The Spark Staff
When award-winning literacy expert Carol Jago presented the webinar, Teaching with intention…and heart, she reminded us of what our true intentions should be as educators: "to help children lead literate lives and to help them ache for what can be found in books." We thought we'd share seven of her top strategies for you to use to help boost the literacy achievement in your classroom.
1. Recognize that grit can't be taught like other subjects
Grit drives action and confidence, and not necessarily in that order. It makes students more likely to raise their hand in class and take, as Jago calls them, "academic risks." But building grit isn't the same as mastering math or conquering reading. She encourages educators to help their students feel safe and included in the classroom. According to Jago (and the book she sites, Helping Children Succeed, by Paul Tough), "Children also need to believe that their ability and competence grow with effort."
2. Choose books that speak to the human condition
And have an answer for why you're reading them, because students WILL ask. When content is relevant to students' lives, it's easier for them to connect with it and derive meaning—and wisdom—from it. What's more, it helps learners glean greater understanding of the world, themselves, and each other. According to Jago, "reading fosters emotional intelligence and empathy."
3. Don't confuse close reading with annotating a text
It's crucial not to treat close reading in the same way we treat text annotation, because they aren't the same. Close reading involves interpreting a text's meaning to promote deeper understanding, whereas text annotation is a practice of close reading that can help enable that interpretation. Jago also stresses the importance of empowering students in their review of complex text by "showing them where to look," without "[telling] them what to see." We have to "invite them to take interpretive risks," she continues.
4. Incorporate activities that get students to look closer at text
And make them fun! There are several ways to do this. One method Jago recommends is having students look at a painting for a set amount of time and then list all the items they can recall from the painting once time is up.
5. Ask students to consider comprehension breakdown
Sometimes to better understand things, all we have to do is ask the source! Jago advises us to have students "become metacognitive about their own process of comprehension" to help them identify where they start to go astray with textual understanding. Encourage them to ask themselves what they don't understand. When we know what triggers these breakdowns, we can more aptly circumvent them or "begin to know what to do next."
6. Find a balance between nonfiction and literary texts
We need both in our classrooms to do right by our students. Jago attributes this year's lowest literature scores in the last five years to a lack of this balance. "We can't be making this always "either-or,' it needs to be "and' and "both,'" she affirms. The nonfiction genre has become increasingly interesting and relevant in recent years, so there are plenty of options to keep students engaged. But literature is just as critical—so check your bookrooms and libraries and make sure you have a healthy tension between the two!
7. Practice, practice, practice
Becoming more literate is really no different than mastering anything else. And that means it requires a LOT of practice. As Jago mentions, we want students not just to be able to read texts, but to CHOOSE to read them. "It's not about having students with really high reading skills; it's about turning students into readers. Why is this important? Because books teach us how to talk about our feelings…how to describe what's in our hearts." Jago concedes that when educators ask her how many books their students should read in a year, her answer is always one word: "More."
Watch the webinar, presented as part of our fall Lead the Way to Literacy series, to hear all of Carol Jago's strategies for teaching with intention…and heart.
Register now for our spring Lead the Way to Literacy webinar series for more professional learning from our thought leaders.