The Technique to Improve Reading and Content Knowledge

Just like parents who make time to read to their children at home, many expert teachers find the same practice effective in the classroom. Or do they?

Surprisingly, many teachers do not "model" reading despite a body of research that identifies both instructional benefits and positive attitudes toward reading aloud. San Diego State University professors Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp are continuing their research into how expert teachers model text processing during shared reading. Their recent podcast, released by the International Reading Association, provides valuable information for classroom practice and instructional leadership.

The capacity of teachers to model what good readers do when confronted with texts requires some reflective thinking and different behaviors in the classroom than those usually put to use. "Teachers are typically good readers themselves," notes Nancy Frey. "They have what is known as ‘automaticity,' a seemingly effortless use of skills and strategies that makes reading meaningful. It's exactly what teachers hope their students will achieve, but to get there, teachers need to unpack their thinking processes and demonstrate them in class. Teachers will find themselves revealing how they think—what we call ‘I' statements—more often than asking students to find answers to questions."

While some behaviors might change, Lapp points out that modeling supports instruction in several key ways. She demonstrates how modeling makes it possible for the teacher and students to co-create meaning from the text, giving attention to both the standards-guided content, as well as the tools writers use to help a reader. Lapp also points out that modeling allows teachers to use academic language authentically. When students apply academic language to their own learning, higher achievement results. Finally, modeling moves students through the process from observing to doing, with the teacher providing guidance and direction along the way, so children can learn independently from reading.

Fisher identifies four categories of modeling done by expert teachers. The most common modeling approach is targeted at comprehension, with teachers across grade levels offering examples of predictions, summaries, clarifications, and inferences as guided by the text. Fisher notes that teachers also show students word solving strategies they can use to expand their understanding and use of unknown and unfamiliar vocabulary. Modeling also helps students recognize text structures in informational and narrative text. "The goal is not for students to name the structures," Fisher points out. "Students need to notice and internalize structures so they can better predict and prepare for what's coming next." Finally, teachers model use of features, like headings, that are added to the text to assist the reader.

This podcast is the third in IRA's Insight series, which features discussion of current topics in the field by literacy leaders. IRA's other podcast series, Class Acts, features 10-minute research-based, classroom-tested teaching tips. Both series are available for download at and through iTunes.