I just started my last course for my Reading Endorsement. This course looks at the history of Reading. I was unsure at first how interesting this would be...let's be honest...don't we want to know more about what will work in our modern day classrooms. But after reading the first few articles and book, I realized something. As in everything that we do, we need to know where we have been to know where we are going. It's been amazing to read about studies from the early 1900's, that have made such an impact still on how we teach today.
My other "aha" moment this week was realizing how our teachers today don't value research as much as they should. Or as much as our counterparts in other fields do. We simply say...."Oh, I don't like that test." or "I don't think that works." If they only understood the validity of some of these instruments. If they only read more about their craft. I know we are overwhelemed with the job expectations and demands. But we, as educators, need to stay informed and educated, after all we are practitioners of our craft.
Stay tuned, as I resurrect the Learning Logs with some historical facts you might find intersting and might even realize that it's not "new" after all. For example, Thorndike in 1917 was bringing to light the need for reading comprehension, to understand what we are reading. Or how in 1970 and 1978 Singer forshawdowed the concept of Common Core. Singer's research revealed the need for student mobility as well as teacher mobility. Singer noted the need for curricular validity regarding standardized testing.
So many interesting facts. Hopefully, you will look at our current state of instruction and see where it gained it's footing.
So I am into my second week of my class. By my class I am referring to my post-grad class. This semester I am taking Assessment in Literacy. It is part of the required coursework for my Reading Endorsement. I have already been pushed outside of my comfort zone. Or as I would have said in my previous post this summer…I am stretching myself again.
Last semester the challenge was to start a blog, this semester… MAKE A VIDEO of myself. UGH! I had to video myself introducing my bio, personal and professional, plus give feedback on that weeks reading and what I hoped to learn this semester.
Roughly 10-20 takes later. Yes! 10-25 takes. Between the testing of the bells, the custodians cleaning, and my bumbling tongue it took close to 25 takes.
Let me start by saying I should have recorded myself much earlier in the day when I looked as good as my picture on this blog. An after 4pm First Grade teacher looks mighty tired with bags under my eyes.
Keeping fingers crossed that this was the first and last video for this semester.
So I will keep my Learning Logs up to date for all of you who want to read information on Assessments in Literacy. You should expect to see a blog once every 2 weeks and I will tag it Learning Log.
Until then, I need to resume the extensive reading homework.
How do we tie it all together? What does this all mean for diverse learners?
Let's address how we tie it all together. Keene and Zimmermann write this week on synthesis and relate this to their book's title when they write, "Synthesis is the mind constructing beautiful mosaics of meanings" (p 228). Just as Keene and Zimmerman paint us a picture of synthesis as a mosaic, I started to think that this whole journey of learning comprehension strategies is like a mosaic. There are so many little but important parts to teaching the strategies including the strategies themselves that I can picture them as one big painting. But when you get close up you see each individual detail that contributes to the success of the student in comprehension. Each piece is important individually but you need each piece, to build upon each other and to see the big picture.
Harvey and Goudvis tie it all together for us as well. In this chapter, about the Genre of Test Reading, they reflect that we don't teach to the test rather we should teach them how to read a test. "Taking a test requires some skills and strategies that are quite distinct from the ongoing reading we do every day" (p 240). They continue with a suggestion of how they teach reading for test taking, "We do not teach test prep all year. We begin to prepare kids to take the test two to three weeks ahead of the test date" ( p 240).
But what's really interesting is that they emphasize that we have already been doing our job to get our students ready to this point. We have been building the foundation needed to succeed in test taking if we have been following their strategies. If we have built time for students to read every day, then we have been building their stamina. They need this stamina for test taking. If they are reading diverse context, fiction and non fiction, lengthy and short text, and challenging text then they have received a great deal of exposure that they need for background knowledge. If the students have been reading outside of school that is just as important as to what they have read in school. Again, the students continue to build background knowledge, build stamina, and expand their vocabulary. This is what our students need to be successful in comprehension but also in assessment.
I love their suggestion to devote 25 min daily, a few weeks prior to assessment, devoted to teaching how to read the assessment. Let's not waste a whole day either, they suggest to keep moving along with regular instruction. This alone should help drive the children's anxiety about the test down. If we are just devoting a small part of our day to get ready because we are confident of what we have taught them and we communicate that to our students; then they should also have more confidence and a good attitude towards the assessment.
