Teachers at Soehl and McManus middle schools recently taught lessons using a instructional method known as “Reading for Meaning” and allowed colleagues to come into class and observe their students. Above, Soehl teachers Michael Manning and Frank Lysick talking with students in Suzanne Rothauser’s seventh-grade math class.

teachers from McManus and Soehl who modeled new teaching method

Teachers at each school who volunteered to model the lesson. At McManus, left, are Principal Peter Fingerlin, teachers Erin Slack, Brenda Kaneaster, Caryl Ederer, Susan Kreisman of Silver Strong & Associates, teachers Jennifer Fernandes and Giuliana Pasquarelli-Stier. At Soehl, right, are Kreisman, teachers Suzanne Rothauser, Jennifer MacDonald, Kim Leight, Peter Citera, and Principal Richard Molinaro.

By Gary Miller

A handful of middle school teachers recently volunteered to implement a new instructional strategy in their classrooms, model it for their colleagues, and get feedback on how it worked.

The method is called “Reading for Meaning,” and its goal is to help students better understand complex materials, gather evidence from their readings to build an argument, and fully participate in classroom discussions.

“The purpose is to help student navigate complex texts in any discipline,” said Reina Irizarry-Clark, Linden’s instructional coach. “It can be done in science, social studies, language arts — and also in math, as it provides a strategy to help students  persevere through word problems.”

Soehl Middle School teachers Suzanne Rothauser (math), Jennifer MacDonald (language arts), Kim Leight (science) and Peter Citera (social studies) modeled lessons on Monday, April 30.

McManus Middle School teachers Erin Slack (social studies), Brenda Kaneaster (science), Caryl Ederer (language arts), Jennifer Fernandes (math), and Giuliana Pasquarelli-Stier (basic skills) modeled lessons on Tuesday, May 1.

Both days’ lessons came under the watchful eye of Susan Kreisman of Silver Strong & Associates, which developed the method. She laid out the process for the observing teachers, who then went into the classroom of the demonstrating teacher to see the lesson in action. Afterward, they all gathered in another room for a debriefing to discuss how the lesson went and address any concerns.

soehl classroom

Soehl teachers observing from the back of class as Suzanne Rothauser teaches a lesson using the Reading for Meaning method.

Kreisman explained the Reading for Meaning method as presenting students with statements rather than questions, then asking the students to prove or refute those statements. She used an example based on a lesson about Shakespeare’s “Othello.”

“I wouldn’t say, ‘Is Iago evil?’ I would say, ‘Iago is evil,’ ” Kreisman said. “Then they go about reading whatever the source material is, looking for evidence to support or refute the statement.

“So it’s really motivating. They loving digging into anything to prove themselves right about something. But it helps them prepare by digging in deeply into their reading material.”

Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi is encouraged by the early returns.

“The more tools our teachers have in their toolboxes to be able to connect with their students, the better off we are,” he said. “ ‘Reading for Meaning’ is an innovative method that helps inspire young minds, and I’m so happy to see how enthusiastic our teachers are about rolling it out.”

During Rothauser’s math lesson at Soehl, students were given a word problem about how many teachers and tutors were need to supervise a certain number of students. Rothauser’s students then read statements about which facts were pertinent to solving the problem, and they had to agree or disagree and explain why.

“We’ve seen some amazing things happen,” Kreisman said. “Youngsters digging into the information, going back to the text, and back to the text, and building arguments that were really very strong and substantive.”

In Citera’s social studies class, students debated the statement, “Alexander never deserved to be called ‘the Great.’ ”

“The kids had read five different primary source documents and were marshaling arguments pro and con,” Kreisman said. “And then at the start of class they were assigned a side, and they debated. And it was just wonderful to watch them. Somebody makes a statement, and somebody on the other side says, ‘I disagree. Please go into this document over here and find this statement.’ It was really great.”

Irizarry-Clark said the possibilities of expanding the use of Reading for Meaning in the district is exciting.

“We’re really looking to see how our students are being engaged,” she said, “and how this is extending their thinking in the classrooms.”

teachers in feedback session

Soehl teachers talking with Susan Kreisman of Silver Strong & Associates in a debriefing session about how the Reading for Meaning lesson worked out.