The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Curriculum and Evaluation Standards propose “decreased attention to teacher and text as exclusive sources of knowledge” (1989, p. 129). Students need to learn to recognize and tap other sources of information–self, trade books, magazines, technical manuals, professionals, and so on–while still developing better ways of learning from teacher and textbook. We cannot expect students to become cognizant of the other sources mentioned nor to know how to use them without some assistance. One simple way to engage students with reading and thinking about their texts is to use one of several versions of Directed Reading-Thinking Activities (DR-TAs). Using DR-TAs is one way of enabling middle school and high school mathematics students (1) to begin developing facility in learning from other reading materials, (2) to learn to tap their own knowledge, as well as (3) to use their textbooks more efficiently. This article provides an overview of the DR-TA concept.
What is a DR-TA?
The DR-TA is often associated with the DRA (Directed Reading Activity) developed by Stauffer (1969). As defined in the International Reading Association Dictionary of Reading and Related Terms, the DRA is “a lesson plan which involves a) preparation/readiness/motivation for reading a lesson; b) silent reading; c) vocabulary and skills development; d) silent and/or oral reading; and e) follow-up or culminating activities.” While this is a useful plan for some reading lessons and is essentially synonymous with the basal reading lessons of the elementary grades (Tierney, Readance, & Dishner, 1990), the DR-TA is a much stronger model for building independent readers and learners. Dupuis, Lee, Badiali, & Askov (1989) state that “the rationale for using the DRTA is to foster the student’s independence when reading. It engages students in an active process where they must use their reasoning abilities and their own ideas” (p. 252).
The hyphen in Directed Reading-Thinking Activity is intended to symbolize the interdependence of the two terms, “Reading” and “Thinking,” because in order to be a good reader, one must also think. Unfortunately, the link between the two has been lost for some students as evidenced in their replies to teachers’ questions about what they have “read.”
Teacher: “Alright, who can tell me about the section in the book you were to read last night.”
Students: Deafening silence, eyes looking at floor or at non-existent nit on sweater.
Teacher: “Didn’t you all read your assignment?”
Students: “Yeah, I read it.” “Me, too.” “I read it twice.”
Teacher: “Hmmmm, well, it looks like we need to learn how to read and think about what we’re reading.” (Appropriate groans from some class members–“oh, no! Not thinking!?”)
As a teacher (of elementary, middle & high school, AND college), I have experienced some variation on this exchange more times than I would like to remember. It is important to keep in mind that although as educators, we feel frustrated that our students have not thought about what they are reading (thus neither comprehending nor remembering), their frustration must be far greater than ours (even if they appear to hide it well). Using the DR-TA approach is not a panacea in the mathematics classroom nor in any other content area classroom, but it can make a difference in the ability of students to read, think, understand, and remember what they have read in their textbooks and other written materials. Used effectively, it has the potential to equip readers with the abilities to: (1) determine purposes for reading; (2) extract, comprehend, and assimilate information; (3) examine reading material based upon purposes for reading; (4) suspend judgments; and (5) make decisions based upon information gleaned from reading (Tierney et al, 1990, p. 12).
The 4 steps in the DR-TA: Predict-Read-Confirm-Resolution
In the Prediction step, students reflect on what they think will be covered in the text. These predictions may be recorded on the board, on an overhead projector, or on chart paper. This step primes the pumps and gets students motivated to read by helping them set a purpose for what they are about to read.
In the Read step, students read from one point to another (usually a few paragraphs or pages), to look for the information that was discussed prior to reading.
In the Confirmation step, the teacher leads a brief discussion and reflection period, allowing students to compare their predictions with what was actually presented in the text. After this discussion and before reading further, if appropriate, the teacher begins the Predict-Read-Confirm cycle again. This cycle is repeated throughout the text.
Finally, the lesson closes with a Resolution at which time the text is summarized and evaluated both in terms of its verity and relevance.
Other types of DR-TAs are the “No Book DR-TA,” the “Table of Contents DR-TA,” the “Whole Book DR-TA,” and the “Chapter DR-TA.” They are intended to be used by students both inside and outside the mathematics classroom, beginning in the upper elementary grades and continuing throughout high school and post-secondary education. All of these DR-TA options are discussed in additional articles that are easily accessible.