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Reading is NOT a Content Area

by Anne-Evan Williams, LGL Director of Educational Development

Ask a reading teacher, particularly one at the secondary level, to tell you the worst thing a content area teacher can say about reading.  You're sure to get the same answer time and time again:  "I don't teach reading!"  Often such teachers insist that they teach math, science, or social studies, but they certainly don't teach reading.  It's time that secondary teachers, in particular, have a change of heart about reading.  Reading is not a content area.

Instead, we hope that content area teachers will start to think of reading in the same way that reading specialists do-as a process skill.  Consider the work that students do in a science classroom, or a social studies classroom.  How much of that work is dependent upon the students' reading abilities?  How often do students struggle with these subject areas because they have weak reading skills?

Usually around the fourth grade, there is a transition that happens in student reading.  Students transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn."  Unfortunately, students are rarely given explicit instruction in how to read in the content areas.  It is a very different task for a student to read a social studies textbook than to read a novel for pleasure.  The process of reading for information uses different skills that are not usually explicitly taught and also often vary from content area to content area.  It takes a different set of reading skills to read mathematic word problems than it does to read a science lab report.  It is at this crucial fourth grade transition to "reading to learn" that many students who previously were strong readers suddenly begin to struggle.  They are missing the explicit instruction in reading in the content areas.

So if we consider that reading is a set of skills that we apply to all of the content areas, it seems obvious that all teachers are indeed reading teachers.  It only makes sense that social studies, math, and science teachers should not only instruct their students in how to read in their particular subject, but also provide support in reading skills in general, as they are used so often within every content area.

Tags: content area reading, reading instruction, secondary reading instruction

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