I have been reflecting lately on the role of reading, and more broadly literacy, in enabling learners to make sense of themselves and the world. The superficial type of reading fostered by the digital environment and the preponderance of misinformation and even disinformation have put me on high alert. I am worried about the tendency of both adults and young people to dart from one site or source to another, processing little beyond graphics and headlines, ignoring any text that is too complex or challenging, and believing anything they “read.” If my goal is to enable students to become independent learners with an inquiry stance on the world, then it is my responsibility to integrate the teaching of deep reading skills into my teaching of inquiry.
To provoke my own thinking, I recently read Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf. Although Wolf’s focus is reading, I engaged with the book through my lens of inquiry. I tried to translate Wolf’s ideas about digital reading into the types of reading and the skills that I thought would be most important at each phase of inquiry. It’s been an interesting process. I have certainly deepened my understanding of the skills that students need to be able to develop their own ideas, interpretations, and conclusions throughout the process of inquiry. I share my thoughts below in the hope that others will push back, question, and add to my ideas about integrating deep reading with inquiry.
Connect. The Connect phase of inquiry has probably been impacted more than any other phase by my new understanding of deep reading skills. Originally, I envisioned students engaged in overview activities, like listing what they think they already know about the topic and gathering background knowledge of the main ideas, people, dates of the overall topic. In my mind, Connect was largely an intellectual experience. By adding deep reading strategies, Connect can be transformed into a highly personal, relevant, and meaningful start to an inquiry experience. I would teach students to identify their own feelings and assumptions about the topic, read laterally to discover multiple perspectives, determine the importance of information, create aconceptual map of major ideas and overall context, and discover aspects of the topic that are personally interesting or evocative.
Wonder. Wonder questions are usually generated from the internal and external connections that students make during the Connect phase. Teaching the strategy of questioning the text will facilitate the development of questions that students are motivated to pursue through inquiry: challenging the ideas in text (Why?, What if?, So what?); extending the ideas in text (What else is important?, Whose voices are missing?); and connecting to their own personal interests (Why do I care about this?, What intrigues me?).
Investigate. An important reading strategy to enable students to pursue deep meaning and not just bits of information during their investigations is interactive reading. Two-column notetaking provides a template for students to think about the information they are noting and respond in the right column with questions, challenges, opinions, and emotional reactions. Many students find their investigations challenging because they lose focus, get frustrated, or get overwhelmed. We can teach reading self-management skills to help students overcome their challenges: maintaining focus by setting a daily limited learning target, using question-based notetaking strategies, continuous self-monitoring of comprehension and interpretation; and maintaining a research log of reflections on their progress. Wolf reminded me that both deep reading and inquiry require “cognitive patience,” or the time, persistence, and open mind to think deeply and let new ideas percolate.
Construct. Students should be engaged in reflective reading during Construct to facilitate combining their internal knowledge (experiences, feelings, interpretations) with their external knowledge (information they have acquired during their investigation, their responses to that information) to form new understandings. Several skills of reflective reading are particularly valuable for students during Construct: perspective taking (empathy), or understanding another’s perspectives, feelings, and actions; challenging their own thinking by questioning their own interpretations and conclusions; and what Wolf calls “reading for the narrative,” or looking for the conceptual whole that brings all of the new ideas together into a new understanding that makes sense.
Express.Imagination is an important component of deep reading that is essential during the Express phase. Students can use creative thinking to envision, develop, and present expressions of their learning that convey multiple layers of meaning – new understandings and the supporting evidence, personal interpretations and conclusions, and the personal passions and self-confidence that developed during the whole inquiry experience.
Reflect. The deep reading strategy of reflection should permeate the entire inquiry experience, but the final reflection presents the opportunity for students to solidify their inquiry stance. When students reflect on their inquiry process and product, they recognize their own strengths and challenges in engaging in academic and personal learning. They develop agency and self-confidence to adopt an inquiry stance as a way of interacting with the world.
I recognize that this reflection on the power of integrating deep reading strategies into inquiry is aspirational. I am thinking about the vision I want to achieve for all our students. Now, we must all engage in the hard work of figuring out how to bring this vision to life in our schools.
Wolf, Maryanne. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. NY: Harper, 2018.