Teaching Developmental Reading Skills for Targeted Content Focuses

A high school class

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Developmental reading is a branch of reading instruction that is designed to support literacy in a variety of contexts to improve comprehension and decoding skills. This instructional approach helps bridge gaps in reading skills so that students are better equipped to engage with more advanced content. Whether a student needs to increase their comprehension, speed, accuracy, or something else, developmental reading will help them reach their goals.

Developmental reading is designed to supplement existing literacy skills and does not address basic skills such as phonemic awareness, decoding, and vocabulary. These are usually taught upon first learning to read.

What Developmental Reading Teaches

Developmental reading teaches strategies that can be used in any subject area, especially language arts courses and interdisciplinary classes such as social studies, science, and higher-level math courses. These tend to require students to read and understand large amounts of complex text and can be daunting if a student doesn't feel like they have strong reading strategies at their disposal.

By teaching readers that a text is the sum of its parts and showing them how to use these parts to their advantage, they will feel ready to tackle any type of reading that they may encounter. Many community colleges and even some high schools offer developmental reading courses to help students prepare for rigorous college-level courses and technical textbooks.

Goals of Developmental Reading

It is not the case that all readers experience reading in the same ways. There are some who take to reading quickly, some who never do, and some who are in between, but it is important that all students are given equal opportunities. The goal of developmental reading is to lift up the students who need more support and level the playing field so that reading feels possible to everyone.

Strong Readers

Some students master reading quickly. These students may be so fluent in their use of text features that they can locate information in a text without doing much reading at all. These readers are equipped with skills and strategies that make it possible for them to take shortcuts without sacrificing the quality of their reading, accuracy, or comprehension. Highly-literate students often possess a confidence that enables them to take on difficult texts without panicking and they are more likely to enjoy reading because of this. The same cannot be said for those that struggle to read.

Struggling Readers

There are many types of students who might feel overwhelmed by the content they are expected to read, whether because of the length of the text, complexity, or both. Students who have never felt excited about reading or have never had reading role models in their life are unlikely to want to improve their abilities. Those with disabilities or disorders such as dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are at an unfair disadvantage in many of their classes. Struggling readers may shut down when presented with a text without searching for information that will make the reading easier. Low confidence makes these readers feel hopeless.

Teaching students how to use text features will give them a sense of control over reading. With practice, a student can eventually feel comfortable reading and feel much more positively toward it. Whether a student is reading to prepare for a test, studying, completing an assignment, or just for fun, students who know how to use text features to navigate a text are much better off than those that don't. Strong readers experience school and life very differently, and developmental reading is designed to turn all readers into strong readers.

Teaching Text Features

Helping students recognize and learn to use text features is the primary goal of developmental reading. Through these classes, students learn to scan a text for features that will give them clues about its meaning and purpose. Students who understand a text are much more likely to learn from it and retain that knowledge. The following list gives the most common text features:

  • Illustrations or photographs: The illustrations or photographs are the pictures, either drawn or photographed, that relate to the text and add to its meaning.
  • Titles: A title is designed to summarize the meaning of a text. This is what the author intends for you to learn from the book or article.
  • Subtitles: Subtitles organize the information in a text to make it easier to follow. They are the author's way of keeping you tuned in to the meaning.
  • Index: An index is located in the back of a book. It is a list of terms that are used in the text, organized alphabetically, and shows where you can find them again.
  • Glossary: A glossary is like an index but provides definitions instead of locations. The terms defined are important to the meaning of the text, so glossaries help a lot with understanding what you are reading.
  • Captions: Captions are found mostly beneath illustrations or photographs and maps. They label what is shown and offer important supplemental information and clarification.
  • Maps: Maps are most often found in social studies texts and they provide visuals for geographical descriptions.

Using these text features properly not only increases comprehension and accuracy but also improves one's ability to make predictions and inferences.

Predictions and Inferences

Successful reading must begin with preparation and students can prepare by making predictions about what they are about to read. Just as good teachers should consider what their students already know before teaching, good readers should consider what they already know before reading. Before diving in, a student should ask themselves: What do I already know? What do I want to know? What do I think I'll learn? As they read, they can check their predictions against the information presented and decide whether they were correct.

After making predictions and reading, students should make inferences about meaning and purpose. This is the part where readers get to check their own understanding and use evidence to make conclusions about the information. This step is crucial for the continued development of reading skills and keeps reading purposeful.