Reading Power:
Working Textual Content and Context

Reading power relates to reading opportunity. Powerful readers may arrive on their own; but it is rare. Schooled readers may become powerful readers when given the opportunity and tools while connecting with rich topics and related texts. Remember, Common Core recommended that students read all types of literature in all subjects, as well as complex texts. It stressed the need for students to engage in texts that provide facts and background knowledge with rich content and context for critical- thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills.

Content and Context

Selection of literature is absolutely critical at each grade. Ideally, it should be tied to unit topics with the intent of providing an expansive reading of the topic. The content of any literature, no matter the genre, is everything authors include in their texts. On the other hand, context carries the message of a literary text to make sense. The manner in which a text is interpreted depends on contextual factors whether internal such as setting, backstory, and character, or external context such as a time period in which a text is published.

Working a Text

The idea of working a text is tied to teachers’ preparedness to teach a topic in the curriculum for which selected texts are used to introduce a topic and expand on it. In all probability topical texts would be staged in a manner to provide baseline information and application. Here is where the State reading standards provide a fundamental focus to address both content and context. However, the skill necessary for working text is recognizing concepts (i.e., big ideas) and devising guiding questions that move the student into the content while working the context for meaning and understanding. Each question builds on the next with periodic pauses for definitions and explanations. Students may predict, imagine, project, interpret, and substantiate what they are experiencing literarily.

Reading Comprehension Assessment (RCA)

An RCA is a simple device which I designed in the past to be used in conjunction with working a text. It is used typically once a text has been introduced and read by students. The RCA lists statements about the text at each level of comprehension: literal, interpretive, and applied. In drafting the statements, the teacher purposely makes some of the them false. Also, there is a 2:1 ratio governing the number of statements at each level, beginning at the literal level: e.g., L12, I6, and A3. Students respond to all the statements; then, the teacher asks for the responses and evidence in the text to support each response. The process reveals which statements are true and which are false.

Guiding questions and RCA with questioning are powerful methods to have students work a text to a deeper level of understanding without which it would not happen.

Dr. Bruce H. Crowder is a senior researcher for Educational Vistas, Inc. His work is primarily focused on creating pathways for deeper learning for all students through student performance and a dynamic curriculum replete with strategic teaching. Dr. Crowder may be reached at