Nonfiction Signposts guide our way


A week ago at an EdCampIowa session in Ames on “Teaching Literacy 6-12 with the Iowa Care,” the discussion turned to reading instruction. This is a particularly relevant topic for me because I have one section of Additional Instruction Reading each day with a group of students who are not reading at grade level.

One teacher mentioned that the teachers in his district have been reading Seven Strategies of Highly Effective Readers. I appreciate learning what others are using as a research base for their instruction. If we had had more time, I would have shared how influential Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst’s Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies has been for me in the last two months.

Starting with Beers and Probst’s Notice & Note (2012), continuing through their presentations at the Iowa Council of Teachers of English in 2015, and now during my first and second reading of Reading Nonfiction (2016), I find Beers and Probst particularly appealing because their organic methods affirm some of the truths I have discovered in my 23 years of teaching students disciplinary literacy in English and journalism courses while providing me with scaffolding as I renovate my knowledge and understanding of content area literacy skills.

What I truly appreciate about Reading Nonfiction is that Beers and Probst have tested their stance, signposts, and strategies with students at multiple grade levels. In addition, they provide anchor questions for each signpost for students in elementary, middle school, and high school. While the signposts stay the same, the anchor questions increase in intellectual complexity to meet the cognitive needs of students. For example, elementary students coming upon Numbers and Stats might ask themselves: “What does this make me wonder about?” Whereas high school students reading historical texts might pause when reading numbers or statistics to ask themselves:  “How do these numbers help me see patterns occurring across time, regions, and cultures?” (p. 121)

Although I should be providing additional details to better explain my present renovation project, I’m going to turn to  how I have been implementing some of Beers and Probst’s techniques in my section of AIR. I’ve taken the signposts (slightly modified) and discipline-specific questions for high school students and color coded them on posters and bookmarks. Using the color-coded highlighting features in Newsela and in my Kindle app has kept me grounded when I’ve modeled think-alouds with my students. One of the reasons I have used Newsela is that I’m most comfortable sharing my knowledge of writer’s craft using news, feature, and opinion stories from newspapers and magazines. Newsela allows me to model and leverage my discipline literacy skills to strengthen my students’ content literacy skills. Another reason I like using Newsela is that allows me to naturally use a gradual release model in the classroom. I can model with a story at the original or a higher Lexile level and then have students practice with the same story or another story at or just slightly above their individual Lexile level.

I’m hoping this combination will keep my students in the their ZPD.