What is reading? This space considers some of the leading research and definitions of reading.

Issue #1 The Development of Metacognition

Review of:

Curwen, Margaret Sauceda; Miller, Roxanne Greitz; White-Smith, Kimberly A.; Calfee, Robert C., (2010) Increasing Teachers’ Metacognition Develops Students’ Higher Learning during Content Area Literacy Instruction. Issues in Teacher Education.

In 2010, Curwen et al., researched the role of the teachers’ metacognitive understandings in developing higher level, critical thinkers. The research stemmed from their belief that 21st Century success is dependent on competence in Literacy.(Curwen, et al., 2010) The project, a three year longitudinal research study that took place in ten Southern California elementary schools, was based on the following constructs: constructivistic views in education, emphasizing metacognitive levels of teachers, use of multiple reading strategies for comprehension, and the acceptance by teachers as members of the learning process. (Curwen et al., 2010)

The constructivist approach is based on the tenet that the effective student is one that is actively problem solving and is engaged cognitively in the problem and solution. (Curwen et al., 2010) This approach matches the Ontario curriculum’s description of an effective reader. In the Ontario curriculum multiple strategies are encouraged before, during and after the process.  The critical reader is expected to actively analyse the text throughout the reading process. (Ontario Ministry Documents, 2007)

Metacognition is the process of reflection by the learners about their knowledge. This is beyond cognition, which is simply the act of knowing. Curwen et al., state that the movement towards metacognition from cognition will help retention and comprehension for the learner. They suggest that the ability to think metacognitively is the main difference between high and low achieving students. The Ontario curriculum can be seen as supporting this belief. The curriculum suggests the process of reflection as the main aspect of the period after reading. (Ontario Ministry Documents, 2007)

The researchers cite the National Reading Panel (NRP; 2000) and the RAND Reading Studies Group (2002) as promoting reading comprehension through the use of multiple strategies. They suggest strategies such as making predictions and visualizing as techniques to develop deep understanding. This is very much in line with the Ontario Curriculum Document, which suggests the use of multiple reading strategies including visualization and predictions.

The final construct considered is the role of the teacher. Curwen et al., explain that the teacher needs to be aware of the multiple comprehension strategies and share them explicitly with the students. In many cases, they explain the teachers are aware of the need for the multiple strategy approach, but they rarely provide the instructions required to help develop the skills. (Curwen et al., 2010) In the Ontario curriculum, the specific expectations often provide cues and prompts for teachers. The prompts include the use of multiple strategies.

The researchers provided eighteen days for professional development over a period of three years. The sessions were spread out as such, ten during the first year, five for the second and three for the final year of the project. The teachers were asked not to implement any of their new understandings until the entire term of the project was completed. Upon completion of the professional development and implementation of the constructs, all of the participating teachers indicated an increase in the student’s level of higher order learning. They explained that the use of multiple strategies, metacognitive thinking and explicit instructions from the teacher led to a deeper, sustainable understanding of content learned. (Curwen et al., 2010)

In conclusion Curwen et al., state,

“The results of this project demonstrate the potential value of these strategies for increasing student reading and writing achievement, and thus providing a doubled benefit – students who not only perform better on small and large scale assessments, but also those who can think more deeply and genuinely about themselves, the content, and the process of learning.”  (Curwen et al. 2010, p. 20)

Based on the conclusions from this particular study it seems that the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum documents are in line with successful teaching strategies and expectations.

Issue #2 Digital Literacy

Review of:

Kinzer, Charles K., Considering Literacy and Policy in the Context of Digital Environments, In Language Arts; v88 n1 p51-61 Sep 2010

Digital literacy is rapidly altering our understanding of reading and reading comprehension. As we continue to see significant progress in technology and communication, it is critical that consideration be given to this strand.

In Consider Literacy and Policy in the Context of Digital Environments, Charles Kinzer highlights the changes in literacy in the 21st century. The article considers the rapidly evolving understandings of literacy and being literate. Kinzer states that school-aged population does the majority of their reading on technological devices. On average, students spend over 7 hours a day interacting with technology. Students in grades 7-12 spend approximately 1.5 hours a day text messaging. This includes reading and writing for communication and understanding. (Kinzer, 2010) Kinzer goes on to state that teachers need to adapt and teach the literacy skills required for students to become an integral part of the 21st century workforce that is technologically literate.

