Why Max Teaching?

"The only way to learn how to read is by reading, and the only way to get students to read is by making reading easy."

~ Frank Smith, Joining the Literacy Club


Literacy is the ability to read, write, speak, listen, and think such that one is able to process information and ideas in ways that are beneficial to self and to society. No one can deny the importance of literacy skills in either the academic world or in the business world. Yet, schools beyond the early grades do not often see the role they could play in the continual development of literacy skills in students, and so they relegate that duty to others. Standardized tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) produce the evidence of this. A significant portion of middle grades and high school students read at or below the basic level of reading according to NAEP tests.


The poor performance in reading scores that many American middle and high school students consistently earn on state and national tests are a result, not of inadequate test preparation, but of lack of basic literacy skills that might, in days gone by, or in certain neighborhoods, have been learned at home. It is no surprise that schools situated in upper middle class neighborhoods consistently score higher than those in poorer rural areas or less-affluent urban areas.

The fact of the matter is that children who come from homes in which literacy is valued and practiced are the ones who consistently score higher on standardized tests. Children who come from homes in which books are commonplace, magazines are found on the coffee table, and a newspaper lies on the driveway in the morning, and whose parents use literacy to learn, communicate, and conduct business are children who score highly on standardized tests.

To many of those children, literacy skills come easily. Those who come from homes with little print matter, where there is only one parent (who works in her second job of the day until eleven o'clock at night), and in which the TV and/or siblings are raising the children, tend to score lower on the same tests. Schools can make up for this disparity, but to do so, they will have to rethink how they teach children.


Virtually all of us are familiar with the “culturally normative” model of classroom instruction wherein the teacher imparts knowledge to students by attempting to inform and explain subject matter through lecturing, often with visual slides to accompany the lecture. Other culturally normative procedures include worksheets, or having students read the textbook aloud in the classroom, stopping from time to time to discuss the reading. These techniques are considered culturally normative simply because those were the things that were done to most of us in the classrooms we remember from our own education. They are methods that have not changed in over a hundred years!

What is often not discussed is that such methods fail in preparing the majority of students for college and career readiness in the 21st century. In fact almost two thirds of high school seniors in the US are at or below the basic reading level on nationally administered tests, a statistic that is virtually unchanged over the 30 years since such measurements were first administered. It may be that the culturally normative methods of teaching techniques were appropriate for a bygone era in which most people never went to college and in which agricultural and blue-collar jobs were plentiful, but today’s world demands much more of graduating students than days gone by. Tony Wagner’s book, 21st CENTURY SKILLS, lists a survival kit for the 21st century, including:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination

The culturally normative model provides none of these skills. On the other hand, the content-literacy-based model of instruction, which we have named MAX Teaching, involves daily use of methods that coach students in exactly those seven survival skills. The MAX Teaching techniques work in every subject matter, are more engaging to students, and lead to deeper understanding of content, and greater retention of subject matter.


What can schools do to help middle and high school students improve their achievement in learning? The systematic use of reading and writing to help students learn their subject matter is one answer. Students who are placed in an environment in which they are allowed to pursue learning through the means of reading, writing, discussing in cooperative groups, and thus manipulating ideas to intellectually construct understandings are finding that learning does not have to be difficult or boring, but rather can be fluid and engaging.

What students in such an environment acquire is that, despite their background or home environment, they can succeed as learners. A collateral benefit is that, while students in content area classes read, write, and discuss in order to learn, they actually improve the thinking skills directly related to higher performance in reading and writing.


Reading involves construction of meaning. Modern views of reading suggest that the reader uses the "set of tracks" left by the author, relating it to the reader's prior knowledge, to construct a message. The good news is that students who are reading below grade level, and who do not at a given time have the skills to read a piece of text independently, can read text at a much higher level than their diagnosed reading grade level, given the support of competent peers and/or a facilitating teacher.

Students practicing learning through reading in this way, with well prepared teachers who know strategies to help students interpretively process text and work cooperatively to manipulate the ideas and themes of their course, can read text that is as much as four years above their diagnosed reading levels (Dixon-Krauss, 1996). In addition, students who have previously been frustrated by their lack of literacy skills are able to develop appropriate skills and strategies.

In time, through such mediated literacy instruction, employing cooperative learning, students develop the ability to perform literacy skills autonomously. Stated another way - there is only one way to learn literacy skills, and that is by practicing them - and there is only one way to get students to practice literacy skills, and that is to make it easy for them to do so. That is what MAX Teaching is all about.


MAX Teaching with Reading and WritingMAX Teaching with Reading and Writing

Classroom Activities for Helping Students Learn New Subject Matter While Acquiring Literacy Skills.



MAX Teaching in ActionMAX Teaching in Action

Classroom Demonstrations of Reading & Writing Activities that Help Students Learn New Subject Matter while Acquiring Literacy Skills. (Set of 4 DVDs)