As I was familiarizing myself with Reading Strategies for the Content Areas (Beers & Howell, 2003), I was able to identify some potential strengths and weaknesses in my approach to teaching reading in my classroom. The authors identify eight key areas in which independent readers excel.
- ~ have strategies to use when encountering new words.
- ~ connect new knowledge to existing knowledge to make personal meaning.
- ~ think ahead to what might be coming in the reading.
- ~ continually evaluate their own understanding of what they have read.
- ~ create images of what they are reading.
- ~ periodically summarize what they have read and learned.
- ~ use textual cues, visuals, and text organization to increase their understanding.
- ~ have a plan for how to approach the reading task.
I frequently ask questions and prompt students to make connections between new material and their own lives. The emotional content of unfamiliar music can be difficult to grasp, especially if the text is in a language other than students' own, or when there is no text at all. Asking questions for clarification also allows students to evaluate their understanding. Often, I will ask students to generate their own questions about a given culture or piece of music prior to learning about it in class. Many of my class projects also include a visual element, so that students can translate what they have learned into a variety of forms. To that end, I include not only written assignments, but music composition, lyric-writing, and visual arts. I keep a large, rolling bin full of donated composition notebooks, and I encourage students to write in them at least once weekly. Sometimes the journal entries are informal, anonymous, and personal. Other times, I ask specific questions for reflection on a given topic based on prior learning experiences. I also use a variety of graphic organizers to display information during each unit.
I have been getting better at reinforcing key terms through means other than rote memorization, but I am interested in developing new strategies to approach music vocabulary. Focusing on the word structures through graphic organizers and anticipatory activities could help students to figure out some of the terms on their own, without excessive prompting. I would also like to provide a wider variety of blank graphic organizer sheets for students to arrange key information for each unit. Student input is important to me, so perhaps I can consider asking students to design their own graphic organizers after they have used several exemplars in preparatory exercises. I find that in music, being able to anticipate the path ahead is probably the most important aspect of reading. Ideally, students should be able to anticipate the end of a musical phrase or a written/spoken sentence. This is the foundation for all musical improvisation, sight-reading, etc. If a student can apply language skills to the concept of music, he/she might improve in both areas concurrently. The one area that will help us to reach this end result is the planning stage. Again, I hope to provide students with the means to develop their own reading plans that can apply to either language or music symbolism. It will be necessary to reinforce all of the key concepts through brief, intensely focused activities surrounding basic concepts. Then, we can start to identify common structures/patterns, and apply them to a whole piece or reading activity. For my purposes, front-loading an activity or unit with vocabulary and goals might assist students with future activities. I would also like to provide more structure and focus to teacher and student-generated visuals, in order to increase motivation. I see a lot of copies, in my future!
Beers, S., Howell, L. (2003). Reading Strategies for the Content Areas. Alexandria:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.