To answer our second question of, What does this all mean for diverse learners?, we can look at the articles by Danielle V. Dennis (2009) and the ELL article by Kathleen A. J. Mohr (2004). I was able to identify at two different levels with these articles. Having taught at the high school level in Tennessee I am familiar with Dennis' write up on the TCAP. With Mohr's write up I can identify with it on a personal student level.
Mohr's article resonated with me because I was thrown into the Kinder class of Mrs. Alvarez in 1975. Yes, thank goodness she spoke Spanish, because I only spoke Spanish. I could have been identified as an ELL child. I don't know if our school offered services for ELL back in 1975 or why I was not identified as an ESL or ELL student. I literally knew the word bathroom, please and thank you. I was first generation born in the United States. I lived with my grandparents and mother and they only spoke Spanish to me. North Beach Elementary was a small public school in Miami Beach. I had just a few friends who were like me, children of Cuban exiles, from K-3rd grade. But I was not given any materials to work with in my native language. I wasn't given different materials. There was no special assistance or special class. I just assimilated into my environment. I did everything my classmates did. I remember as I moved to first grade and started to learn to read I was not in the high group. Yes, I think I was in yellow and I so wanted to be in blue. I may have struggled a bit as I was learning to read but I was an avid reader. I loved reading as a child. I organized my "library" in my bedroom by authors and titles. If we went to a book store I walked out with a tower of books. If we went to the library I walked out with another tower of books. I always had fines because I would keep the books and read them over and over. I can't begin to imagine if I had been limited to what I could access and read. I am so grateful that no one fell for the "pobrecita" syndrome. Thank goodness. I can't imagine if I had fallen to pitty or if my teachers had accepted marginal work because English was not my native language. I love when Mohr states: "Rather, students need challenge and engagement - the opportunity to participate and the support to make sense and meaning of their academic lives" (p 19). I am forever grateful for Mrs. Alvarez, Ms. Reager, and Ms. Sams.
Mohr and Dennis both write about the importance of meeting your student where they are academically. Mohr quotes "Diaz and Flores (2001) referred to the effective teachers as a mediator who abandons deficit beliefs and "habitudes" and organizes instruction to teach to a student's potential" (p 19). Meet your students where they are. Dennis writes, "When students are not taught according to their individual abilities and needs, but instead are taught based on the premise of a one-size-fits-all instructional program, we are not providing them with opportunities to climb the literacy ladder" (p 288). Meet your students where they are.
Assessments drive me crazy. But when we put all of our eggs in one basket of assessment, that drives me mad. My goodness, I knew students who were taking AP Lit (and passing it with an A) in high school but had to take Intensive Reading because they could not pass the FCAT. That is such an oxymoron.
As I read Dennis' article, I realize I say these same things in my own head when I am looking at standardized data. I wrote a big YES in my margin when she writes: "Keep in mind that not all students who earn below-proficient scores on the state reading assessment require intervention" (p 288). It's so important to look at all of the data on the child including what you as the teacher knows they know. I love her suggestion to conduct a series of reading assessments to determine the students individual needs. And, "Continually assess students throughout the year and alter instruction to match demonstrated growth and abilities. Revise groups purposefully and often" (p 288).
Mohr and Dennis hit it right on in teaching diverse learners, meet your student where they are but also challenge them in the areas where they need it.
This concludes my last learning log for this summer semester. I love that so many of you (parents, colleagues and family) have enjoyed learning along side of me. I have learned so much, stretched myself, and refreshed my teaching tool box and I can not wait to share this with my students in just a few weeks.
Why is comprehension strategy instruction important?
This blog is the second part in the series for Theme 4. There was a lot of important information I wanted to share with my followers regarding comprehension strategy instruction. In this specific post I will address a few strategies that you may find helpful in your classroom, or as a parent you might find helpful in helping your child with understanding what they are reading/learning.
One of the most useful and easiest strategies that can help all students in your class is to introduce them to synthesizing through interactive read-alouds. Cummins explains to us in her book, Close Reading of Informational Texts, that through read-alouds we can help our students by coaching them and "ease the cognitive load they must bear. Students can then focus on thinking more deeply about the content being presented without having to worry about reading the text themselves." (p. 49).
Not only does Cummins express that this would be a good teaching experience but also a learning experience. She explains how students can engage in writing exercises to "help deepen students' understanding of the text and their ability to articulate their thinking."(p 49). One of her suggestions is having the students write letters in response to the text. This chapter gives the reader an actual lesson, timeline and follow up lesson. In my own classroom I could picture this as an interactive reading and writing journal where the students can address their letters to me and I can respond to them. I can also visualize this where the students can interchange journals with their peers and respond to their peers. Imagine the possibilities.
