In the Age of Analytic Reading: Understanding Readers’ Engagement with Text by Colleen Pennell


Designing a Grass Roots Reading Intervention



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Designing a Grass Roots Reading Intervention

In the spring of 2010, I used my knowledge of research-based practices that promote reading comprehension, and created and implemented a dialogically organized reading intervention rooted in philosophical inquiry and undergirded by Vygotskian principles of language and cognition. The participants, Jacob, Lucas, Michael, and Sean (all names used are pseudonyms), were in the third grade and identified as having specific difficulty with higher-level comprehension (not due to issues of decoding) as measured by district reading assessments, state standardized tests, and teacher observations. Jacob and Sean were identical twins who both received special education services for an identified language impairment. Lucas was new to the public school system and had been previously home-schooled and Michael had been in and out of reading intervention since kindergarten.

From January 2012 through April 2012, we met for approximately 35 minutes every Monday through Thursday. During the first two weeks of the intervention, students were provided a “discourse training” phase where they learned techniques for dialogic discussions. Since students were new to this type of talk, they uncovered strategies for stating agreements and disagreements, posing questions, and providing evidence for opinions. Students also established “ground rules” of talk (Figure 1) that would anchor their remaining discussions.

When the two weeks ended, I relied upon Wartenberg’s (2009) suggestions for teaching philosophy through children’s literature and infused the key tenets of P4C (Lipman & Sharp 1984; Gregory, 2008) as a framework for discussion. I also embedded additional methods that would facilitate text comprehension: (1) completing story maps of read-alouds, (2) using a vocabulary word wall to build word knowledge, and (3) employing a think-aloud progress monitoring tool I created in order to track comprehension progress. Lastly, to avoid behaving as a turn-taking mediator, I relied upon suggestions from the Accountable Talk Sourcebook (Michaels, O’Connor, Hall, & Resnick 2010) and posted anchor charts (Figure 2) as a means of promoting exploratory discussions. The day-to-day intervention was as follows:



  1. I read a picture book aloud.

  2. We discussed two or three vocabulary words per book that we charted on the word wall and reviewed daily.

  3. Sharing the pen, we completed a story map on poster paper; the map also included philosophical questions and issues that were raised in the text.

  4. Students selected a question to discuss and then generated various hypotheses to answer (Figure 3).

  5. Students discussed the merits of each hypothesis until they were able to agree on one that was plausible.

  6. Repeat (cycle usually took three or four days).


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