Engaged Reading in Content Classes

One way a reading or intervention specialist can support a content teacher is to make the process of reading-to-learn more manageable.  I enjoy helping teachers use instructional strategies (or techniques) that engage all students and require all students be accountable for their own reading and learning.  Sometimes the best text to address a difficult concept is lengthy and requires considerable concentration from students. Teachers want ways to help students read AND learn the content.

This semester, I had the privilege of co-teaching in Biology classes. Access teachers (special education, ESL, reading specialists) sometimes feel intimidated by content for which we are definitely not experts. I certainly feel this way in Biology.   However, access teachers have the expertise to accommodate students in processing lengthy texts to learn important new information.  Because Biology is a difficult topic for me, my modeling of meaning-making strategies are genuine and authentic.  I am a reader trying to make meaning of content that doesn’t come naturally to me as a learner. This is just part of the power of the access teacher – content teacher collaboration.

Below is a process I collaboratively implemented in Biology classes in my building.  I realize I am very fortunate to work with content teachers so willing to help students read to access new knowledge.

Collaborative Guided Summary & Jigsaw Groups 


  1. In “expert” groups students all receive the same text.  This can be fourths of a larger text or different texts that address a topic from multiple perspectives, etc. In Biology, we divided a long text about Charles Darwin’s development of the Theory of Evolution into 5 pieces.  Each piece was independently comprehensible. The first section is used to model the entire process (in parts or all at once) and introduce students to the topic.  The four other sections are copied and divided among “expert” groups, meaning all members in the group have the same piece of text about which they will become “experts.” 

2.  The co-teacher and access teacher model all of the steps:

A.  Access teacher reads and highlights important vocabulary. (Model
first couple paragraphs, guide students with the next couple.)
B. Content teacher “retells” using the highlighted vocabulary
(words & phrases)  to relay 
the main idea(s) of the section.
C. Access teacher asks any clarifying questions about the content.  This would include questions about concepts, language, & vocabulary that block understanding of the text.
D. One of the teachers models merging these ideas on the guided summary sheet.  Again, break this process down as works best for your class.

  1. Before reading:  The students begin the process of completing the “Guided Summary” form.  This, too, is modeled by the content teacher.  Before reading, students will identify title, subtitle, and use the text features to identify the topic of the text.  This form is completed by each student so that they will have the accurate information when they switch into a jigsaw groups.
  1. Students complete the reading process adhering to the following ROLES:
    1. Reader reads aloud 1-2 paragraphs at a time. The stop points can be designated on the text by the teachers in advance. 
    2. Reteller (who, like all of the students, has been annotating for essential ideas and vocabulary) retells (summarizes) the section aloud.  Other students offer any adjustments.
    3. Recorder identifies important words and phraseunspecified-33d, especially those repeated frequently, to the vocabulary section of the Guided Summary
    4. Clarifier asks clarifying questions. These should be identified by the students as the reader reads each section.  Additional confusions may arise as the reteller verbalizes the main ideas from the section.  If the retelling is too difficult, confusion is probably present.


  1. The content and access teachers are checking for adherence to process  and understanding of content.  When confusion can’t be clarified within the group, the content teacher can support students by answering questions or guiding students through a process to repair the confusion.  Teachers may also “Catch and Release” by stopping students to address common confusions with completing the process. 
  1. Students repeat the process until the entire passage is read, verbally summarized, and all the essential vocabulary is recorded on the “Guided Summary.”  
  1. Students work together as an expert group to use the  title/subtitle, topic, and vocabulary to develop an overall main idea for the text.  (This is modeled with the initial piece of text prior to the students’ efforts.)  Students then go section-by-section and use their annotation and vocabulary to develop a structured summary that supports the main idea.   This may be the last step in a class period. 
  1.  Potentially in a second class period (we function in 80-minute blocks),         students then shuffle to jigsaw groups.  This is a group that, once  gathered, has one student representing each of all four sections of the text (in this case about Charles Darwin). They share their summaries and ask each other clarifying questions.
  1. Then, as a group, Students read and  answer a few targeted implicit and
    explicit questions prepared by the  content teacher about the article  These questions are developed to  intentionally need the collaboration of all members and use multiple sections  of the text. The students are required to work together to think through  application of the new knowledge.   

Recently, I completed a similar process in an ESL class reading Romeo and Juliet. The content teacher chose four pieces of text about arranged marriages (both pro and con). We co-taught (team teaching model) using this same process, but with four different different texts, different perspectives.  The final questions still required students to pull evidence from more than one of the texts to answer focused questions about the cumulative learning.

This process is a lot more challenging to write about than to demonstrate in person.  If visualizing this process through my writing is challenging, please ask questions.  On the other hand, if it seems to makes sense, consider using it on your own or in a co-teaching setting, and let me know how it goes.

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