student writing to know that at some point, the revision of the writing begins to have the reverse effect. The revision, rather than making the writing better, makes it worse. "Stop," We cry out, "Use the previous revision." But with reading, every revision means an additional layer or dimension of understanding. Whether that is another question, new connections, a sudden clarification, or better understanding of one particular word.
Viewing reading as revision is a powerful way to understand reading, but one that requires that we encourage rereading of texts rather than discourage it. Perhaps this extends to entire texts. We know that young children want to hear the same book repeatedly. We all enjoy hearing the same song each time it comes up on our playlist. Many people want to watch a favorite movie from time to time. Art lovers love to sit in front of their favorite painting on any occasion. Why not let that seventh grader reread a favorite book for a book report? If your response is that that students won't actually reread the book, then the problem is with the assignment, not the book. If students do reread a book for an assignment, ask them to discuss what they noticed in this reading that they had not noticed in a previous reading. In a Houston area middle school, one history teacher agreed to try and experiment with me.
They were studying the Civil War, so he gave students a copy of a before, during, and after reading sheet I wanted to see students use. The template I provided had three columns and space underneath each column for students to write their reasoning. Column one prompted students to consider, what does the text tell me before I read, and provides additional questions to think through this. Who is the author? What do I know about this author? When was it written? Is that important? What is the title? What does that suggest? Are there chapter titles? Is there vocabulary I need to know before I read. Column two provided space for students to write my thoughts and questions as I read, and includes additional questions as a guide. What parts are confusing? What parts remind me of another text or something in my own life? What parts surprised me?
What questions do I have? Column three encourages students to write my ideas after I read, and includes additional prompts and questions as a starting point. My SWBS statement or statements? What do I think about what I just read? What do I think the author was trying to say? The most interesting part was? I'm still confused about? The names, dates, or events I most need to remember are? After passing out copies of this template to everyone, their teacher gave each student a copy of the Gettysburg Address. On September 12th, he read the speech aloud and asked students to respond to one of the prompts at the top of the second column. You can see an example of one student's response, as well as a blank template in the online resources.
Students then read this on their own five additional times. Each time, students recorded thoughts, and each time he read the speech, students understood more. One particular student moved from wondering if this is the same Civil War they were to discussing in his class, yes. To wondering if we are all equal. What this sheet does not capture is the conversation students had after reading this six times. All said that they liked getting to think about something for more than one day, and one explained every day at school, you are always on a new page or learning something new. It is always, hurry, hurry, hurry. I liked that with this, I got to keep thinking about something, and look at what I figured out. I did pretty good. You are often so rushed to make sure you cover all benchmarks and standards and progress markers that time becomes a precious commodity. What if many of the struggles our students faced could be solved by simply slowing down, giving them time to figure things out, letting them linger over words and thoughts for more than one class period? What if our best strategy were to do less?
As I was listening to Kylene's teaching suggestions, I was struck by how rereading, and particularly how framing rereading as revision, can help readers gain a sense of control over their reading and learning. Teaching this strategy once gives readers the tools they can use throughout their reading lives. Well, that's it for our commute this morning. If you'd like to hear more, you can stream or download Kylene's audiobook, When Kids Can't Read, What Teachers Can Do, the second edition, wherever you get your audiobooks. Thanks for listening, and let us know what you'd like to learn more about in our time together. You can learn more about Heinemann's audiobooks at heinemann.com/audiobooks. You can also email us at email@example.com with your thoughts.
Kylene Beers, Ed.D., is a former middle school teacher who has turned her commitment to adolescent literacy and struggling readers into the major focus of her research, writing, speaking, and teaching. She is author of the best-selling When Kids Can’t Read—What Teachers Can Do, co-editor (with Bob Probst and Linda Rief) of Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise into Practice, and co-author (with Bob Probst) of Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading and Reading Nonfiction, Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies all published by Heinemann. She taught in the College of Education at the University of Houston, served as Senior Reading Researcher at the Comer School Development Program at Yale University, and most recently acted as the Senior Reading Advisor to Secondary Schools for the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College.
Kylene has published numerous articles in state and national journals, served as editor of the national literacy journal, Voices from the Middle, and was the 2008-2009 President of the National Council of Teachers of English. She is an invited speaker at state, national, and international conferences and works with teachers in elementary, middle, and high schools across the US. Kylene has served as a consultant to the National Governor’s Association and was the 2011 recipient of the Conference on English Leadership outstanding leader award.
Kylene is now a consultant to schools, nationally and internationally, focusing on literacy improvement with her colleague and co-author, Bob Probst.