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FRONTLOADING: ASSISTING THE READER BEFORE READING
Monitoring and Assessment
Frontloading is an assessment; Frontloading activities can be used before reading to assess student conceptual, procedural or genre knowledge that may be necessary for success on subsequent reading tasks. Instructional activities and texts can then be monitored or revised to respond to student needs.
Engagement: Empowering Teachers with Successful Strategies
The Frontloading strategy can take many forms. Frontloading is a way to assess, motivate, set purposes, prepare, protect, and support students into:
Frontloading activities can be devised to address any of these issues by assisting students to take on conceptual, procedural or genre knowledge necessary to reading and comprehending texts that make unfamiliar demands on them in any of these areas.
Frontloading, in any of the many forms it can take, involves creating activities that will either activate knowledge students possess and will need to use in reading a text, or will build knowledge they do not have but need to possess to be successful with it. Good Frontloading activities, as will be seen, are a framework to support and organise student use of new concepts and strategies throughout their reading of the text or through the unit in question.
Engagement: Engaging Students in Purposeful Social Practices
Four Roles/Resources of the Reader
Based on the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader developed by Freebody and Luke (1990), Frontloading involves students in the following repertoire of purposeful social practices:
Four Resources Guideposts
Four Resources Guideposts based on the Frontloading strategy are a useful assessment tool.
Implementing the Strategy
Frontloading using Tangerine
A unit on the inquiry question: ‘What is the role of sports in Western Culture?’ or, to put more of an edge on it: ‘What are the costs and benefits of the Australian emphasis on sports?’
Two kinds of conceptual Frontloading:
The K-W-L (Donna Ogle, 1983) which stands for Know-Want-Learn (what I Know, what I Want to know, what I Learned), is a simple, elegant, and perhaps the quintessential Frontloading technique.
Students are provided with a topic, such as ‘the role of sports in our culture’, and brainstorm what they already know about this topic in the ‘K’ column. As this information is shared with the class certain questions will be raised that can be entered in the ‘W’ column.
In the ‘L’ column students can make notes about the answers to their questions, emendations and additions to what they ‘knew’ (or ‘thought they knew!’). They will also take notes about new information that they didn’t ask questions about, as this kind of information will naturally turn up.
Notice how brainstorming what is known fulfils the first criterion of Frontloading: that background information is activated. If students list information here that is incorrect, all is not lost. They will now be more aware of contradictory information in their reading.
Brainstorming questions fulfils a second criterion: to set a purpose for reading as a form of inquiry. Recording what is learned builds background and provides a visible record of accomplishment by demonstrating what has been learned through the reading.
The information in the ‘L’ column can easily be classified and this can serve as the basis for writing about the topic, or a hypermedia stack or website about what has been learned.
The whole process builds background for further reading about more sophisticated and specialised topics around sports.
Beginnings of a K-W-L Chart based on ‘Tangerine’
(from J. Wilhelm, T. Baker and J. Dube Strategic Reading, 2001)
Let’s say, though, that you think that the topic of sports and culture is fairly familiar and accessible to your students. You want to problematise the issues involved and put a political edge on the readings by giving your students critical lenses and multiple perspectives around the issues involved. You would then want to choose a different kind of Frontloading activity, like an opinionaire, survey, or scenarios for ranking or role play to try to tease out these kinds of viewpoints. These techniques require students to articulate their own beliefs about ‘contact zones’ – issues that are currently at play in some cultural context – and to stake a tentative position.
The opinionaire is a form of survey that asks students to agree or disagree with particular perspectives on the issues they will be reading about. Results can be used to compare the beliefs of individual students to others who take the opinionaire, and eventually to those perspectives of authors and characters in the texts to be read. In this way, an opinionaire helps students to see that various views exist about important issues, and that they must converse with these perspectives and stake their own claim among the various views.
Like any good Frontloading technique, opinionaires activate background and beliefs that students can use during reading, build interest and motivation as students attempt to converse with views similar and different from their own. Finally, the opinionaire provides a template for thinking about and recording authorial and character views because students can ask how various authors and characters would respond to the survey questions, and they can be asked to provide evidence supporting their choices. In this way, students can be motivated to find inquiry questions they may want to pursue, assisted to gather evidence supporting their views about authorial visions and themes, and can be supported to gain material for writing essays and making arguments for particular positions on the issues.
Example of a Sports Opinionaire based on Tangerine
Think carefully about each of these statements.
(example from M. Smith and J. Wilhelm ‘Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys’: The Role of Literacy in the Lives of Young Men, 2002)
Brief examples of procedural Frontloading
Because particular kinds of texts offer very specific kinds of challenges to readers, we sometimes must frontload students required abilities by building procedural knowledge of reading strategies with them before they read.
In Tangerine, students must make use of the symbolism of place, of the underground fires, of the thunderstorms, of the playing fields, of the town and subdivisions, etc. Students who do not notice and see the symbolic significance of these items and others will fail to engage with and interpret the story fully. Pre-reading activities in which students identify and work with familiar symbols (flags, colours, numbers, etc) could then move to familiar texts like cartoons, fables and advertisements and horror movies to identify the use and importance of symbols in these works. In a short sequence, students could become sensitised to common symbols, to tip-offs that other objects or actions are symbolic (they are described in detail, appear at an important juncture in the story, are important to a character, etc), and to ways in which symbolic meanings need to be interpreted and incorporated into the experience of a story.
(For fuller explanations see J. Wilhelm, Teaching Comprehension through Think-alouds, 2001, and M. Smith and J. Wilhelm, ‘Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys’: The Role of Literacy in the Lives of Young Men, 2002)
Particular text types make particular demands on readers that novice readers may not recognise. Frontloading can sensitise students to the features of a particular kind of text and help them to recognise the text type, the demands it makes, and what they as a reader must do to meet those demands.
Tangerine is a novel told in diary form. If students are not familiar with this text-type, students will need to be made aware that the reader is receiving one person’s private thoughts on events from his or her life. Students will also have to be alerted to pay very careful attention to the dates on the diary entries and to fill in, or write what Umberto Eco (1989) calls ‘ghost chapters’ to fill in the blanks that exist between entries.
Frontloading for such genre demands could include reading cartoons and filling in the ‘gutters’ or spaces between panels in which time has obviously passed. Often we are asked to infer what has happened in the time between the frozen moments in time represented by two panels. Such practice can help students to deal with the demands of the genre of diaries or epistolary novels.
Bloor, Edward. (1997). Tangerine. New York: Scholastic.
Eco, Umberto. (1989). The Open Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ogle, Donna. (1983). K-W-L- Plus: A strategy for comprehension and summarisation. Journal of Reading, 30, 626-63.
Smith, Michael W. & Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. (2002). ‘Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys’: The Role of Literacy in the Lives of Young Men. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Wilhelm, Jeffrey D., Baker, T. and Dube, J. (2001). Strategic Reading: Guiding the lifelong literacy of adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. (2001). Teaching Comprehension through Think Alouds. New York: Scholastic.