In all of the readings this past week regarding the introduction of comprehension strategies, the theme was the same, you must assess where your students are and keep in mind what your end goals for your students are as well. You need to be able to meet your students where they are. It may require at times going backwards to go forwards. Harvey and Goudvis lay this out beautifully in each chapter they dedicate to strategies.
Another strategy to teach in comprehension is visualizing and inferring. This strategy is perfect for the younger students who have large imaginations, and if taught what inferring is, they will be able to make inferences as early as pre-k. "Inferring is about reading faces, reading body language, reading expressions and reading tone as well as reading text," (Harvey & Goudvis, p 139).
Harvey and Goudvis have a terrific strategy lesson for inferring with Kindergartners. It is one that could be used with all ages as well and with those students needing more support with this strategy. The strategy is simple, one student is unaware of what the feeling is he has to guess. And the audience of other students provide clues to the student to help them guess what the feeling is. After a series of clues the teacher asks, "Can you infer what the feeling is?" When the child answers he is probed again..."How did you know?".
This same strategy, but in a varied lesson, is very versatile and can be applied to 5th grade science or 4th grade history. Inferring is reading between the lines. Visualizing is using our senses to create a picture. With 5th graders, Harvey and Goudvis show us how to have your student use all their senses to comprehend the text they are reading. In their example, a teacher reads a National Geographic article on Sea Turtles. She then has the students re-read the article and look at the descriptive words within the article. Now she asks the students to imagine being there and write what he would see, smell, hear, taste and feel. Harvey and Goudvis provide us with student samples for each strategy and from this one we can see a student who clearly was engaged in the response to text and clearly achieved a deepen understanding of the what he read and can show a level of interaction with it.
Harvey and Goudvis provide what seems like endless ideas on how to teach the comprehension strategies, and they provide endless student samples to prove their ideas work. They are careful to address all ages and reading across content areas.
Here are some strategy lessons the authors from this weeks reading share with us...I can not possibly share all of them with you. This blog would be endless. But as I begin to work these into my 1st grade classrooms and hopefully as you the reader do we can come together here and share our ideas. I have listed the books at the end of this blog if you would like to read more about these lessons.
Finally, we need to stop identifying ourselves as a teacher of a subject area alone. We are no longer just a science teacher or civics teacher. We don't just teach Math, Every single one of us is a reading teacher. Every single one of us wants our students to comprehend our material. To do so we must teach our students in our classrooms how to comprehend what we are teaching. If you teach Physical Science you have a responsibility to make sure your students can understand the concepts and texts they are reading. This is not the ELA teachers sole responsibility. If you teach Government then you must also teach comprehension. We are all teachers of reading.
Why is comprehension strategy instruction important?
Comprehension is important for understanding and engaging in what we are reading. Comprehension
strategy instruction itself is important for those same reasons. However, what we have learned about comprehension instruction is that it needs to be explicit. It can not be expected to be caught it must be taught. Just as we are explicit in phonics instruction or math instruction we must also teach
the multiple comprehension strategies explicitly.
As teachers we are taught to teach with the end in mind. Each comprehension strategy has its own goal. The end goal of teaching comprehension strategies is "to enable children to read with deeper, longer-lasting understanding." (Keene and Zimmerman, p33).
Because there are multiple strategies for comprehension instruction, we need to make sure we are taking the time needed on each strategy, Often we are given basal readers to teach from. There are some good learning tools that come from basal readers. However, as teachers we need to not rely solely on these basals. We need to use them as tools, guides and as a resource but they can not be the only source.
Keene and Zimmerman explained early on, "Traditional practices in which comprehension instruction was really comprehension assessment - asking students an endless string of comprehension questions or asking them to retell what they read instead of to share their thinking - often failed to teach children how to better understand what they read." (p 27).
The experts agree (Keene &Zimmerman, Harvey & Goudvis, and Cummins) we need to be
spending extended time in teaching one strategy at a time. They also agree that these strategies should be taught over a few weeks while also providing scaffolding of instruction to gradually release the students into independence. There is an understanding that the "strategies interweave," (Harvey and Goudvis, p 131). Very often the students need to be able to understand text clues and background knowledge in order to be able to make an inference. However, the repeated theme is explicit instruction in the individual strategies, interweaving them as the students become more proficient in using them.
