Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Supporting Reading Comprehension

This information is shared from the Iowa Reading Research Center blog

The Journey Is the Treasure: Providing Just the Right Amount of Background Knowledge to Support Reading Comprehension

Road journey into mountains
The purpose of teaching background information and connecting it to a text is to set students off on a successful reading journey, being careful not to provide too much information and bypass the journey altogether.

Posted on: February 14, 2017
Simply put, background knowledge is what you already know or have learned about a topic. This information is stored in your brain and retrieved when necessary to make connections to the world around you, understand new experiences, and make reasoned decisions on a daily basis. Reading requires a great deal of background knowledge relevant to the text to help with interpreting, predicting, and connecting to what is being conveyed. Without this knowledge to draw upon, you may struggle to fully comprehend the text.
When good readers begin reading, various information about the topic in the text is stimulated in their brains. They begin to connect that existing knowledge with new knowledge they are encountering in the text, adding to or making new categories of information in the brain to be accessed in the future. When this happens, readers are able to increase their reading comprehension. With each new reading experience, readers can continue linking and growing their knowledge, thus increasing their ability to understand a wider variety of texts. As Duke, Pearson, Strachan, and Billman (2011) suggest, “knowledge begets comprehension, which begets knowledge” (p. 55).

Teaching Background Knowledge

The ways in which teachers engage students in activating and building background knowledge can positively or negatively influence students’ reading comprehension. Sometimes, teachers try to give as much information as they can, hoping that it will ease students’ load and make reading more enjoyable. Unfortunately, such extensive instruction may make reading unnecessary for students: “Why read when the teacher will tell me all I need to know beforehand?” This takes the journey out of the reading experience, and students begin to become dependent upon the teacher to supply them with the knowledge they will need—whether or not they ever read a given text for themselves.
Instead, teachers need to provide just enough background to set a purpose for reading and really entice students to read on, thus ensuring that they will learn more. It is also important that the information a teacher reveals is not something intended to be learned in the text or something the students would be likely to understand from reading the text themselves. Providing appropriate kinds of background knowledge instruction applies to reading both narrative fiction and informational passages, but the specific approaches may vary to suit the text type.

Building Background Knowledge for Reading Narrative Fiction

To entice students prior to reading a fictional passage, it is common to ask, “What do you know about [the topic].” However, that could encourage students to focus too much on general information that may not support understanding the particular text they will read. Similarly, prompting students to “Look at the illustrations and make a prediction about what you think is going to happen” may either give too much information away or establish an expectation for the events in the story that could be inconsistent with what actually happens. Instead, teachers might try one of the following:
  • Asking students to make a prediction based on the key ideas in the text.
  • Posing questions about the kinds of events and scenarios presented in the text, including questions that would help students make connections to other texts the students have read.
  • Discussing students’ beliefs about the topic or ideas in the text and then reading to confirm or amend their initial thinking.

Building Background Knowledge for Reading Informational Text

As when reading fictional narratives, it is common to entice students prior to reading an informational passage by asking a broad “what do you know?” question and getting a variety of answers that may or may not be useful to supporting comprehension. Instead, teachers could help focus the students’ background knowledge by asking a targeted question to set a purpose for students’ learning. Below is an example of how a teacher might use targeted activation of background knowledge about the frog in preparation for reading and talking about the life cycle of the frog, including the changes the frog makes over its lifetime.
Think of a time when you saw a frog. It might have been at the pond, in your yard, at the zoo, in a book, or on television. Picture in your mind what you saw. What did the frog look like? Picture its skin, eyes, toes, and how it eats its food. Now that you have that picture in your mind, write what you are seeing and thinking so you can use it to help when we read about frogs.
[The teacher and students co-create a list of characteristics of frogs.]
As we read today, we are going to think about the things we know about frogs that we have on our list. We want to relate those to the new things we are learning to help us understand about the life of the frog.
The ability to activate and build knowledge prior to reading will help students reference what they know as they confirm, clarify, or augment the information with what is presented in the text, thus improving reading comprehension (Shanahan et al., 2010).  
Another option is to use targeted activation of background knowledge during reading, rather than prior to beginning the text. For example, instead of providing so much information about the moon that students do not really need to read The Moon by Seymour Simon (2003), the teacher could provide stopping points in the text to pose targeted questions. When reading about the phases of the moon, the teacher could have students stop and explain to a partner what the moon looks like at different times during the month and why they think it looks that way. Then, students can continue reading with the purpose of looking for information to confirm or refine the knowledge they just shared with their partners.
Finally, strategic use of short, informative videos can build a deeper and more targeted understanding of a concept than a simple picture walk (paging through a book, using the illustrations to talk about what might be happening before reading) of an informational book. Before reading Aliki’s (1992) Milk: From Cow to Carton or Gibbons’ (1987) The Milk Makers, the teacher would establish the purpose of the lesson: understanding where milk comes from and what happens to it before it gets to the store. Next, students would watch a short video on milking a cow. If done quickly and purposefully, students will be primed to build or use the information from the video to comprehend what they read, eager to learn more and enjoying the journey.