 “…there is an increasing understanding of what people are doing in digital environments outside of school and how these activities relate to literacy practices, as well as a need for expanded definitions of literacy.”  (Kinzer, 2010, p. 55)

The article goes on to define the changing uses for certain skills required for competency in literacy. The skills considered are communication, collaboration and information retrieval in the digital environment. These skills along with other skills are required for both digital and traditional literacy practices. And being efficient in one does not mean that the individual will be effective with the other.

Communication is considerably different now than it was twenty years ago. With the introduction of social media, Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging as leaders in the changing forms for communication. The speed at which information is exchanged is markedly different than the days of the pen and paper. And, greater numbers of people are involved in communication. Having the ability to read and respond in the technological world renders the many in the periphery as illiterate. Considering how significant the change in forms of communication has been in the past decade, one can safely assume that ten years from now the change will be just as drastic. Progressive systems should be anticipating this change when developing their practicing policies.

The Ontario Curriculum has acknowledged the role of communication in the in the overall expectations for the oral section of the language document. However, communication is limited to in-person interactions. There is no mention of communication in any other sections of the language document. The conclusion is that the ministry is a step behind in this regard, and of course that would mean that the ministry is not anticipating future trends either. Nevertheless, many school boards in Ontario have proactively encouraged the use of online communication tools such as moodles. Moodles are educational social networks. Student can submit their work online, view others work and provide feedback to each other, as well as communicate with the teacher and classmates about any relevant material.

The increase in social mediums means the greater opportunity for collaboration between people. Technology allows for people to exchange information in real time without having to be together physically. Individuals practice literacy skills such as identifying the main idea, argumentation and considering supporting facts when engaged in technologically enhanced collaboration. (Kinzer, 2010)

One of the most significant evolutions is in informational retrieval. Skillful retrieval of information is more than simply typing in a term into a search engine. Kinzer explains that students must be able to evaluate the search results depending on their specific needs. In his article he describes typing in the same term into five different online search engines and finding results that are significantly different from each other. This, Kinzer states, will have implications on the consistency of information used by students. The validity and reliability of the information is also to be considered. Student often lack the ability to authenticate the source of the information. This is different than traditional research using published materials. Published written works have had their sources checked and when referring to the information from such a source students can be satisfied with the validity of the information. Online information is often informally written by a random contributor. This can result in students collecting biased or inaccurate information. Kinzer suggests that curriculum expectation for primary students should include how to conduct an online search using critical thinking skills that evaluate the results. (Kinzer, 2010)

The language document for the Ontario Curriculum does state that, “students identify some media forms and explain how the conventions and techniques associated with them are used to create meaning.” (Ontario Curriculum Documents, 2006, p. 45) This overall expectation is consistent throughout all grades including the primary grades. Again, it would seem that the Ministry of Education is in line with the changes understandings of literacy. However, the overall expectations are very general, and rely on the teacher to define what it they may look like in practice. There are two specific expectations that go along with that overall expectation, but they too are limited in their definitions. It seems that the Ministry has acknowledged the increase role of media in literacy, but the ministry stops short of suggesting ways to develop understandings that anticipate future trends. Further, the majority of the expectations in Media are focused on creating media, and not necessarily using comprehension skills to evaluate media.

The remainder of Kinzer’s article focuses on implications for policy and practice. He states two main factors that are driving the change in policy. First, recognizing the increased role of technology in people’s lives and the relation of these practices to literacy and second, the recognition that economic development depends on a workforce that is technologically literate with the critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration skills required for the 21st century. (Kinzer, 2010) Amongst the many suggestions made, the following four stand out as the most important.

The first suggestion is to increase the funding and support preservice and inservice education programs. This would help teachers develop the expertise required to effectively teach these skills to the students. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace, that teachers are often less inclined than the student they teach. Increase funding would lead to greater understandings for the teachers and in turn, effective use of technology in the classroom.

The second suggestion is for curriculum developers to emphasize the development of 21st Century skills. These skills include information retrieval, evaluation and analysis, as well as critical thinking and synthesis as they relate to reading in digital settings. (Kinzer, 2010) Kinzer, believes that the curriculum needs to go beyond simply encouraging the use of technology in classroom settings, and towards acknowledging the importance of these skills as they relate to reading. He suggests that expectations explicitly state the effective use of these skills for supporting comprehension.

The third suggestion is to develop assessment techniques that test digital literacy practices. Students should be assessed on their ability “to read digital texts, retrieve and synthesize information that is found online.” (Kinzer, 2010, p.57)

It is appropriate at his point to briefly consider assessment techniques in Ontario. The Ministry of Education in Ontario relies on the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) for assessing the reading skills of student in Ontario. As mentioned previously, EQAO is a critical component of assessment. Grade 6 is a benchmark year in Ontario as it is one of the three grades for the EQAO standardized testing for students. It has been noted that EQAO testing does not include any assessment of digital literacy. The test does not have a media section and does not place any emphasis on the development of the digital skills essential for success in the 21st century. The EQAO tests have changed over time, to include greater use of alternate texts such as graphs, pictures and images however they continue to lag behind in terms of digital literacy. As a result, one can assume that the media section must be exempt or deemed less important because the EQAO tests do not consider it.

The final suggestion made by Kinzer is to teach digital literacy skills in cohesion with traditional literacy practices. Digital literacy is similar, but not the same as traditional literacy. There is a lot of overlap in terms of the skills required, but there are also many skills that are specific to each. Kinzer explains that digital literacy does not replace print based literacy, but incorporates traditional literacy skills within its realm. It is the role of the teacher to help students identify the skills used in their everyday digital practices with traditional literacy skills.  

Kinzer does a great job in identifying the changing definition of literacy. He provides great examples of how digital literacy is redefining our understanding of literacy. Further, he provides great suggestions for curriculum developers and classroom teachers to implement into schools.

The article can be used to highlight some of the strengths of the curriculum document and some of the areas for improvement. It also makes clear that the EQAO language test fails to accurately assess new literacies. It is my opinion that Ontario’s Ministry of Education place greater pressures on EQAO to ensure that all segments of the reading curriculum, including media, be covered in future tests.

This video provides examples of how to embedd the technology students currently use into classroom lesson and utilize them to develop their literacy skills.

Issue #3 Gender and Reading Achievement


The third entry will review articles that consider reading comprehension and gender.

The Ontario Ministry documents suggest that teachers select reading materials in collaboration with the students. This is to help ensure that the diverse needs of the class are met. However, the suggestion is made with culture and personal experiences in mind. There is no mention of gender differences as they pertain to reading and comprehension.

The results from the EQAO tests have demonstrated a consistent struggle for boys trying to achieve grade level. In 2005, 68% of the grade 6 girls that took part in Ontario’s standardized testing (EQAO) achieved at or above grade level in writing and reading. The boys’ results were significantly lower with only 50% achieving the standard in writing and 58% in reading. (

If we are to consider the article by Kinzer, the suggestion could be made that the struggles are not gender based, but rather the assessment is invalid because it lacks a digital component. However, in this case we will consider the assessment as a baseline, and review some possible conclusions from gender based research.

The scores for both boys and girls fell below Provincial government expectations and goals. This was especially so for the boys where there was a 35% gap in the writing section results between actual scores and the Province’s goal.

 The consistent disparity in scores favours female students.This is a disparity that is not unique to Canada as noted in several other western countries. (Dunne, 2003) The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that the largest gap was in reading and girls on average outperformed boys on the standardized testing in all of the countries belonging to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2007)

EQAO results (Trends by Gender)                                                                      (Figure 1)

Assessment Year Percentage of students at or above the provincial standard    
  Boys Reading/Writing Girls Reading/Writing  
2005-2006 57/51 71/72  
2006-2007 59/50 70/72  
2007-2008 60/58 73/76  
2008-2009 64/57 75/78  


 The challenges boys face with standardized tests have raised numerous questions. Several theories have attempted to reason this peculiar trend. Many theories have been proposed. For example, the biological theory examines the genetic factors that may impact gender specific learning. The socio-cultural theory considers multiple dimensions. It maintains that literacy skills develop from a combination of formal schooling and the individual’s social and cultural experiences. However, no one theory has prevailed over the others.

The Ministry of Education in Ontario, makes no mention of the gender gaps in their curriculum documents, but they are aware of the discrepancy and have made attempts to correct the gap. In 2004, a report by Ontario Educators, Narrowing the Gender Gap: Attracting Men to Teaching, urged the immediate need to attract males to the profession. The report places special emphasis on the primary/junior panel where the number of male teachers was as low as 10%.

