Dr. Michella Maiorana-Basas Hosts a Discussion on Content Area Reading


(This discussion aired live on our Facebook Group on January 11 and January 16, 2018)

Introduction: Content reading skills include a specific subset of skills (beyond the “Big 5”) that are required for reading content texts (e.g., textbooks, articles, non-fiction books, etc.). What makes content area reading different from narrative reading is that much of the time, the reader is “reading to learn” something. In the classroom (both in regular education and in deaf education) teachers are not incorporating specific instruction to support students in the development of the skills necessary for reading complex texts and make assumptions that if a student can read a narrative text, they can also read an expository text. Content reading skills are classified as advanced literacy skills which are critically important for success in school and post high school.

What are examples of content texts? Text books (mathematics, science, social studies, etc.), non-fiction/expository texts, articles, and magazines (weekly reader, national geographic, etc.) are the most common examples of content texts.  Content texts can include manuals, biographies, and other historical and scientific texts.

What are the skills of content reading?: Themes from the research suggest that these skills (along with the basic skills of reading and critical inquiry) are integral in successfully navigating content texts: Activating and Building Background Knowledge; Content-Specific Vocabulary; Understanding and Using Text Features; Understanding Text Structure; and Inference.

Why should teachers and parents focus on content reading skills?  The current research indicates that 5% of DHH high school seniors have the same literacy outcomes as their hearing counterparts (Kelly & Barac-Cikoja, 2007) and many plateau at a 4th grade reading level (Easterbrooks & Beal-Alvarez, 2012; Traxler, 2000). Development of advanced literacy skills may be a step in closing the gap and getting kids out of the “4th grade slump”.

Other Considerations: Content teaching and content reading are not the same and should not be used interchangeably. All content teachers are teachers of reading, and reading strategy instruction, especially strategies specific to supporting content area reading development, should be integrated during instruction as much as possible. Content reading strategies support CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) in English, which are necessary to effectively access and comprehend complex texts.

So, what should teachers and parents be doing to support reading of complex texts?: (note- this list was featured on DCDD’s May 2016 Monthly Message with some minor additions)

  1. Before reading a content area text, help to activate background knowledge by asking a question such as, “Where have you seen this before?” or “Do you remember when … ?”
  2. Before reading and during reading, help build on background knowledge by clearing up any misconceptions and make connections to content discussed in the text and how that content relates to the world around them. This can be accomplished through discussion or by having an experience (e.g. field trip, science experiment, hands-on learning, etc.).
  3. Before reading and during reading, identify and discuss any vocabulary specifically related to the content (content-specific vocabulary), especially words in boldface type. Make sure these words are understood within the context of the content you are reading. It may also be beneficial to identify any multiple meanings that may be encountered when reading texts in other genres or subject areas.
  4. Before reading, identify the structure of the text (cause/effect; problem solution; sequential; compare/contrast; etc) and make that structure explicit. For example, in a text structured as cause/effect, identify and explain which portion(s) of the text identifies the causes and identify and explain which portion(s) of the text identifies the effects. You may rely on headings and other text features (see below) when doing this.
  5. Before reading and during reading, point out and elaborate on text features (images, headings, maps, charts, graphs, etc.)
  6. Ask COMPLEX questions before, during, and after reading to support the skill of inference!

Resources to Support Deeper Understanding:

Peer Reviewed Research: Howell, J. J. & Luckner, J. L. (2003). Helping one deaf student develop content literacy skills: An action research report. Communications Disorders Quarterly. 25(1), 23- 27. 

Internet-based Article: Himmele, P. & Himmele, W. (2009) C= content reading strategies. In Himmele, P. & Himmele, W., Language-rich classroom.

Internet-based Resource: Content Area Reading A-Z

Internet-based Resource: Table of Contents Reading Strategy

Internet-based Resource: Levels of Questions in Bloom’s Taxonomy

White Paper: Learning to Read, Reading to Learn: Why Third Grade is a Pivotal Year For Mastering Literacy

Video: Jigsaw Strategy

Video: Engaging Non-Fiction Readers

Video: Socratic Questioning

Video: Semantic Gradients

Blog: Disciplinary Literacy is NOT the New Name for Content Area Reading

Book: Vacca, R. T., Vacca, J. L., & Mraz, M. (2013). Content area reading: Literacy and learning across the curriculum. (11th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.


Other Helpful Peer-Reviewed References:

Biancarosa, C. & Snow, C. E. (2006). Reading next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Easterbrooks, S. & Beal-Alvarez, J. (2012). Literacy acquisition in students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Oxford University Press Series, Professional Perspectives on Deafness: Evidence and Applications. New York, NY: Oxford

Kelly, L. P. & Barac-Cikoja, D. (2007). The comprehension of skilled deaf readers: The roles of word recognition and other potentially critical aspects of competence. In K. Cain & J. Oakhill (Eds.), Children’s comprehension problems in oral and written language (pp. 244-280). New York: The Guilford Press.

Peterson, C. L., Caverly, D. C., Nicholson, S. A., O’Neal, S., & Cusenbary, S. (2000). Building reading proficiency at the secondary school level: A guide to resources. San Marcos, TX: Southwest Texas State University and the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Traxler, C. B. (2000). Measuring up to performance standards in reading and mathematics: Achievement of selected deaf and hard of hearing students in the national norming of the 9th Edition Stanford Achievement Test. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 5, 337-348.

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