Text Coding for Struggling Readers

Michelle Areaux
Middle School Language Arts Teacher

All educators are thrown different reading strategies that are supposed to close the gap with our reluctant and struggling readers. Every year it seems a new and powerful method is developed that will be the saving grace all teachers dream for. As wonderful as that sounds, many of us understand that a beautifully packaged program does not magically help our most at-risk students.

As a language arts teacher who is constantly faced with students who struggle to read on grade level and comprehend what they are reading, I am always looking for a structure that is easy to use and will actually help my students. Over the summer, I attended a workshop on different text coding structures that were designed to help our most diverse and novice students. I will admit, upon first hearing the benefits of the strategy, I was skeptical. I have tried several methods to help my students; everything from close reading to KAGAN strategies and beyond. However, after seeing how simple text coding really was, I opened my mind to the possibility that I may have found something I could use in my classroom.

Text Coding is simply a way to annotate a text that makes sense to the students. Using underlining, circling, and symbols to highlight areas where students are confused or find information they can relate to or may deem important, is simple enough that students understand the concept and can visually see the benefits. This is also a strategy that can be used across content and grade levels. Students can use this strategy in Social Studies, Science, Language Arts, and other classes where reading and comprehension are taught. To me, that is one of the best qualities of a strategy like text coding. If students can take a learned concept and use it within other classes, they will have a better understanding of how to close read and understand a text. As a visual learner, I can whole heartedly relate to my students who require visuals to understand material. I was a student who needed to see information written down or broken down, before I could understand the meaning. This simple, yet effective strategy makes sense to me and happily, it makes sense to my students too.

I began this school year with teaching my students different text codes we could use. I had them help me design our text code poster so they knew exactly what each code meant. (We wrote the codes on a poster and then placed in the class so all students could see). We then had a whole class discussion about how text coding was also a method of annotating, another strategy that is used to guide students in understanding a text. This really helped us dive into some high level reading material without me freaking out that they wouldn't understand or comprehend the texts. Below is an example of some of the text codes my classes created:

Text Codes

* = Important Information

! = Information that surprises or excites you

0 = Circle to highlight unfamiliar words to be defined

X = Information readers disagree with

? = A question you may have about the text

_____ = Underline key words and phrases such as vocabulary terms

To begin, I introduced my students to Langston Hughe's poem, Harlem. As a class we read and re-read this poem and I had thirty sets of eyes staring at me like I had just read to them in another language. However, once we began circling unfamiliar terms, defining them, and then focusing on words and phrases they did understand, the text became less difficult. My students began to visually see that when text coding, you can break down the text and find words and phrases you know, place a star or exclamation point next to them (or any other symbol you and your class creates) and then you are able to piece together that information. It suddenly became clear to me that this was what my students needed all along; a simple yet effective visual strategy that would make comprehending difficult texts much more simple.

Not only did text coding seem to become an easy strategy to both teach and use, it also proved to be a boost of confidence for my students who had always struggled with breaking down a text for meaning. I watched as the light bulbs came on inside my students and they saw that they too, could read and understand a text without someone telling them the meaning.

As helpful of a tool as I have found text coding to be, I am not stating that it is the only effective tool teachers should have in their trusty toolboxes. Instead, I am sharing with you a visually appealing and simple strategy that you could try in your own classroom to help your students. I hope you will research text coding and find a method that will also help your students become more engaged and confident readers.

Michelle Areaux



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