Improve Reading Instruction with the C.I.A. Approach

several novels arranged in rows

Sarah Collinge has written the book Raising the Standards Through Chapter Books: The C.I.A. Approach, and it’s rocking my (educational) world. Let me explain.

My boys do not like to read. Teaching them to read was a very painful process for all of us, even though I did my very best to make it at least tolerable. Reading stories, going to the library, having plenty of books available around the house…I’ve tried every trick I could to improve things. I gave up on the whole battle last year. All of them can read quite well, but I couldn’t get anyone to try chapter books. At all.

They’ll read informational books all the time. In fact, The Mercenary only abandoned the library when he had read everything they had to offer on his favorite topics and wasn’t willing to peruse the fiction shelves.

I gave up because you don’t often see men reading novels the way women do, and they can read for information well enough, and there comes a point when beating the dead horse just doesn’t make sense anymore. Fighting with them further wasn’t going to improve anything, and I just didn’t know what else to do about it.

I’d much rather they experienced the joy of finishing a big story, and the accomplishment. Not to mention, they’ll be asked to read a lot when they’re in college, and I want them to not be afraid of longer texts. Up until now, the only thing I knew to do was wait and see if they just grow into more reading.

And then, I read about the C.I.A. approach. Wow! This book has a structured plan I can follow to encourage good reading. It involves reading aloud, which I’d been thinking was possibly a good idea anyway. The plan divides a book into four quadrants, with assignments to follow for each. In quadrant one, for example, the reader notes important information like plot, characters, and setting. As the reader progresses through the book, they interpret the text and apply it to their own life.

Ms. Collinge describes things that good readers do:

  • use clues in the story to help them visualize the setting.
  • use visualizations to help them compare and contrast more than one setting.
  • use evidence in the text to draw conclusions.
  • use conclusions drawn from the text to consider a larger theme.
  • note evidence from the text that supports a theme in order to name the author’s message.
  • evaluate the author’s message and determine how the author’s message will apply to their lives.

Essentially, good readers know how to get important information from the text. This is a skill that can be taught, and the C.I.A. approach does just that. I can’t wait to implement it with the boys! In addition to the book describing the technique, there are units available specific to particular chapter books and arranged by grade level. I love being able to work through the approach with a structured plan a time or two before striking out on my own. At $60 per unit, the price is quite high but I may buy one to try so that I have some structured experience before stepping out on my own.

In the C.I.A. approach, students keep a notebook and even follow a structured plan to discuss what they’re reading. It may seem a little artificial, but the point is to teach children how to have conversations about what they’re reading.

A teacher using this approach can feel confident that their students are getting a solid foundation in reading comprehension as well as learning how not to fear chapter books. The joy of finishing a story, and the feeling of accomplishment you get when you close a good book….those are important experiences for all of us to have.

As a homeschooler I’m super interested in teaching reading well. This book outlines a fantastic approach that I believe will be super beneficial for my boys’ reading skills. Generally speaking, the book is written by a teacher for other teachers, so a homeschooling parent would have to adapt some of the method to reflect a smaller group and mixed ages. Also, there is some technical jargon and many references to academic studies and standards that the typical homeschooler wouldn’t necessarily care about. I think it’s great to know that the approach is so well thought out though.

I’d love to see a book about the C.I.A. approach that is aimed at homeschoolers, as I see it as a valuable component to reading instruction. Any school teacher that wants to improve their reading program would benefit from this book as well.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to teach children to read well.

Image courtesy of sbluerock via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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  • Paul B March 20, 2012, 2:57 pm

    Sounds a bit harsh in name but in theory it sounds probably rather effective, if not thorough. I’d maybe just not emphasize the militant extreme too much.

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