There is a common reading activity in many schools that is named DEAR: drop everything and read!
In this activity, everyone in a school —principal, teachers, admin staff and students— all stop what they are doing at a designated time and read for a set period of time.
The goal is to share the experience and reinforce its value.
On the surface, this is a wonderful concept. However, I dug a little deeper and during one of these sessions I casually walked around the school and approached different students with the simple question: what is the topic of the book you are reading?
Only about 25% of the students I interacted with were able to correctly answer the question.
And yet, knowing the topic is the prerequisite to a full understanding of any text. All roads to understanding lead through it.
I began to call different students to my office during subsequent DEAR sessions and I asked them to listen for the most frequent repeating noun—either as a person, place or thing.
Regardless of the text level, the topic would always appear within the first few sentences as both a noun or pronoun: glaciers, transportation, the name of a character in the story, and so on.
It was truly amazing to me how quickly the students acquired this skill and it was even more wonderful to watch their level of engagement with the text increase exponentially.
Before each student left my office I asked them to repeat the mantra: if you stop to listen it will appear.