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Growing Readers: How Teachers Are Supporting Striving Readers with Newsela

Brittany Aponte
Jul 27, 2022

You know that feeling when you want to help your students, but you just don’t know how? I was all too familiar with that feeling when I was a fourth grade teacher. I often had a significant number of students reading below grade level in my class each year. During my most challenging year, the reading abilities of my students ranged from a Kindergarten to 5th grade level. While I knew my goal as an educator was to help my striving readers get as close as possible to grade-level reading, I wasn’t always sure about the best approach to reach this goal. 

That’s why it felt like destiny when I was assigned my first project as a Research Associate at Newsela: interview 9 high-performing, veteran teachers from across the country to uncover the most effective instructional strategies to support below grade level readers. I was on a mission to understand best practices for leveraging Newsela to help grow readers and what I learned was that many of the strategies teachers employ are applicable both on and off of Newsela. 

When I first started using Newsela in my classroom, I would assign articles to my students and have them work independently or in pairs to read and answer the four question quiz. I learned this approach did not provide a sufficient amount of support for most of my students. Like many of the teachers I interviewed, I began to apply the instructional strategies I leveraged with other non-digital texts and saw a major difference in their ability to understand and discuss Newsela content. This blog post will break down what teachers need to know before, during, and after assigning Newsela texts so striving readers can make serious gains. 

Before Students Read Newsela Content 

Many of the teachers interviewed invested energy carefully selecting the high interest Newsela articles they planned to use with their students. Imagine how engaged your students would be if they got to practice identifying the main idea of a text while reading an article about how sharks use Earth’s magnetic field as a GPS, a teen that designs shoes, a baby giraffe that gets leg braces, or what it would feel like to touch a cloud. Educators also searched for articles that make real world connections to the topics they teach. For example, each year I taught my students about hurricanes as a weather system because of their prevalence in Florida. I began by using Newsela articles that explain the impact hurricanes have on the communities they strike.

Once the Newsela content was selected, teachers also pre-read articles to prepare for use with students. Their pre-reading included:

  • Identifying challenging words and important phrases for students before they begin reading

  • Determining ways to use the article content to highlight a focus standard or skill, such as main idea or finding text-based evidence 

While Students Read Newsela Content

Most teachers know the importance of scaffolding lesson content for students, but may not have considered ways to scaffold Newsela content. I often used the five Lexile levels within Newsela articles as a differentiation tool, but the students reading at each level required different strategies and levels of support to fully comprehend the text.

The educators I spoke to surfaced a variety of scaffolding approaches that they leveraged with their students. Check out the scaffolding approaches that teachers used in their classrooms, including building background knowledge, chunking article content, and using graphic organizers

Every teacher who was interviewed mentioned using academic discussions with Newsela content. The use of discussion allows students to ask clarifying questions, clarify misconceptions, and deepen their understanding of the text. While many of the teachers referred to discussions in whole group settings, some mentioned the use of small group or peer discussions about Newsela content. 

When I focused on the fourth grade standard for theme (LAFS.4.RL.1.2- Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text), I paired picture books with non-fiction texts from Newsela that present similar themes such as friendship and courage. We would have discussions about how these themes were represented in the texts and students shared examples from their own lives. These discussions allowed students to build a deeper understanding of these themes and the ways themes can be identified. 

After Students Read Newsela Content

Another prominent theme that emerged from educator interviews was the importance of providing timely corrective feedback to students. The need for corrective feedback was evidenced in a variety of ways, including discussions, Newsela quizzes, and informal observations. Once a need for corrective feedback is indicated, educators pulled students into small groups, conferenced one-on-one with students, reset Newsela quizzes to allow for a second opportunity, or encouraged students to take the quiz at a lower level when possible. In my classroom, if I realized a majority of students got a specific Newsela quiz question wrong, I would have a brief whole group discussion about the question and have students work together to find text-based evidence to support the correct answer choice.

I hope that as you read this, you took time to praise yourself for the great strategies you’re already using with your students and that you pick at least one new strategy to add to your “teacher toolbox.” Implementing some of these instructional strategies can help support your below level learners as they develop essential literacy skills that can positively impact academic growth. 

What strategies and techniques do you leverage to grow your readers? Get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

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