Improvement Science

Part 2

What are the big ideas?

Successful Strategies for Teaching Reading to Middle Grades English Language Learners Teachers can employ a variety of classroom-tested strategies to teach reading to English language learners.

By: Nicole Bolos

This article focuses on reading strategies for English language learners(ELL). What resonating with me were the effective instructional strategies to implement in the classrooms: 1) interactive read-aloud: teachers model the process of reading for ELLs, to model fluency and comprehension skills-not to read for the students. Then to chunk the text into manageable parts and allow for checks in student understanding. 2) comprehension strategies:  making connections, asking questions, visualizing, inferring, determining importance and synthesizing. Just as in read-alouds teacher can model think-alouds to demonstrate comprehension strategies during reading. 3) vocabulary enrichment: vocabulary infused within reading instruction, frontloading-teaching vocabulary prior to the start of a lesson (word walls, student-developed definitions with pictures) and graphic organizers to organize thinking-integrate language and thinking to highlight key vocabulary in a visual display of knowledge.

From Reading to Understanding


There’s an alarming gap between middle school students’ ability to read words and their ability to comprehend texts across various disciplines,

“an enormous number of current middle school students will graduate unprepared to comprehend complex texts necessary to succeed in college or in today’s competitive workplace.”

Knowing that a gap exists in our students’ ability to comprehend at level is not only alarming, but detrimental. Students are going through their educational career without the basic skill needed to succeed. Support is essential and deepening teachers’ understanding about the reading process and effective literacy practices across content is crucial.

Literacy for All: Learning at a “Just Right” Level

Using leveled text across the curriculum helps every teacher be a literacy teacher.

By: Holly Noel Wagner, Jeanne Bonds, Barb Superka
  • Teachers are caught between knowing what needs to be done regarding literacy and making it a part of instructional practice.
  • Teachers struggle on how to implement literacy throughout their instruction.
  • Working in cross content teams with a literacy specialist in order for teachers to see how leveled literacy could work in their classrooms.
  • Identify the goal or essential question in order to determine instructional strategy, intervention, accommodations and assessment variations.
  • articles not always available at different levels, modify most succinct section of text.
  • use of Lexile analyzer– allows users to upload text files to determine Lexile reading level and Rewordify– re-words the most complex vocabulary in a passage of text to assist in modifications.
  • student groupings critical to effectiveness of lesson (data-based groupings best at first)
  • possibly incorporate media students to film opportunities to share at a staff meeting in order for teachers to see what it can look like

What’s resonating?

As important as building relationships with our students are to the foundation, so is comprehension. Not just reading, but speaking and writing literacy. I think at the core of any relationship is wanting to have a voice and to be understood, but before one can give understanding one has to have understanding. (having a Yoda moment)

What questions do you have?

How can I innovate close reading? Does close reading need to be innovative? What is best for the learner?


We have an upcoming group project where students are to create a postcard from either a whaler, trader, explorer or missionary and to write home about the political, social and economic impacts their arrival has had in Hawaii.  Students will need to research primary and secondary sources using close reading strategies. We will reach this point in the next 2 weeks. What I did do was implement marking the text (listing names, dates, places, words I don’t know and annotating by commenting, questioning, illustrating and connecting) I observed that some students struggle with annotating without prompts, not making the connection that annotating is to assist with comprehension. My next steps are to add modifying text levels, more read-aloud/think-aloud, graphic organizers and groupings to assist with comprehension.

Part I: My Change Idea

What is best for learners across the board? What is essential to moving our kids forward? Reading comprehension via close reading. Doug Lemov hits the nail on the head when he defends against “gist” readings,

Students will not succeed if they can observe in only a general sense that Hamlet is unhappy, or summarize the Bill of Rights broadly but not understand the specific language used to frame each individual right, or understand, generally, that glucose levels in the blood affect health, but not how.

I completely agree that we need to ensure that our students are completely aware and comprehending what they are reading, writing and saying. Otherwise, there is no deep understanding only superficial.

According to Embracing the Common Core: Implementing New ELA Standards, Christine Botvinick and her colleagues at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, Colorado were able to collaborate and plan close reading strategies that

resulted in some the of most descriptively rich and tonally consistent narrative pieces I’ve ever read from 10- year olds as well as, noticed a shift in their active engagement levels and excitement for writing.

Close reading is not new, but what we are doing is renewing our focus on this essential skill for comprehension and it’s working!

Partners for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, 2011 states,

A significant body of research links the close reading of complex text-whether the student is a struggling reader or advanced-to significant gains in reading proficiency and finds clore reading to be a key component of college and career readiness..

This tells me that close reading strategies are not only for college and career readiness, but a life skill that can promote engagement and empowerment. If we can teach our kids to master strategies proven to help them with comprehension, then there is no debate. The questions are, why isn’t this skill taught consistently at our school and why haven’t we been adequately trained to do so?


That being said, my change idea is to implement close reading strategites to improve comprehension.

  • use of marking the text by listing Names, Dates, Places and Words I Don’t Know
  • annotate by writing a comment, question, illustration or connect