Getting It Right

An Effective Approach to Teaching Literacy

a book review by Eric H. Shed


“Mr., I don’t get it. This story is wack. I don’t like reading; it’s hard.” Lack of skill, lack of interest or some combination of both bars many young people from the joy and liberation one experiences when reading. Reading For Understanding tackles this dilemma head on by offering an approach to teaching literacy that encourages students to further empower themselves as readers and as learners.


Reading for Understanding begins by providing an overview of the current challenges of teaching reading to junior high and high school students and the importance of overcoming such challenges. The authors then go on to explain how to meet those challenges. The metacognitive approach to teaching reading, at the center of the approaches described in Reading for Understanding, encourages students to be aware of their thought processes while reading and focus on how they can use them to further comprehend a text. After a brief theoretical discussion about the effectiveness of metacognition, the book describes concrete activities and strategies that help students enhance their metacognitive skills.


After being introduced to these strategies this summer, I made them the cornerstone of a literacy-based SAT prep course I taught at Hostos Community College this past fall. The objective of the course was to help students do better on the verbal section of the SAT by improving their comprehension skills. The strategies in Reading For Understanding have proven to be invaluable. First, through the use of reading logs and frequency charts, my students learned how to monitor their thinking while reading. From there, to further their comprehension of the text, they learned how to utilize certain cognitive processes such as visualization and connecting the text to personal experiences. Another strategy my students learned, identifying problems they encounter while reading, was an essential step to solving those problems. This particular technique has liberated many students from feeling a sense of failure or the inclination to give up when they encounter a difficult section of a text.


Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the approach outlined in Reading For Understanding is that students are transformed from passive to active readers. Not only are their skills enhanced, but perhaps more importantly, they learn to enjoy discovering meaning in reading.


As I revise my course for the spring semester, I am excited to be teaching reading — in large part because the techniques outlined in Reading for Understanding make students excited about reading. While this book has helped transform my classroom, it is not only for teachers. The last section, which discusses school-wide issues such as reading across the curriculum and staff development, will prove invaluable to administrators. In fact, Reading For Understanding is for anyone who is interested in a fresh and effective approach to teaching literacy to adolescents and young adults.



Eric H. Shed teaches a literacy-based SAT prep course in Hostos Community College’s College Now program. The course seeks to prepare students for the SAT and beyond by enhancing their literacy skills. Students are taught metacognitive skills using a variety of texts ranging from inner city teen-centered novels to college-level essays and articles.

Eric, a graduate of Wesleyan College, taught history and English in alternative high schools in New York City for three years. He is currently an Opportunity Fellow at NYU’s Graduate School of Education and will obtain a masters degree in education in 2003. After teaching for a few more years, Eric plans to start a career in education reform.

In addition to his interest in education, Eric is a spoken-word artist who plans to publish a book of poetry in the spring of 2004.