Deep Reading Skills for Research
Reflections on Reading during Inquiry
by Barbara K. Stripling
I was a high school and middle school English teacher before I became a librarian. Reading was part of my teaching DNA, but only in terms of expecting students to read and understand different genres, not ever in terms of explicitly teaching the skills of deep reading. I thought that, of course, my secondary students already had those skills. I remember, however, teaching Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path," a short story about an elderly black woman in Jim Crow Mississippi that is replete with deep meaning about racial discrimination, the courage and perseverance that stem from the wisdom gained through life experience, and so much more. I was absolutely dismayed that most of my students had neither the stamina nor skills to read this magnificent piece for meaning beyond simple comprehension of the story line.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the importance of teaching students to read deeply during inquiry, beyond mere comprehension. I am currently convinced that deep reading skills can form a rich synergy with inquiry skills to enable students to move beyond comprehension of what someone else has said to their own interpretations and evidence-based ideas and opinions. My thinking has been provoked by the insights of Maryanne Wolf in Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. I have translated Wolf's insights about reading in the digital environment to inquiry and offer my thinking below about the role of deep reading during the phases of inquiry.
Initially, I thought the reading skills required during Connect were quick-read and overview skills like skimming and scanning. I now understand that, by adding the deep reading focus, the Connect phase of inquiry rises above the superficial collection of prior knowledge and background information to an opportunity for students to connect on a deeply personal level, both in terms of their own feelings and experiences and in terms of their responses to the background information they read.
By helping students use the deep reading skill of explicitly detailing what they think they already know (their internal knowledge), librarians will be priming students to predict what they might discover and be ready to change their mental models when they encounter conflicting information. As students are engaged in an internal dialogue about their prior experiences, they also need to identify feelings and assumptions about the topic at hand. When students identify their connotations and feelings at the onset, they will be able to recognize their own biases when they interpret the new information they find.
Connect-phase reading also involves external knowledge: reading widely and well to obtain background information, understand the context, and build a conceptual map. Reading skills that are important for developing external knowledge at the beginning of inquiry include the ability to read laterally (read and interpret meaning across different sources), determine importance of information, create a conceptual map of major ideas and overall context (often a visual depiction), and identify gaps and inconsistencies. The context provided through external knowledge is essential for enabling students to interpret meaning throughout their inquiry investigation. For example, when students understand both their internal knowledge (experiences and feelings) about the role of women in society and the external context about the American home front of World War II, they will be able to interpret the meaning and impact of World War II propaganda like the "Rosie the Riveter" poster.
Connect and Wonder are integrally related because questions for inquiry arise from the internal and external connections that students form during the initial phase of their inquiry. One reading strategy that is especially helpful for students to generate Wonder questions is questioning the text. Students can be taught to challenge the ideas in text, asking questions like "Why?", "What if?", "What would someone else say?", and even "So what?" Students can be guided to extend the ideas in text by asking questions like "What else is important?", "What has been left out?", and "What is the deeper meaning?" Students should definitely be taught to be aware of their own personal interests as they interact with their preliminary texts. Ideas that intrigue them provide an excellent basis for generating substantive Wonder questions to drive their inquiry.
Interactive reading is probably the key reading strategy during Investigation. The most effective strategy and tool I have used to teach students to respond to the text while they are reading is two-column notetaking, where students are prompted to use the right column for personal interpretations, questions, challenges, opinions, and emotional responses.
If we want students to read deeply, we must teach them reading self-management skills. Reading self-management involves maintaining focus and attention. Strategies that students can use to focus during their investigations include setting a daily limited learning target (e.g., finding information to answer one specific inquiry question), making predictions about the ideas that will be uncovered in specific resources, maintaining a research log of progress toward answering research questions, using question-based notetaking strategies, continually monitoring comprehension and interpretation while reading, and regularly reflecting on the growth in their understanding about the inquiry topic. Maryanne Wolf reminded me that deep readers and inquirers need "cognitive patience"—time and persistence to seek deep meaning; the reading and information literacy skills to process and interpret the information they find; and an open mind to new ideas that may challenge their previous assumptions and mental models.
The impact of deep reading culminates in the Construct phase of inquiry. Maryanne Wolf captured the essence of that culmination when she described new understandings as "brief, luminous glimpses of what lies outside the boundaries of all we thought before" (Wolf, p. 67). Reflective reading drives the process of making meaning during Construct. As students are re-reading their notes and interpretations to form their own conclusions and new understandings, they should reflect on both their internal knowledge (experiences, feelings) and external knowledge (new information acquired during Investigation, their own interpretations and responses to that information).
By reflecting on both knowledge and feeling, students develop empathy, or the ability to understand another's perspectives, feelings, and actions based on the context. Perspective taking, the basis of empathy, increases students' knowledge of diversity in the world and also clarifies their awareness of their own attitudes and opinions.
When students are developing their own conclusions, forming opinions, and articulating claims during Construct, they need to engage in challenging their own thinking. They need to ask themselves why they think their interpretations are right, whether their evidence is valid and corroborated or simply persuasive wording, and whether they have given enough consideration to opposing views. Finally, students need to synthesize and conceptualize how all of their information and interpretations can be brought together into a new understanding, a new conceptual whole. Wolf calls this reading for the narrative.
Imagination, an aspect of deep reading that is regularly employed when reading fiction, contributes to students' expressions of their learning. Students can employ creative thinking to envision original ways to present their ideas and conclusions. If librarians have been transparent about the deep-reading strategies they have integrated throughout the inquiry experience, students can create products with layers of meaning that can be unpacked by their audiences using those strategies (e.g., creating a political cartoon with embedded facts, perspectives, and emotional appeal).
Inquiry, seen through the lens of deep reading, involves reflection throughout the process. Reflections at the end of the experience can enable students to see how the power of deep reading can positively impact their lives outside of school. Students can draw personal agency and confidence from connecting to their own experiences and feelings, questioning what they read and hear, challenging the information they read as well as their own assumptions and interpretations, taking time to explore their interests deeply, being open to new ideas, and making decisions and forming opinions thoughtfully.
Teaching deep reading strategies during inquiry provides librarians the opportunity to engage students both thoughtfully and personally in inquiry learning across the curriculum. Even more importantly, the integration of deep reading and inquiry offers a portal to authentic and meaningful learning beyond the school walls.
Wolf, Maryanne. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. Harper, 2018.