Very few teachers will argue with the idea that today’s learners are different than the students who walked through the schoolhouse door even ten years ago. Today’s learners have different learning needs than their predecessors. Digital media has shaped much of how students approach learning. Because digital media is so highly interactive in nature, teachers have raised concerns that today’s readers, especially adolescent learners, can become passive and have limited engagement with the printed word. It has become more critical for the teachers to adapt their instructional techniques in order to increase engagement in the reading process. With this, textbook publishers must also address this concern and incorporate a “best practice” approach to the creation of texts that recognize the reality of today’s learners and assist teachers with utilizing a strategic approach to reading. With the Encountering Jesus series, Ave Maria Press has taken up that challenge.
Adolescent readers who encounter explicit and organized approaches to reading strategies embedded in text will be more engaged in the passages and thereby increase connection to the presented concepts and ideas. Text that incorporates this approach increases the engagement of the adolescent reader and assists in counteracting a passive approach to learning.
Elaine K. McEwan-Adkins, EdD, suggests seven strategies that help the reader to engage with text. They are:
Effective learners make connections from prior knowledge and experience in order to construct meaning from text. It is critical that instruction constantly build on prior knowledge and bridge this to new learning in an explicit fashion. Using real world events and essential questions are techniques that help to make the connection between prior experiences and new learning. Under the title of “Focus Questions,” each chapter the Encountering Jesus series begins with an essential question, which helps to set the relevance of the chapter material and invites the student to connect the key ideas to their lives.
Restating the meaning of text in one’s own words asks the reader to actively interact with the text rather than to passively glance at a passage. Throughout the Encountering Jesus series, students are asked to use various techniques to summarize and produce products to help them actively organize the material from the chapters. These various summarization techniques are used to complete the assessment of learning, that happens at the end of each chapter.
Explicit processes of locating what is written in the text combined with what is unwritten (based on the experiences of the learner) helps to facilitate a deeper concentration of the concepts and ideas. Surface learning occurs when there is more of a concentration on rote memory of facts and figures, reinforcing the “learn it for the test and forget it” approach. Through the various reflection questions used through the series, student are constantly challenged to make personal connections, draw inferences, and to identify the relevance of the material to their lives. This strategy promotes a deep retention of the critical content.
Effective readers consistently think about what they are reading to ensure that they understand. The Focus Questions embedded at the beginning of each section are re-visited upon the completion of the chapter, helping to strengthen the comprehension of key ideas.
The processes of self-questioning, question generation, and question answering help the reader to see that reading is a dynamic process of interaction, thereby facilitating participation. The act of questioning increases the reader’s interaction with the text. At various points throughout the Encountering Jesus series, readers are asked to engage in the act of raising questions about the concepts and ideas that they encounter. Raising questions assists the reader to interact with the text in a meaningful way to aide comprehension.
Inviting the adolescent reader to search a variety of sources in order to locate information to answer questions, gather information, or solve problems builds on the needs of today’s learners to use technology to validate their learning. For example, in Jesus Christ: God’s Revelation to the World, the first text of the series, students are invited to conduct research about the Christmas crèche to extend the learning from this section of the text. The synthesis of research and chapter material culminates in the creation of a visual representation of the material to illustrate mastery of the concepts.
A final strategy to increase active engagement in reading is the development of graphic organizers. By constructing a visual diagram to arrange important concepts, the reader can see how new ideas and concepts are related to each other. This visual approach is consistent with the visual nature of many of today’s learners. The act of constructing graphic organizers invites the learner to interact with the text to help create meaning. Using a wide range of graphic organizers, from concept webs to charts to Venn diagrams, students are challenged to create visual representations of key ideas that are presented throughout each text of the series. Reflecting the value of “reading for purpose,” these graphic organizers are used to help complete the various section assessments found in the text.
In order to meet the needs of today’s learners, learning materials must explicitly integrate strategies within the text to engage the learner and to increase mastery of concepts and ideas. The explicit use of strategic reading approaches creates the conditions for the reader to interact with the text in meaningful ways. The use of approaches like these causes the reader to become more involved in the learning process and helps to decrease passive approaches to learning. Active construction of knowledge assists the reader in making connections between this critical material and their lives.
McEwan, E. (2007) 40 Ways to Support Struggling Readers in Content Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Dr. Michael Boyle is a professor in the School of Education at Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Boyle is also the Director for the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness at LUC.