The interesting thing here though is that most basals actually have us bouncing from one strategy to the next. It is common for the basal scope and sequence to show the skill of 'Cause and Effect' this week and 'Main Idea and Details' next week. As teachers we need to be cautious about doing this, as this does not allow our students to really grasp a comprehension strategy. Our best shot at teaching our students comprehension strategies is to teach them one at a time and revisit them through out our teaching. Interweaving each of the strategies as recommended above. We also should remember that comprehension can be taught along side decoding. A student does not need to be a proficient reader to be able to learn comprehension. There are strategies also to address our early readers. (See Learning Log part 2 for more information.).
The truly wonderful thing here is we don't need to reinvent the reading comprehension wheel. All of these authors do a wonderful job of not only explaining the various strategies but also providing many examples of lessons supporting the teaching of the strategies. They also have extensive references for books and ideas.
To answer this week's essential question of 'Why is comprehension strategy instruction important?' , we should really ask ourselves why wouldn't we want to teach our students strategies that would develop them into far more critical thinkers and become more active readers. As Keene and Zimmerman write, "Main idea isn't found in nature - only on standardized tests." (p 211). They also mention, "Often there is more than one important idea, especially in complex material. Because of this we do children a disservice by teaching them to identify the main idea." (p211).
Harvey and Goudvis tell us that we are all teachers of reading comprehension. It doesn't matter what content area we are teaching, we all want our children to have a deeper understanding of what we are teaching and to be engaged in learning and reading, Therefore we must teach our students explicit comprehension strategies.
To read more on specific strategy lessons see 'Learning Log 2 for Theme 4'.
Is comprehension instruction in the content areas different?
I felt a need to have a part 2 to my Lesson Log this week as there were other areas I wanted to touch upon and reflect and of course share with my readers.
As a teacher I could completely relate to Harvey and Goudvis, Strategies That Work, when they reflect on the stress that teachers have to fit our minutes in for the week. For those of you not in education, we are expected to teach a certain amount of minutes in ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, and in our case Religion as well since I teach in a Catholic School. And let me tell you there are not enough minutes in our day to accomplish this, in any school in the country. Add to this the increase in rigor and standards and you now have teachers under a tremendous amount of pressure to fit it all in. Plus let us not forget those with added pressure of standardized testing.
We can help alleviate this situation by teaching cross curricular, using the content areas to achieve those ELA standards. Harvey and Goudvis write about 'active literacy' in content areas and the opportunities we can create in a classroom, "focus on comprehension and understanding rather than memorization" (p 207). They define, "Active literacy in all content areas is the means to deeper understanding and diverse, flexible thinking," (p206).
I highly recommend teachers consider buying this book and dive into these two chapters (12 and 13) where they discuss the strategies to help you with your crowded weekly minutes. The most important thing I took away here aside from the wonderful step by step strategies was the crucial role of the school librarian.
There needs to be a defined relationship between the classroom teacher and the school librarian to co-teach together. A librarian can access all kinds of resources to enrich the experience for the children. From picture books to news media, children can benefit from this opportunity. Librarians are not stuck in the library any more, now they can serve as a co-teacher. This model of flexible library allows the librarian an opportunity to be engaged in the classroom. Ensuring "that research skills are merged with reading and thinking strategies so that kids read to learn," (p 230).
What a great opportunity to teach together and be able to break your class into smaller groups that work collaboratively. This is an opportunity to make sure all students are engaged and participating. You now have "two teachers to model, guide and confer with students, effectively cutting the class size in half," (p 230).
We know that incorporating the resources the librarian brings into our classrooms can lead to active engagement from the students. We also know when there is active learning there is better comprehension.
What about teaching our students what is important in a text, how do we take notes, understand text features etc…? Susan Cummins, Close Reading Of Informational Texts, answers this by showing us how to unpack our standards regarding determining the central idea of text and analyzing it over the course of the text. Which by the way is what our students need to know by the end of 8th grade.
She focuses the unpacking for students in grades 3-8th as being able to do the following with challenging texts that increase in difficulty (p135):
Most people will describe the process as put water in a pot, when it boils add pasta, when the pasta is soft it is ready to eat. But what they forget to say is to drain the water. She shares, "…the author has pasta words and phrases in a text and 'water" words and phrases." Although the water was important to cook the pasta in the end…"what readers need to eat and digest are the author's pasta words and phrases — the language in the text that identifies the author's central ideas and supporting details," (p136).
