Early middle school is an important transitional time in a young person’s academic life. “It bridges the gap between elementary school, where a child learns how to read and be a student, and high school, where [they] will take on the full responsibilities of being a young adult.” (Institute of Reading Development, 2019)
One of the most important ways we can help early middle schoolers thrive is to build up their capacity to read for information and retention. After all, students carry their literacy tool sets with them into every content area. Those who can effectively read for information and retention are likely to be stronger students overall.
So, let’s talk strategy. To grow reading comprehension and retention, we can help early middle school learners to:
Develop reading efficiency
Reading efficiently is not the same thing as reading proficiently- but the former does support the latter. RMIT University of Melbourne explains: “Efficient reading is developing effective reading strategies that match your purpose for reading. It is an active process and involves making decisions about what you are looking for and how you can locate it.”
Unfortunately, this is a skill that many new middle schoolers lack. According to Reading Plus, a literacy assessment and intervention program, 70% of non-proficient readers process text ineffectively- a hurdle that prevents the development of fluency, motivation, and comprehension.
Many early middle schoolers benefit from reading instruction that targets efficiency. Reading Plus, for example, assesses both reading efficiency and motivation. Then, it uses personalized practice and adaptive instruction to explore texts that are of high interest to individual students. As classroom teachers, we can be more intentional about embedding efficient reading strategies, too! (Think: surveying, skimming, and scanning text.)
Practice retrieval cues
Many early middle schoolers benefit from using cues that make information stick. “According to the memory research, information is easier retrieved when it is stored using a cue and that cue should be present at the time the information is being retrieved,” writes Glenda Thorne for Reading Rockets.
For example, continues Thorne, “The acronym HOMES can be used to represent the names of the Great Lakes — Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. The acronym is a cue that is used when the information is being learned, and recalling the cue when taking a test will help the student recall the information.” Retrieval practice has been shown to boost long-term memory and improve reading retention across all student age groups.
Teach what they’ve learned
Learning by teaching doesn’t get the same spotlight as other well-known strategies, like inferring or summarizing. But that’s changing. Researchers like educational psychologist Richard E. Mayer point out the advantages of this practice. Mayer’s team found that students who learn through teaching have a deeper and longer-lasting understanding of what they read. As an added bonus, the process improves communication, confidence, and efficacy.
Learning through teaching has been demonstrated to raise students’ grades by an impressive .77 (a letter grade and a half) when implemented regularly. And with so many amazing tools at our disposal, students aren’t just limited to peer instruction or class presentations- they can teach what they’ve read or learned through blog posts, podcasts, videos, or even through a Tik Tok challenge!
Early middle school is a perfect time to introduce and develop learning through teaching with students. And it’s a win-win: Students’ comprehension and retention of materials is increased, and critical SEL skills are strengthened.
New middle schoolers make a huge leap from the comforts of elementary school to the socio-academic demands of young adulthood. For many, this can be an overwhelming transition- one that is only complicated by any existing gaps in reading proficiency. Helping kids learn to read for information and retention can help ease this transition... and lay the groundwork for future literacy successes.