Reading Comprehension One Step at a Time

Jacob’s Ladder: Reading Comprehension Program, Second Edition Grades 6-7
By Tamra Stambaugh and Joyce VanTassel-Baska
(Prufrock Press, 2017 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Erin Corrigan-Smith

Finding ways for students to take true accountability for their education is easier said than done.

With the push towards greater student ownership of learning, there needs to be a true guide with practical ways on how to implement gradual release. All too often, we are told what to implement in the classroom, but we are not given any direction on how. Finding an easy-to-follow handbook with useful information can feel like a successful treasure hunt!

The second edition of Jacobs Ladder by Stambaugh and VanTassel-Baska offers some of the help we need — a selection of readings and assessment material to increase comprehension in the sixth and seventh grade language arts classroom.

Short Stories, Poetry and Biography

Jacob’s Ladder is organized by genre (short story, poetry, biography) and each genre is divided into rungs for the “ladder.” Within each genre are tools to assess how well students are moving through the “rungs.” As student comprehension increases, they move up the ladder (Level E to A) to show mastery.

There are pre-assessments and post-assessments to gauge the before and after comprehension for the Jacob’s Ladder units. Included with the books are reproducible rubrics to grade student responses and charts for tracking individual students and grouping them by progress and/or abilities. There is also a collection of stories included, with guiding questions afterwards, which build upon students’ comprehension knowledge as they progress through each reading.

The included stories are high interest, and the guided questions encourage students to find deeper meaning within the texts and to develop their higher-level thinking skills. It is often a struggle knowing how to move students through the levels of comprehension, and this book makes tracking easier. There is also a tool for students to self-reflect on their learning to track themselves and hold themselves accountable for their own education.

The book includes three appendix sections with worksheets and rubrics to assess students through the readings.

Appendix A includes all the pre- and post-assessments needed for students to navigate the texts successfully. Each pre-assessment covers a particular text, as does the post, and the questions encourage critical thinking and understanding of how skills build.

Appendix B contains all the record keeping documents to help students assess their learning and teachers assess mastery. There is a brainstorming graphic organizer to help students as they navigate the texts and participate in class discussions. The reflection sheet can be reproduced for students to self-assess. The classroom diagnostic forms are organized by genre, and they allow a quick look for grouping students and focusing remediation and small-group instruction.

Appendix C groups the standards and shows which stories assess which standards to track teaching for assessments. Included in the back of the text is an organizational chart for the standards and how and where they are covered with each reading.

A Timely Tool to Increase Comprehension

As more emphasis is placed on students taking ownership of their learning while also building upon reading comprehension, this practical and easy-to-follow guide gives practical lessons for increasing comprehension and engagement.

Stambaugh and VanTassel-Baska have written a valuable teacher text which puts the focus back on purposeful planning, finding stories to engage young readers, and discovering ways to use readings to get the most impactful writings from our students while increasing their overall comprehension across the curriculum.

Erin Corrigan-Smith is a middle school ELA teacher in a suburb of Atlanta. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English, and her focus of study is children’s literature. During the school year, she is faculty advisor to the cooking club and drama club. In her downtime, she enjoys going to her family’s cabin in the North Georgia mountains with her husband and dog to read and relax.

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