Final Thoughts about Building Background Knowledge

“Children are natural knowledge seekers” (Pinkham, Kaefer, & Neuman, 2012, p. xiii), so the goal of building background knowledge is to take advantage of that curiosity and channel it to support students’ reading comprehension. Revealing all the information to them prior to reading cuts the journey short. But giving students enough to get them started will facilitate building knowledge, learning new things, and enjoying the process of reading.


Aliki (1992). Milk: From Cow to Carton. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Strachan, S. L., & Billman, A. K. (2011). Essential elements of fostering and teaching reading comprehension. In. S. J. Samuels & A. E. Farstrup (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (4th ed.) (51-93). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Gibbons, G. (1985). The Milk Makers. New York, NY: Aladdin.
Pinkham, A. M., Kaefer, T., & Neuman, S. B. (2012). Knowledge development in early childhood: A not-so-trivial pursuit. In A. M. Pinkham, T. Kaefer & S. B. Neuman (Eds.), Knowledge development in early childhood: Sources of learning and classroom implications (pp. ix-xiii). New York, NY: The Guilford Press
Shanahan, T., Callison, K., Carriere, C., Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Schatschneider, C., & Torgesen, J. (2010). Improving reading comprehension in kindergarten through 3rd grade: A practice guide (NCEE 2010-4038). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education | Full text
Simon, S. (2003). The Moon. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Sample Lesson Plans

Now that you are familiar with how best to teach background knowledge to increase comprehension of a given text, you may wish to utilize the following sample lesson plans with your class, or review them to get a better sense of how to implement these instructional strategies in the classroom.
PDF iconActivating Background Knowledge Elementary School Example Lesson Plan: Contains lesson on Frogs by Gail Gibbons and semantic web graphic organizers for teacher and students.
PDF iconActivating Background Knowledge Middle School Example Lesson Plan: Contains lesson on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech and t-chart graphic organizers for teacher and students.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Iowa's community colleges impact on state's economy


Iowa Department of Education
News Release

For Immediate Release
Feb. 10, 2017
Staci Hupp
New study highlights impact Iowa’s community colleges have on state’s economy
Impact contributed $5.4 billion in income, equivalent to creating 107,170 new jobs

DES MOINES – Iowa’s community colleges provide a solid return on investment for both students and the state, according to a statewide analysis of the colleges’ economic impact. The newly released study, Analysis of the Economic Impact and Return on Investment of Education, found that Iowa’s community colleges collectively contributed $5.4 billion into the state’s economy and supported 107,170 jobs - roughly 6 percent of all jobs in Iowa - during fiscal year 2014-15.
The independent study, conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), utilized academic and financial reports from the community colleges, as well as earnings and employment outcomes data from the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa Workforce Development.
“In addition to enrolling nearly 150,000 students each year and preparing them to meet the state’s workforce needs, Iowa’s community colleges have a significant impact on the business community,” Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise said. “This economic impact generates a return on investment for students, taxpayers, and society.”
The alignment of education, workforce and economic development efforts is key to the Future Ready Iowa initiative launched in 2015 by Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds. The initiative calls for 70 percent of Iowans to have education or training beyond high school by 2025 to ensure Iowa’s workforce is equipped with the skills and education employers need.
“From manufacturing to healthcare, Iowa’s community colleges train and prepare the talent for growing, high-demand industries that are driving Iowa’s economy,” Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend said. “This report confirms the important role that Iowa’s community colleges play in strengthening Iowa’s talent pipeline and preparing a future-ready workforce.”
Among the study’s findings:
  • During the analysis year, past and present students generated $4.6 billion in added income for the state, which is equivalent to supporting 87,905 jobs.
  • The top industries impacted by Iowa’s community colleges include health care and social assistance; manufacturing; finance and insurance; and construction.
  • For every dollar of public money invested in Iowa’s community colleges, $3.50 in benefits is returned to taxpayers and the average annual rate of return is 10.4 percent.
  • For every dollar that a student spends on a community college education in Iowa, that student receives $6.50 per hour in higher future income with an average annual rate of return of 25.3 percent.
  • The average associate degree completer will see an increase in earnings of $9,500 each year when compared to someone with a high school diploma or equivalent. Over a working lifetime, this increase in earnings amounts to an undiscounted value of approximately $418,000 in higher earnings.
  • The total benefits to society, which include increased lifetime earnings, associated increases in business output and social savings, equal $15.2 billion (in present value form).
“We are pleased that this study confirms the positive effect Iowa’s community colleges have on the state,” said Jeremy Varner, division administrator for the Iowa Department of Education’s Division of Community Colleges and Workforce Preparation. “Iowa’s community colleges not only expand economic opportunities for students, they are key drivers of the state’s economy.”
The income that Iowa’s community colleges and their students added to the state’s economy, $5.4 billion, is equal to 3.3 percent of the state’s Gross State Product, which is equivalent to creating 107,170 new jobs.
To read the full report, visit the Iowa Department of Education’s website.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Job fair for 14-18 year olds

Looking for a job in the Cedar Rapids area?  Are  you 14-18 years old?  Are you available on February 23 to attend the "Youth Job Fair"?

