My To-Do list, bulleted in an array of Flair pen colors, is truly a thing of beauty. Actually, it isn’t just one list. There are many.
My current lovelies:
Third Birthday Party Prep (so many rainbows)
Fall Cleaning (ugh)
Honey-Do List (shhh don’t tell him)
Movies/Shows To Watch (gimme all the romantic period dramas please)
Reading List (oh, my heart.)
Novel Edits & Submission (so I wrote a book…)
TpT Products (this article checks one more item off of this lovely beast!)
But, I digress. Back to my point. That last list, TpT Products, has had “Reading Skills/Strategies” on there for a loooooong time. I decided to tackle these fickle siblings a few weeks ago. You see, I always begin my product creation with research. What’s already out there? What isn’t? Are my understandings of the concepts correct? Do I have gaps in my own knowledge? How are these concepts being taught? What do the standards say?
Well, in the interest of concise communication, I’ll leave out the story that reminds me of the gif with all the numbers and algorithms floating around Julia Roberts’ head and get straight to the point. You’re welcome!
My research revealed 3 things:
TpT is filled with products that inconsistently classify skill and strategy concepts. Some are top-selling.
Google search results are filled with blog articles that (while correctly defining) inconsistently classify skill and strategy concepts. Some are teacher blogs.
There is no hard and fast list of reading skills and strategies. Reading experts seem to agree on the definitions, but vary on the classification of concepts.
When digging deeper into some scholarly articles, I came across a name that was cited repeatedly in more recent works. I understood why once I located the article. I highly suggest you pause your reading and follow the links below.
The first link will take you to the article, "CLARIFYING DIFFERENCES BETWEEN READING SKILLS AND READING STRATEGIES" by professors Peter Afflerbach, P. David Pearson, and Scott G. Paris – this article says it all.
The second link will take you to "READING STRATEGIES VERSES READING SKILLS: TWO FACES OF THE SAME COIN" by professors Polyxeni Manoli and Maria Papadopoulou. This article cites the first and emphasizes the same information, but in a more condensed way.
If you glanced at these articles and are thinking to yourself any one of the following:
“Yup. Knew that.”
“Hey I just learned this!”
“Wait, this is a thing?”
Then whisper a quick thank you to your former educators, institute of higher education, text books, teacher mentors, and brain because while you’re certainly not alone, there are plenty of us out there (professors, curriculum creators, reading specialists, and front-line teachers) that still have some degree of confusion regarding the classification of these terms. I didn’t know the extent of my confusion until I read Afflerbach, Pearson, and Paris.
So, in the interest of wanting to relay this information in a way that won’t eat up too much of your lunch/prep/Pinterest/late-night internet rabbit hole time, I’ll condense the information I gathered in a way I’m sure you’ll appreciate: With the help of our friend, Venn Diagram.
(The coffee is strong this morning. Bare with me.)
Disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be, an authority or expert on this. I am a teacher with self-professed confusion seeking to explain what I’ve learned in hopes of helping others. Please refer to the articles linked above for expert analysis!
What do we know?
Reading is a complex, dynamic task conceptualized by a series of simultaneous skills and strategies.
Skills and strategies are essential components of reading instruction and are emphasized consistently within various curriculums, standards, and content expectations.
Certain concepts fit into the skill category, while others can be classified as strategies.
Questions to answer:
How do we clarify the distinctions between skills and strategies?
What is the relationship between them?
Which concepts are classified as skills, and which are strategies?
Afflerbach, Pearson, and Paris say it best:
Reading strategies are deliberate, goal-directed attempts to control and modify the reader’s efforts to decode text, understand words, and construct meanings of text. Reading skills are automatic actions that result in decoding and comprehension with speed, efficiency, and fluency and usually occur without awareness of the components or control involved.
When a skill and strategy complement each other, they can provide student readers with motivation and self-efficacy from both sources (I am good at this and I can work through the tough spots) and encourage an appreciation of the value of reading.
Remember the show Married…with Children? (I sure do…my husband and I were Peg and Al Bundy for Halloween a few years ago. We'll show our daughter the pictures when she's 30.) Anyway, I’m reminded of the theme song…
Love and marriage, love and marriage
They go together like a horse and carriage
Well, one way of looking at skills and strategies can be this:
Love = Skills, the things that flow naturally
Marriage = Strategies, the things that require conscious, deliberate effort
They can exist separate from one another, but the whole experience is heightened when they both coexist. Just as marriage is easier when there’s love, and love can be nurtured within the space of a healthy marriage, strategy use is strengthened with the confidence produced by strong foundational skills, and skills become effortless routines with consistent use of strategies.
This necessary shifting balance between deliberate actions (strategies) and automatic routines (skills) facilitates the strengthening of each.
So, how do we classify the concepts?
This is the part that has always confused me. I’ve seen skills clumped with strategies and strategies clumped with skills - inferencing and drawing conclusions (among others) appearing in both categories. Perhaps there’re reasons for certain classifications, but the reasoning is very rarely communicated.
Something the articles state repeatedly is this:
Skills begin as strategies.
Strategies become skills.
Alright, this makes sense. Yet, I’m still left with this question:
How do we tell which is a strategy and which is a skill when they all start out as strategies?
If the concepts require different instructional approaches depending on whether they are skills or strategies, then we must have some classification method in order to drive our instruction. We already know they’re classified. Our curriculums and content standards classify them. Text books classify them. But how? Who’s correct?
What makes sense to me is this:
Is the concept text-focused or reader-focused?
If it’s driven by the text, then it can be taught and approached primarily as a skill: practiced with repetition, assessed, and retaught as needed.
If it’s driven by the reader, then it can be primarily taught and approached as a strategy: explained, modeled, and guided with teacher support.
Sure, some concepts may fit better within the skill category when considering the strengths and needs of your students. Predicting, for example, is one that many kiddos may develop as a skill pretty early on. When I classified the concepts for this article and my corresponding resources, however, I simply asked myself whether it was text-driven or reader-driven and classified accordingly.