Cummins step by step instructions for teaching the students how to determine importance in text reading is beneficial for all teachers to read.
Again, we reflect on the essential question: Is comprehension instruction in the content areas different? The answer is not simple. Essentially it is the same as these steps benefit all areas of reading comprehension. However, there are some strategies that would benefit one discipline over the other.
Is comprehension instruction in the content areas different?
This weeks reading was full of information; rich, enlightening and useful information as a teacher and as a parent. All of the authors would differ in how they answer this question, however the essence remains the same. This is where I throw fancy words that I have come to comprehend much more clearly since taking this class. Words such as schema and metacognition.
Keene and Zimmerman, Mosaic of Thought The Power of Comprehension Strategy Instruction, 2007, share with us that we have to build schema in our students. In simple terms schema is the building of the background knowledge or connecting with this knowledge to help us in understanding what we read. They go on to write, "…understanding schema sheds light on the ways children connect the new to the known, recall relevant information, and enhance their comprehension with insights only they can bring." (p71-72). Each of the authors from our selected text readings will agree here that building and connecting with the background knowledge is key with all comprehension but especially the more complex the text becomes.
Keene and Zimmerman will add that creating a sensory experience or making a visual connection will help students understand more complex text. They interestingly refer to students who struggle and how they become disengaged in reading anything in and out of school. They encourage helping these students create images that will help them connect to the text through sensory and visual language.
All of the authors also agree that no matter what content you are working with and no matter if you are working with primary or intermediate grades, it is essential to ask questions, think aloud, model, and provide ample opportunities and time for your students to share with each other, write, draw, etc…
Each of the authors also suggest using multiple sources to really teach comprehension in the content areas. Fisher and Frey, Scaffolded Reading Instruction of Content Area Texts, 2014, write in regard to needing more complex text "…learners need a host of experiences with rich informational texts and a sliding scale of scaffolds and supports to access the information contained with them." (p349). They too encourage teachers reading aloud to students to model their thinking.
In fact a teacher modeling their thinking aloud to their students is one of the most effective ways to teach comprehension and metacognition. Metacognition refers to the student/reader's ability to listen to the voice in your head you hear when you are reading. This occurs as the student is either reading or being read to. The student starts making associations with what they are hearing. They might make connections with a character, or recognize a book that they have read before and enjoyed. They hear themselves making comments to themselves: Oh, mom read me this book. I have pet dog too. I love this book. I wonder if this author has another book I want to read.
Can we then answer our title question with a yes or a no? Not really because there are slightly different ways to address comprehension for fiction and non-fiction. Although the strategies that Harvey and Goudvis write about in Strategies That Work, 2007, are very similar to each other, when looking at content specific to Social Studies and Science they differ slightly for their discipline. But essentially the core strategies mentioned above are to be used across the board in different content areas for comprehension teaching.
Continue to Theme 3 Part 2 for more on this weeks readings.
Why is text selection impotant in reading comprehension?
The more I read, the more need for a well trained and certified Reading Coach is needed in all schools today. What a benefit it would be to have someone who could go into the school building and not only train teachers but also service the students as in the numerous examples in Sunday Cummins book Close Reading of Informational Texts: Assessment-Driven Instruction in Grades 3-8.
Why is text selection important to reading comprehension?
The answer to this question at first is easy, you must select text the children are interested in and connect with. Of course you must take into account their reading level as well. But that just simply answers the obvious of what we know about selecting text. It doesn't take into account the fact our classrooms are filled with text books we must teach from and that likely is not on the interest level of most children, at least not for every subject.
I think there is a fallacy that exists among many parents and teachers. I believe it to be that teaching reading and comprehension belongs primarily in the lower elementary level. There has also been an increase in rigor in classrooms and yet we don't have the supporting study skills being taught to our children. Somehow we have become a society where these skills are expected to be caught not taught.
In Chapter 4, Understanding the features of a text, Cummins addresses the need of teaching the students how to appropriately use a text book to improve comprehension. When students pay attention to both the features that are a part of the text and the text itself, then the student can navigate and comprehend the way they read the new and unfamiliar text (p 79). Another important element to take away from this chapter is the importance of selecting good solid textbooks that meet the requirements outlined in Table 4.1, Features Commonly Found in Shorter Texts and Their Purposes (p82). These include features such as titles, deck, headings and subheadings, photographs and illustrations, captions and labels, diagrams, charts and graphs, tables, boxes and sidebars, and finally maps. We know that schools get locked into certain textbooks for years, so this is something that should be given a lot of attention. Taking care to see that the features indeed help the student navitgate the content.
