Are Students Learning to Read or Reading to Learn?

My READ 180 students just finished the unit on D-Day in the ReaL Book. Throughout the workshop we discussed problems and solutions, used thinking maps to show the causes and effects, and analyzed people, events, and ideas. My students learned many new facts about World War II and the D-Day invasion in Normandy. A couple of facts that took them by surprise were even though the Allies were trapped at the bottom of the cliffs and surrounded by water, they prevailed and ended up freeing France.  Another aspect of the historical event that students found amazing was the risk that journalists took to capture the invasion.

Many of my sophomore students are going to have the opportunity to apply what they learned in this workshop in their history classes in the spring. A couple of years ago, I stopped asking the question, “Will they be bored and is there a benefit if they have already learned it once?” Instead, I’ve started asking, “How will learning the content in one class help my striving readers feel more confidence as they not only learn it again but have a chance of deepening their knowledge in another class?”

As part of the READ 180 program, my students are strengthening their reading achievement. But with the ReaL book, we are also teaching content to narrow the knowledge gap as well. The content drives the curiosity and engagement to heighten the reading instruction­–vocabulary, cause and effect, main idea, making inferences, identifying text structures, and analyzing text to effectively cite evidence. As we progressed through the unit, my students learned many facts about D-Day. They learned where France is in comparison to the United States.  They learned which countries fought for the Allies and which one fought for the Axis Powers. They read about important leaders such as First Lieutenant William Moody and General Norman Dutch Coda, whom was the oldest soldier in Normandy. And, they learned some academic and domain specific vocabulary, which they can transfer into their history class discussions.  

The day that we discussed text structure and cause and effect, we read a story about paratroopers and the issues they had. The day we discussed problem and solution and how to find it in the text, we read about how the Allies made changes to tanks that solved the geographical problems the soldiers encountered during the war. Students used words such as amphibious, dictator, and crucial, and used them within the context of the stories as well as in our extended academic discussions. At the end of the unit, students walked away with strengthened reading skills and stronger schema about World War II that can be leveraged for confidence, engagement, and knowledge transference in history class in the spring. This coming spring, in their history classes, my READ 180 sophomores will be reading to extend their learning of history content and concepts. They will be re-reading about various dates in the timeline of the D-Day invasion and World War II.  They will be re-reading about the people involved in World War II and the many events that happened throughout the war. They will have events to put in order, question, and expand on the discussions of World War II. I look forward to hearing about the activities in history class and talking further with my fellow teachers. It is such an added benefit to see students become successful in the other disciplines.

A few years back, my READ 180 class was reading a story in the Creatures of the Deep Unit and a student exclaimed, “Wait, I thought we were supposed to learn to read in this class, but we are really learning about real things. Cool.” My thoughts soared, “Yes, yes we are learning about real things.” In READ 180, my students improving their learning to read or simultaneously reading to learn? When the students realize this is happening, it’s a cool thing. 


Tammy is the READ 180 teacher and yearbook sponsor at Camelback High School in Arizona.