Scarborough’s Reading Rope provides a model for understanding the components of skilled reading. This blog series examines each of the strands of the Language Comprehension half of the rope and how Wit & Wisdom® strengthens these upper strands.Image courtesy of Dr. Hollis Scarborough, 2001.
Developing Literacy Knowledge
Strong literacy knowledge—the understanding of the purposes, features, and conventions of texts—contributes to skilled reading. Like other components of the Language Comprehension half of Scarborough’s Rope, literacy knowledge builds throughout a lifetime.
Even before students enter school, they may start building literacy knowledge, such as understanding how to hold a book and which parts are the front and back. In the early grades, emerging readers first build simple print concepts, such as understanding that reading in English means moving their eyes from left to right and that books have an author and often an illustrator. This knowledge of text features and print concepts builds a foundation for literacy.
How do educators continue to build students’ literacy knowledge? By providing students opportunities to purposefully read a wide variety of genres with attention to text features, educators can help students develop internal frameworks for how texts work, strengthening students’ literacy knowledge and facility with different genres. Students also benefit from writing instruction in the same genres as the texts they read, which allows students to internalize the features of these genres and how authors convey meaning.
Instructional Moves to Build Literacy Knowledge
Throughout their time in school, students need opportunities to read a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts, including novels, informational trade books, speeches, poetry, short stories, lyrics, and news articles. Exposure to a wide variety of texts ensures students build literacy knowledge of different genres, the purposes of those genres, and their associated structures and features. Growing literacy knowledge helps students navigate new texts with a clear understanding of how different genres work.
As students read across genres, they benefit from explicit instruction in text structures, a key kind of literacy knowledge (Shanahan). To help students make sense of a text’s organization, teachers can use various strategies such as employing graphic organizers, looking for signal words, and asking and answering questions about the text structure. These strategies help students make meaning by analyzing the relationships between ideas presented in the text. With these strategies, students build literacy knowledge and a deeper understanding of the text’s content.
During instruction on text structures and features, teachers should maintain a clear focus on text comprehension, as some research suggests that simply teaching students a genre’s features may be less effective than using the texts for authentic literacy purposes (Duke and Roberts 82). For example, reading a recipe while cooking a dish helps the reader understand the genre’s features, such as the ingredient list order and the numbering of steps. In English language arts instruction, reading texts for authentic purposes—to answer a question of interest or communicate information to an interested audience—implicitly teaches students how different kinds of texts work. By reading with a purpose, students can leverage their explicitly built literacy knowledge to engage in important comprehension work.
Finally, integrating reading and writing widely benefits students’ reading comprehension (Duke et al. 76); however, it’s worth examining closely how students build literacy knowledge when reading and writing in the same genre. Two meta-analyses of the research on teaching text structures highlight the power of integrating writing into text structure instruction (Shanahan). Students may use the same graphic organizers and signal words from reading instruction to craft similar texts in their writing instruction. Making organizational decisions as a writer can also help students build their awareness of how specific text structures and features communicate ideas, which reinforces students’ experiences reading similar texts in the future.
Building Literacy Knowledge in Wit & Wisdom
In three key ways, Wit & Wisdom modules address the necessary literacy knowledge for students to comprehend complex texts:
- Every Wit & Wisdom module integrates literacy knowledge and skills while providing reading opportunities across genres. Through a wide selection of texts, students build genre-specific knowledge and skills in the reading and writing domains while also building robust knowledge of an interesting and worthy topic. For example, in grade 5 students start the year by reading the novel Thunder Rolling in the Mountains and by building their understanding of cultural beliefs and values through several historical pieces about the Nez Perce people. Students also analyze an 1879 speech given by Chief Joseph, study maps of the United States’ westward expansion, and listen to oral retellings of Nez Perce stories. As students study informational text features and enrich their learning via a variety of genres, they use their reading experiences to craft an informational essay.
- Organize and Reveal lessons help students attend to text features and structure. During Organize and Reveal lessons, students build their understanding of text organization and analyze specific features that convey meaning to the reader. While students read texts to build topic knowledge, they also engage in text analysis to build transferrable reading skills in making sense of text structure and features. Organize and Reveal lessons use strategies such as encouraging students to ask and answer questions about text structure, employing graphic organizers, and analyzing the use of signal words that help students identify the text structure.
- Wit & Wisdom writing instruction deepens literacy knowledge. During the Craft Stages, students learn how writers use text features by examining elements of authors’ craft such as how topic sentences work or how authors use subheadings to organize information. The End-of-Module Task challenges students to write in the module’s primary genre of study, providing students an opportunity to demonstrate their growing literacy knowledge and skill with different writing types. For example, in Grade 1 Module 3: Powerful Forces, students read a variety of texts, including informational and literary picture books, poetry, and informational articles. Through a study of sensory language and narrative structures, students develop their own narrative pieces. The lessons build students’ understanding of narrative text structures and features, which helps students analyze the texts and create their own.
Strong literacy knowledge allows students to make sense of a text’s organization and purpose and contributes to richer comprehension. To build literacy knowledge, students need opportunities to read a variety of genres, study them closely, and craft their own texts. Wit & Wisdom lessons help students do exactly that.
Duke, Nell K., and Kathryn L. Roberts. “The Genre-Specific Nature of Reading Comprehension.” The Routledge International Handbook of English Language and Literacy Teaching, edited by Dominic Wyse, Richard Andrews, and James Hoffman, Routledge, 2010, pp. 74–86.
Duke, Nell K., et al. “Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading Comprehension.” What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction, edited by S. Jay Samuels and Alan E. Farstrup, 4th ed., International Reading Association, 2011, pp. 51–93.
Shanahan, Timothy. “Does Text Structure Instruction Improve Reading Comprehension?” Shanahan on Literacy, 22 May 2021, https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/does-text-structure-instruction-improve-reading-comprehension#sthash.TvI535QX.4xO1yrx4.dpbs.
About Hannah Dieter
Hannah Dieter is a director of implementation services on the Humanities team at Great Minds. In this role, she leads a team of implementation leaders who support schools and districts across the country with their implementation of Wit & Wisdom and Geodes. Before joining the Great Minds team, she was the director of early childhood education for Lorain City Schools in Ohio. Hannah is also a former kindergarten teacher and instructional coach. She is currently working on her master’s degree in reading science from Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.
About Tanisha Washington
Tanisha Washington is a director of implementation services on the Humanities team at Great Minds. In this role, she leads a team of implementation leaders who support schools and districts across the country with their implementation of Wit & Wisdom and Geodes. Before joining the Great Minds team, she was an assistant principal for a charter school in Washington, DC. As an assistant principal, Tanisha was a member of the 2013 New Leaders’ Aspiring Principals program, the 2018 Relay Graduate School of Education’s National Principals Academy, and the 2018 School Leader Lab’s leadership cohort. Tanisha is also a former elementary school teacher and has a master’s degree in elementary education from American University in Washington, DC.
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