I’m prepping for an upcoming presentation on teaching comprehension and what’s new in the research and I am realizing that I have to change my perspective a bit to provide my clients and their students with the “best case scenario” comprehension instruction.
Yes me, changing my perspective – it’s a strange thing!
I realize that we have to focus equally on strategy work and fix-up work. Struggling readers have little to no control over what they’re reading and rarely understand that they are struggling when they are! Good comprehension instruction will help students figure out “Wow! I am having trouble understanding this.” or “I really need to go back and do some work with the text because I’m not getting this.”
Identifying that I’m in trouble in the first step in fixing it. I am struck by the idea that much of comprehension instruction is “here’s what it looks like when it’s done right” and not nearly enough, “here’s how you know you’re in trouble and here are a few things to do about it:”. We have to teach student that metacognitive awareness as much as the metacognitive control.
Also, teaching students to use strategies is ONE APPROACH in teaching students to comprehend – we have to go much deeper than the rote memorization of strategies and spend more and more time in discussion and modeling of what good readers do when they are comprehending and when they aren’t.
I have to work with teachers to become loose and fluid during comprehension instruction: have a goal for the instruction in mind, but use the myriad opportunities that authentically arise during the course of reading expository or narrative text to teach how to identify comprehension problems and how to fix them up.
Now for those who know me and know my near-obsession with explicit instruction, I’m not backing off of the teach/model/practice/apply foundation of teaching, I’m just coming to realize that grappling authentically with text IS PART OF the guided practice and application portion of the explicit teaching plan – some of it cannot be planned, but excellent teachers are prepared to respond to what comes up over the course of instruction.
It’s messy, straggly and much life real-life reading – it doesn’t always happen seamlessly the first time through, even for the best readers.
What do YOU think? Leave a comment below about what your experience is as you teach comprehension, what works for you, what doesn’t and what it all looks like in the classroom.
I’ve been struggling with why we are going through so much to teach reading comprehension. All those strategies and worksheets seem to be taking the students off on a tangent and having them forget what they were reading in the first place. Why focus on text features incessantly? Why teach Cause and effect, inferencing, main idea, etc.? So a student can answer a TEST question? For instance, Why teach inferencing to no end, confuse students on worksheet questions, etc.? We already make inference automatically. How does one go back and TEACH what we do automatically? It seems to me that when we do this, it takes the reader from the text, from the paragraph, and off onto another tangent.
No other place in REAL reading do people stop and do these things. I totally agree with your recommendation about metacognitive awareness during reading. THAT is the thing that counts the most! Teach them how to be aware when they are off track. When to go back and re-read. When to stop reading and read at another time/place if you’re too distracted. That’s what I do when I read real books.
I just don’t get it all anymore.
Thanks so much for your comment and thoughts…I think you make so much sense.
I am adjusting and adjusting and adjusting my thoughts on this even since I wrote the article.
Here’s what’s always going through my head when it comes to comprehension instruction (this is new thinking for me), we learn to do by doing. If what we’re trying to do is teach kids how to critically think, then we need to get them critically think.
Of course, if they have decoding issues (or other inhibitors of comprehension), then of course we have to provide intervention, BUT when comprehension is the task at hand – we are going to teach it by showing kids how good readers (us!) understand what they’re reading…it’s by reading lots, talking lots and analyzing lots.
I think the Common Core standards are going to get us there, but it’s going to be a long haul if we continue to worksheet kids to death, story map kids to death and strategize them to death.
Still struggling…especially after reading some common core standards. This new thing, “close” reading, really undoes what I just said about over-analyzing the text. I really don’t get it now. It seems to me now that the common core just wiped out any teacher creativity/knowledge/expertise. We now HAVE to do what it directs us to do. How is this BETTER than before?
I’m now reading some articles by Daniel T. Willingham about reading comprehension. I agree with his thoughts in the following article
and this particular blog entry in the Washington Post
Just wonder who agrees. Can I be a teacher in the public school system with these views?
Hi Jill and Erika! Thought I would jump in on this one. (: Erika have you read pathways to the common core by Lucy caulkins? If you have not it is a great read!! She talks a lot about close reading and how it challenges kids to read below the surface. Lots of times when we just read something at face value we miss so much. When we read more closely new themes may emerge. She uses charlottes web as an example: at face value the book is about a pig who is saved by a spider, blah blah blah. Kids can literally comprehend (RL1) the book very easily. But the book teaches so much more that kids often miss because we just focus on the literal.
Jill, Lucy also talks so much about how kids who have more eyes on text are better readers and research supports her thoughts. In my own experience this statement seems very true. My kids who love to read read all the time and excell no matter what the reading testing task is. My kids who struggle to read can’t do simple tasks like identify the characters because they can’t read. When I read to them they can complete the comprehension task. I think the CCSS does a nice job supporting the fact that kids in k-1-2 need to master decoding skills while working on oral comprehension. Standard 10 says “with prompting and support…or with “scaffolding.” Then in third grade it’s “independently.” Independently is nonexsistent if they cannot decode.
I agree with you Jill that we have work sheeted and strategized good readers to death and they need more time with more complex text and opportunity to discuss those texts at more than just face value.
PS: I did not edit meh post…too tired for that! (:
I am just not sure how to do it though! And I am scared!!! /: