Increase Retention by Engaging Students in Digital Reading

Increase retention by applying critical reading strategies to digital text, images, and video.

Grades 3-12 5 min Resource by:
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If students read a document from start to finish without scanning it first, without marking up the text, or without taking notes or otherwise processing it, they will retain very little of what they have read. In fact, studies like the one from National Thinking Laboratories in Bethel, Maine, suggest that retention in this situation might be as low as 10%. While this is clearly not good enough, it does not mean that teachers should avoid having students read to learn. It does mean, however, that teachers must purposefully teach their students how to be active and engaged readers if they want to improve the reading retention rate.

By engaging students actively in the reading process, teachers can encourage students to slow down, question the information, and think about the content. This will empower them with the skills they need to be critical consumers of information—an area of expertise that will serve them well long after their days of remote learning.

In a face-to-face classroom, teachers can directly facilitate the critical reading process. They can guide their students through the pre-reading, reading, note-taking, and reflection processes, and it is fairly easy for students to mark up a paper copy of an article with a pencil or highlighter. However, in a remote-learning environment, where students will often be reading materials on a computer screen, this process is not as intuitive. Traditional pencils and highlighters will not work on digital documents, and it is also very likely that new information will be packaged in multimedia formats, not just text-based documents. Videos, images, and websites have become standard formats in remote learning. Therefore, if we want our students to successfully gain new information when working on their own during remote learning, we need to empower them with effective digital tools and study skills.

As you prepare your students to be critical readers of information, consider not only how you can replicate analog strategies, but also think about what new opportunities are available to you. The digital world offers new challenges, but it also opens new doors. What can your students do now that they couldn’t do before? How can you transform the critical reading process to make it even better?

The digital world offers new challenges, but it also opens new doors.

Integrate Critical Reading and Viewing Strategies

Digital tools are not the end goal in planning for remote learning; they are the vehicles through which students and teachers will interact with digital text, images, or videos. Students will need these tools to be successful, and teachers will eventually need to review digital tool options and decide which choices will allow their students to be most successful. It is best practice for teachers to start with the learning goals, and then decide which digital tool options will allow their students to be most successful. This approach will result in a longer-lasting skill set. Tools will change, but strategies will last.

Tools will change, but strategies will last.

As you begin planning how you will approach critical reading in your classroom, consider your learning goals, and then use these goals to guide your instructional design. Once learning targets and strategies have been formed, let these decisions guide your tool selection. The list below can give you a starting point. It outlines some key components of the critical reading process as well as some of the ways you can have students actively engage in the material. Consider how these strategies can be incorporated into your lessons.

  • Scan and identify the organization and structure.
  • Build vocabulary and define unfamiliar words.
  • Make predictions.
  • Annotate the material (mark the text, write in the margins, take notes, etc.).
  • Ask questions and make connections to prior knowledge.
  • Connect the material to other texts or content.
  • Synthesize and communicate interpretations.

The image above outlines AVID’s critical reading process, taking into account that a “text” is defined as anything conveying meaning. If we look at it, draw information, and conclusions from it—then we are looking at a text.