In August 2010, Denver Public Schools was awarded a $25 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant by the U.S. Department of Education. The Denver Public Schools Foundation led the effort to identify over $5 million in private matching funds to secure this grant—the largest in DPS history.
As a result, middle school students who struggle with reading are now learning through an innovative, participatory method called Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR). The approach combines teacher instruction with student-led small group work to increase comprehension through cooperative learning. Grade level reading proficiency is critical to a student’s success over time, and is directly tied to graduation rates. Thanks to the community of public and private support, these cutting edge, proven strategies are not only improving literacy in DPS, but are helping students comprehend difficult text and regain their confidence in the classroom.
Teaching is a complex act that requires great skill, especially in our nation’s cities where middle school classrooms often have students reading at a wide range of grade levels. The act of teaching becomes even more difficult for teachers working with English Language Learners, students with disabilities or those who are simply developing at different rates than their age would suggest. As a result, teachers have to learn the science and the techniques that must be employed if all of our students are going to be reading at grade level.
CSR is a set of four strategies struggling readers can use to decode and comprehend as they read content area text. Researchers developed CSR for struggling upper elementary and middle school readers with learning disabilities by adapting reciprocal reading and cooperative learning strategies. To implement CSR, students of mixed reading and achievement levels work in small, cooperative groups of four to five students. They support each other in applying a sequence of reading strategies as they read orally or silently from a shared selection of text. The four strategies are as follows:
- Preview: Before reading, students brainstorm prior knowledge and predict what will be learned.
- Click and Clunk: Students identify words or word parts that were hard to understand (called “clunks”). A sequence of “fix-up strategies” is used to decode the “clunk.” These strategies are: (a) re-reading the sentence for key ideas, (b) looking for context clues in the sentences before and after, (c) looking for prefixes or suffixes, and (d) breaking the word apart to find smaller words.
- Get the gist: Students learn to ask themselves: What is the most important person, place, or thing? What is the most important idea about the person, place or thing?
- Wrap up: After reading, students construct their own questions to check for understanding of the passage, answer the questions, and summarize what has been learned.