If you'd like more information on this job fair please contact:

Gina Walsh:  319-365-9474 
for more information


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Want to transfer credits from one institution to another in Iowa?

As students plan for their future career and college options, one important component is to consider how credits earned from one institution will transfer to another, including those earned while students are still in high school.   Iowa's Regent universities and community colleges have joined forces to create resources to help support planning for future career and college options.  You can find that site here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sharing talents of our students

Check out the efforts and hard work done by our Keystone second graders.  Our Elementary Media Specialist, Bridget Speer (@sewfun82) blog post shares how she had students read and review some of the Student Choice Award Books, and how they used the Tellagami app to record and share their book talks.

Monday, January 30, 2017

New Opportunities in 2017-18 for Benton Community HS students

Benton Community Parents,

Please read below for an email shared with me regarding new "Web Live" courses that will be taught in Benton County Schools during the 2017-2018 school year.  The information as outlined below was shared with all students via email last week.  If you are interested in having your child take one of these courses, then make sure they have registered for the course via Power School. 

We do often receive questions about eligibility for college courses.  Students do have the option to take college credit while in high school.  It is up to the college that a student ultimately attends as to how that credit will transfer.  Students cannot be enrolled as full-time college students while they are in high school.  Full time attendance is designated as 24.0 credit hours per year.  Students will receive both high school and college grades for these courses, and high school and college credit.  As noted in our course book:

Students who qualify must be prepared to meet a different and higher expectation. For example, Kirkwood Community College policies apply to these courses, along with Benton Community building policies. The KCC policies for grading, attendance and late work are more demanding than for a typical high school course. 
Contact Aaron Cretin at acretin@benton.k12.ia.us with any questions.  Thanks!

Dear Students and Parents:

We have an exciting new opportunity to promote for college credit! We are offering four new classes via Weblive – an internet format using conferencing software with scheduled meeting times. Students will not have to leave their school for this opportunity. The classes offered are Career Decision Making and Introduction to Criminal Justice in the fall and How College Works and Elements of Writing in the spring (class descriptions listed below). Students do not have to take all four courses, but can pick and choose what works for them. These courses will be offered to the other Benton County schools as well and will give students a chance to interact with other students from other school districts. These classes are specifically designed to work with Benton Community’s bell schedule as well. The times and courses are listed below:

Career Decision Making
Intro to Crim Justice
First Period:8:00-8:55
Elements of Writing
How College Works

Please contact the counseling office or myself directly if you have any questions regarding these course offerings.

Thank you,

Kasey Keeling
Director, Benton County
Kirkwood Community College

SDV-170 Career Decision Making (3)
Provides an understanding of the career development process, and assists students in making satisfactory career choices. Includes self-assessment, career information research, decision making and job search strategies. Credits: 3, Hours: (3/0/0/0), Arts & Sciences Elective Code: A

CRJ-100 Introduction to Criminal Justice (3)
Provides an overview of the American criminal justice system and examines the process of justice administration through the agencies of law enforcement, courts and corrections. Credits: 3, Hours: (3/0/0/0), Arts & Sciences Elective Code: A

SDV-105 How College Works (3)
Explores individual strengths, strategies for solidifying personal responsibility, college readiness/academic success strategies, career readiness/vocational goals for students as they identify a college program or major. Emphasizes differences between high school and college expectations. Identifies appropriate career areas. Offers aids in taking and using placement tests for college admission and personal financial management. Credits: 3, Hours: (3/0/0/0), Arts & Sciences Elective Code: A

ENG-101 Elements of Writing (3)
Develops students' fluency in communication and clarity in thinking through writers' notebooks, expository writing, analytical reading and listening. Students use structured assignments to explore personal goals and values, exercising skills needed for reasoning and writing across the curriculum. Credits: 3, Hours: (3/0/0/0), Prereq: Qualifying placement score; Arts & Sciences Elective Code: A *NOTE: Course is taken as a pre-req for Composition I and is for students who don’t test directly into Composition I.

BC Learning Update 1/30 - 2/20/17

BC Learning Update 1/30 - 2/20/17

Lots of opportunities for embracing the possibilities:)