Middle school students face a dual challenge with reading expository texts. Even students reading on grade level need to hone the comprehension and critical thinking skills needed to understand these texts, which include narrative and informational nonfiction. While developing these skills, students need to read and learn the facts explained in their science and social studies textbooks. To meet these challenges, students must work toward specific goals that will lead them to become better readers and learners.
A learning goal describes what the student should know or be able to do at the end of a lesson. For example, teachers may set interpreting metaphors as one learning goal in a poetry lesson. At the end of the lesson, a teacher would assess the goal by assigning a poem and requiring students to find and explain the metaphor. In middle school language arts class, an expository text unit would consist of numerous goals aimed at building students' comprehension of nonfiction texts. Students might read memoirs, autobiographies, news articles and human interest feature stories. In content area classes, teachers should base goals on what they want students to learn from reading expository texts such as their textbooks, magazine articles and online content. Each lesson should end with an assessment to show whether students met the goals.
Middle school language arts teachers build on the reading abilities students bring with them from elementary school. They work with students to help them make inferences, analyze content and draw conclusions from expository text. For example, as a goal, students should be able to predict the content of a magazine feature story after surveying the title, subheadings and photo captions that go with the text. Then, they should form questions they expect the text to answer. As they read, students should find the main ideas and important details in the passage. After reading, they should determine the author’s reasons for writing the piece and make inferences about the writer’s attitudes toward the subject.
Content Area Reading
Expository texts can play a vital role in middle school content area classrooms such as science and social studies. In those classes, learning goals should express what the teacher wants the student to know from reading a text. For example, in science, students could read about cells and the goal would be to describe how cell membranes allow some molecules to pass through while blocking other molecules. In social studies, students might read, then compare and contrast, the Puritan colonies in New England with the settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. Although goals describe the content students should learn from reading, teachers can still demonstrate the reading and thinking strategies students need to apply to reading.
Middle school students need reasonable and attainable learning goals for reading expository text. They should work with texts written at their reading level. Otherwise, students will depend on the teacher to explain the text rather than discovering the ideas and content on their own. Just setting a goal won’t guarantee the reader will meet the goal. Teachers need to plan effective instruction. They need to assess progress toward the goals and modify their plans when students meet obstacles. At times, teachers may need to differentiate instruction by setting different goals for different students based on reading levels and individual needs.
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