I mainly teach grade seven and eight. This means that most of the kids that I teach are in the middle of making the transition from learning to read to reading to learn.
That’s always been a big jump, but it’s even more important now that we are dealing with a lot of different kinds of texts. Fiction and non fiction, graphic novels, complex picture books, all different kinds of online texts.
One of the most basic things that I like to have students do is simply spend some time with different texts and identify the features that they see. This may be things that are quite basic: paragraphs, indents, diagrams. It may be a little more complex: sub titles, captions, maps and directions. Finally, when they move on to online texts, we also discuss things like links, ads, videos, audio files, etc.
While students tend to have a lot of experience with online texts, they usually have little critical reading experience. A complex webpage, like the two screenshots below are complicated spaces which are filled with many different options and the path to navigating through them to access and comprehend the information that you may be looking for is certainly not often easily understood by students.
We tend to work through this in two different stages. We first of all work with photocopied examples of texts that I give to the students. I give them samples of fiction novels, graphic novels, textbooks and even screenshots like the two above. I have the students mark up these texts to identify all of the different items they find. Following this, I have them write a written description of how they would read a certain text. For example, I will give them a complex two page spread from a textbook that combines written text, photos, directions, captions, etc. They will then have to describe in a step by step manner the reading strategies they will use to navigate the pages to find and comprehend the information they will need.
The same is true of online spaces. I will have the students describe what they are going to do with the pages they are presented with and explain how they will navigate these complex spaces.
I find that doing this a few times with middle years students helps to cement their understanding of the need to use multiple reading strategies in complex spaces.