Observation is essential to the socio-cultural development. In Canada, female educators make up approximately 65% of all teachers. (Spence, 2006). That number is higher in elementary schools, where female educators make up a significant majority. When male students have predominantly female educators, who model the components of literacy, such as reading and writing, it is possible that the male students will associate these acts as female specific. Further, boys are more likely to witness their mothers reading and writing at home.(Millard, 1997) Fathers are unlikely to be considered the child’s first teacher and are often the secondary target of family literacy programs. (Gadsden, 2003) And, finally boys are likely to notice the high rate of female readers in their classrooms. Such experiences are likely to cement the association of reading and writing as a feminine act.

 The Ministry of Education in Ontario agrees with the basis of socio-cultural factors by suggesting a greater need for male role models. In their 2004 report, Literacy for Learning: the Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy in Grades 4 to 6 in Ontario, they highlight the importance of having students make “the connections between who they are, what they value and what they are learning in school to in order to make sense of the learning and make sense of the learning and integrate it into their whole being.”(Ontario Ministry of Education 2004(a), 18).

The socio cultural theorists believe that the lack of male teachers in the primary/junior grades may impact boys attitudes towards reading. In 2008, the Toronto Star published an article which detailed the decline in male teachers and its negative effect on male students in elementary grades. The article explains that the decline is likely to continue “since boys don’t see men at the front of their classrooms when they’re young, they don’t see elementary teaching as a career choice.” This male-female imbalance has created a learning culture where the male voice is seldom heard.(Spence, 2006) 

 This trend is not specific to Canada. Several other countries have shown similar statistics. In the European countries a survey showed that a greater number of females than males are in school by the age of eighteen. (Spence, 2006)

Classrooms and curriculums have evolved tremendously in the past century. And with the increasing role of technology it can only be expected that the change will continue. There are several strategies that can be implemented to help young males overcome this gap. First, the Ontario Curriculum documents should consider gender specific expectations. Gender specific interest, like multiculturalism and previous learning experience, should be encouraged. The ministry should make greater attempts at attracting more males into the profession and if not teachers educational assistants or child and youth workers. Particularly, younger males need to be brought into the profession. The Boys seemed to connect more easily with younger males than older males. One reason, why this may be is because younger males are closer to the age of the boys and therefore the students can visualize themselves in their positions better than that of an older male. Another strategy can be to integrate males from other parts of society into the education system. To provide greater opportunities for young boys, visit successful males in different professions such as athletes, networking or computer programmers and the business world. This would provide these young boys with an opportunity to see men reading and writing at work.

 Along with changes in the curriculum, assessment techniques should be reviewed as well. If boys are consistently struggling with standardized testing, maybe it is the test that is the problem. EQAO should consider implementing a technology based segment into their assessments. They should also test reading comprehension skills using information that is easy for the students to relate to.

Please refer to the EQAO page for further analysis of the test.

Work Cited List

1. Dunne, M. (2003) Education in Europe: Key Statistics 2000/2001. Luxembourg: European Communities 

2. EQAO (Education Equality and Accountability Offices) Grade 3 to 6 Assessment of Writing: Provincial Results: Detailed Data Tables. Toronto EQAO (2009)

3. Ministry of Education (2006). The Ontario curriculum grades 1-8: Language (Revised). Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

4. Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD), Reading Profeciency 2009.   ESDS International, (Mimas) University of Manchester.

5. Spence, C. (2006) Creating a Literacy Environment for Boys. Toronto. Nelson.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by P.W. on March 23, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    These two articles are fascinating; the first very complimentary of the direction and alignment of the new curricula with the 21st Century philosophy of Literacy. What I find intriguing is that while social media has increased the ways and immediacy with which one communicates, it has not necessarily increased or even encouraged the “depth” of the communication. What appears to be missing is the profundity of thought and proof of metacognitive reflection that seems to be the mandate or ambition of the “new” literacy. And so, while the advent of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc., is nothing short of revolutionary, the (side effect?) production of a sound byte-riddled world that is narcissistic in tone and superficially communal, is problematic. In the spirit of constructivist literacy, schools need to not only understand the mechanics and affect of this media, but more importantly, meaningfully harness the power of these media by guiding students in critical examinations of technology’s impact on the development of literacy skills. Are our skills short-sighted/focussed on simple mechanics, or do they advance the notion that communication should be purposeful? Not that debate should ensue from every “tweet”, but understanding the potential power of the tool is critical to making sure that it is used responsibly and even strategically. Once the media have been unpacked, then the real work of extending knowledge beyond individual borders and mobilizing conversations and applications that are ALSO transformative and inspiring, should “literally” (no pun intended) saturate classroom curricula and practice. More thoughts to come…


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