Keys to Literacy Newsletter December 2010
Volume 6


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Our quarterly newsletter provides helpful information about literacy and comprehension instruction in grades 1-12.  We hope the tips and resources will enhance your teaching.  Please forward this newsletter to your friends and colleagues!

This Issue's Topic:  Text Structure and Think Alouds

Teaching Tips: Text Structure and Think Alouds

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Text structure strongly affects comprehension.  Complex or disorganized text at the sentence, paragraph, passage, or book level can make it difficult to identify main ideas and comprehend content.  All teachers should preview reading material to determine if the structure will hinder comprehension.  However, this does not mean that teachers should avoid using complex texts - on the contrary!  To develop the literacy skills needed for success in higher education and the workforce, students must be exposed to a lot of complex text and taught explicitly how to read it.

Good readers think actively and use comprehension strategies to understand what they read. This is called meta-cognition. A think aloud is an excellent activity for discussing text meaning and modeling meta-cognition. In a think aloud, the teacher verbalizes his/her thoughts while reading. When this process is explicitly modeled, students can then imitate it independently. 

Studies conducted over the past 30 years show that it is best to teach text structures while students read challenging, content-rich material (Heller & Greenleaf, 2007).  This is one reason why the content teacher is the best person to model reading complex texts while using comprehension strategies.

A key requirement of the Common Core State Standards for reading is that all students must be able to comprehend texts of steadily increasing complexity as they progress through school (CCSS, 2010). The Standards provide a model for determining the level of text difficulty as well as grade level specifications for increasing text complexity (Reading Standard #10).To access the Standards, click here.
Recommended Resources
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We recommend the following resources to support instruction of text structure and think alouds:

Reading in the Disciplines:  A review of the challenges of reading content text, including why adolescents need more advanced literacy support in academic disciplines. Click here for the report.

Time to Act: An Agenda for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for College and Career Success:  A concise  explanation of how text becomes increasingly complex through the grades. See page 2 for examples from elementary, middle, and high school science textbooks.  Click here the report.

Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade (2010):  While teaching complex text structure is emphasized in grades 4-12, there is significant evidence that text structure instruction for both narrative and expository text should happen in the primary grades. Click here for the report.

For a study comparing the levels of text that high school students read with those they will read in higher education, the workplace, the military, and as U.S. citizens, click here.

Adolescent Literacy Research and Practice, Jetton, T.L, & Dole, J.A. (2004). For further reference regarding discipline-specific text structure, please refer to the following chapters:
     "Teaching Science Through Literacy" by Cynthia Shanahan
     "Learning to Think Like a Historian: Disciplinary Knowledge Through Critical Analysis of Multiple Documents" by Steven Stahl and Cynthia Shanahan.
What's New in Adolescent Literacy?
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The Center on Instruction recently published a terrific, exhaustive report, Bringing Literacy Strategies into Content Instruction: Professional Learning for Secondary-Level Teachers.  Click here to access the report and associated PowerPoints.

Based on a meta-analysis, Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading concludes that having students write about what they read, teaching them the writing skills that go into text creation, and having them simply write more results in significant gains in reading.  Click here for the report.
Keys to Literacy News

Keys to Literacy recently moved our offices from Danvers to Rowley, MA to accommodate our growing staff. We are especially pleased with our beautiful, new training space, which holds up to 40 people.  We now offer our Coach training here, and we will be adding more workshops - so stay tuned!


After piloting our K-12 District Literacy Planning model for tiered instruction, we are currently working with 10 districts to help them develop Literacy Plans. Our model includes an assessment of current practices about 8 essential components (e.g., assessment, tier 1 instruction, intervention, PD, etc.), followed by the creation and implementation of action plans. For a description of our model, click here.


Many of the schools that have received training in The Key Comprehension Routine have asked us to develop a version for primary grades 1-3, so we have done just that! The program is now being piloted with 3 schools and will be broadly available in February 2011.  For more information, click here.

Finally, I am pleased to announce the second edition of The Key Comprehension Routine and The Key Vocabulary Routine books.  They now include more detailed instructions about the Routines, more soup to nuts activities, and more class examples.

Keys to Literacy

Keys to Literacy specializes in professional development for teaching comprehension and vocabulary that is embedded in the content classroom.

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Heller, R., and Greenleaf, C. (2007). Literacy instruction in the content areas: Getting to the core of middle and high school improvement. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010) Appendix A: Research supporting key elements of the standards. Retrieved from
A Message From Joan Sedita
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This Fall, the Common Core State Standards were released and have been adopted by at least 35 states. 

I am very excited about their emphasis on comprehension and content literacy instruction.  For 35 years, I have promoted the need for all teachers to embed literacy instruction into everything they teach. 

I once heard someone say, "Literacy is not just an item on the plate; it is the plate."  The title of the ELA Common Core Standards (ELA and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects) clearly supports the emphasis on literacy.

The Standards require that all students be able to comprehend texts of increasing complexity and that progressive development of reading comprehension be taught through the grades.  Students should also have more exposure to expository text, especially in the lower grades. 

A cornerstone of the Common Core Writing Standards is the ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence, including evidence from reading.  This is music to my ears!

I believe our Keys to Literacy programs align with the goals of the Common Core Literacy Standards.  Our PD directly addresses content literacy instruction, and our Literacy Planning model helps schools and districts better support all levels of literacy instruction. 

I think we are at the right place at the right time!

Joan Sedita
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