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School Daze: Engagement Strategies for Middle School Readers

This curriculum unit is intended for students in grade 8, but can be used by students through the 10th grade. Students will read three short stories by and about African-Americans: “The Figure Eight” by John A. Williams; “The Boy Who Painted Christ Blackby John Henrik Clarke; and “A Love Song for Seven Little Boys Named Sam” by C.H. Fuller. I chose these particular stories because they not only address cultural and historical circumstances whose ramifications continue to reverberate, but they also seemed to provide fertile material for applying strategies geared explicitly at improving student engagement with text. These are stories set in school, an environment that has resonance for my students. I wanted them to practice making connections with text, and to set this process in motion, I wanted to capitalize on the backgrounds my students were bringing to the texts I would be using.

Reading research demonstrates the importance of helping readers develop schema to enable them to file and retrieve information. The ability to access this information paves the way for new learning. This practice has a snowball effect: the more the students know, the easier it is to read. The easier it is to read, the more they learn from their reading, and the more they are likely to spend time reading.

A third goal was to get students to develop and use appropriate cognitive strategies. Current research has focused on teaching readers to use a variety of reading strategies to monitor and improve reading comprehension. The disengaged readers—and the never-engaged readers—in our classrooms fail largely because they don’t develop the experience of engagement that proficient readers almost unconsciously bring to the task of reading. I wanted to address the issue of engagement through creative activities that would require a close reading of the text.

Joan Taylor
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