Content Literacy 101

Setting Purpose (from Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?)

"If we don't help students pull out essential information by giving them a purpose for their reading, they will often get lost in the extraneous details. When we share a clear instructional purpose, we give our students a lens through which to read the piece."    
--Cris Tovani 
Why use it?
As the above quote points out, many students get lost in the details when reading a difficult text. Content textbooks (especially science and history) often provide confusing details such as proper names and dates that mask the main subject. While some teachers may feel that providing a purpose "dumbs down" a student's reading of the text, it often has the opposite effect by increasing the student's comprehension. 

How do I use it?
Before you can tell your students what their purpose is in reading a certain text, you need to determine for yourself what that purpose should be. The following steps will guide you in deciding what the students should get from the reading:

Procedure: Finding Your Instructional Purpose

1. "Decide what students should know after reading the piece. Focus on essential information only.
2. Anticipate what might cause difficulty:
  • Are students lacking background knowledge?
  • Will difficult vocabulary interfere with meaning?
  • Will difficult concepts need to be explained further?
  • Is the text about challenging subject matter?
  • Is the text organized in a confusing matter? 
3. Model how you would negotiate difficulty. Try thinking out loud at one of the places      where you anticipate students will experience difficulty. Give them a tip on how to negotiate the next part.
4. What do you want them to be able to do with the information once they have finished reading? How will they hold their thinking so the can return to it later to use in a discussion, a paper, or a project?
5. Model how they should hold their thinking and provide tools. Should they mark text, use sticky notes, complete a double-entry diary?"

What do I do now?
Now that you have an instructional purpose for the reading, you just need to share it with your students. This purpose is often called an objective. This can be as simple as saying:

"After you are done reading today, I want you to be able to ____________."

You should incorporate this purpose into the lesson for the day, and have students do something with it (either with the information you wanted them to get, or using the concept you wanted them to understand). 

NOTE: Make sure you reconnect with this purpose after the reading! Look under the "Post-Reading" strategies to get ideas for how to do this.

(Procedure and follow-up both from: Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?)