Choosing textbooks for the classroom would probably be best if done by a committee of teachers, support staff, administration and if available a reading coach. Having the knowledge of what is expected in the classroom, what goals the teacher needs to have their students meet and really looking at the book to see if it includes such features as those mentioned above would give the students a leg up.
Morgan and Rasinski write about the importance of including primary sources in the classroom to support these texts, The Power and Potential of Primary Sources. As stated, "Primary sources provide students with a sense of what it was like to be alive during a certain time." They go on to write how the materials can help the students make connections to a person or event or a period of time. As I read this, I am compelled to think we have unused resources in our communities that we can be utilizing for this. Beginning with families at our schools who certainly could share in artifacts. They may have a collection of or share stories first hand of an event. At our school we have become very resourceful in tapping into our families especially when it comes to their jobs. There is something about having an in house field trip where Elise's daddy comes to talk to us about his job as a Firefighter when we are learning about fire prevention and community helpers. It helps 1st graders connect.
Harvey and Goudvis write about the importance of developing language and communication in the classroom so that we "… can create a climate that encourages kid's participation…" (Strategies that Work, p.45). Children love artifacts. Recently we read "If I Built a Car," by Chris Van Dusen, I shared with the students my prior experience of cars when I was 7. I shared with them the way cars were in the 1970s and how we did not have seat belts, navigation, and we had to crank our own windows down. They giggled and laughed. But this started to build for them some background knowledge about progress, technology and inventions. We transitioned to read and learn about Alexander Graham Bell as an inventor, next they had questions for me about what the telephone was like in the 1970s. Using a picture book to help with the transition to a biography, followed with some fun allowing them to think of what they could invent, genuinely helped these children with their comprehension of the biography. They were actively engaged and participating. They genuinely wanted to learn more about Alexander Graham Bell and had the year not come to an end we could have expanded into the biography of Steve Jobs since the classroom interest was pointing us to move in that direction.
Cummins continues to focus on the importance of the student knowing the purpose of the lesson and activating that background knowledge. I love that she includes not just the stages of development but gives specific descriptions of what the students responses may look like for this stage. And then she also includes suggestions for the coach to follow up with instruction (Table 4.3). It is concise and easy to read and use for assessment to meet your student where they are. Harvey and Goudvis also add on to this with 'purposeful talk.' There are studies even to prove that in "high-achieving classrooms, kids spent significant amounts of time engaged in discussions about their reading and learning (p53)." This talk then furthers their thinking.
My personal favorite strategy still comes from Harvey and Goudvis when they discuss writing about reading. Truly annotating in the margins and with sticky notes (see photograph above) has been a life saver for me in this journey. I know my students love sticky notes and given the opportunity to use them in reading will be huge. As they wrote, "…these notes give kids an easy, accessible way to monitor their comprehension and leave a record that helps us assess their understanding, (p57)".
One of my current sticky notes has me listing the Harvard expectations article of reading for their students ( http://hcl.harvard.edu/research/guides/lamont_handouts/interrogatingtexts.html ) as a must read as soon as I am finished with this blog. Again, (p. 56), they refer to marking up the margins of your text with words rather than highlighting. I still continued to highlight because it helps me but I then I gave myself permission to write in the margin and on sticky notes. I then go back over what I highlighted, wrote, and the sticky notes and write in my notebook what I took from the reading. This is a skill that many children go an entire education without "catching". I know that teachers are teaching this way. However, are we prefacing it with the purpose of teaching the students this way. Are the students understanding the purpose?
So, we go back to the original question we started with…"Why is text selection important in reading comprehension?" Harvey and Goudvis answer this by writing, "Kids must be reading texts they can and want to read if they are to successfully read, think and get something meaningful from text," (p. 70). They write about the 3 levels of readability for choosing a book and again we see that there needs to be a purpose for the children to read. There has to be a purpose, an interest and read ability to help us select text to encourage comprehension. We need to pick books that will challenge but not frustrate our students. Carefully considering the text itself and the level of the students. We need to consider short texts to accomplish what we are teaching with out loosing their attention. We need primary sources that will engagae our students in what they are learning in core subjects. This combination will help us successfully select text to increase comprehension.
What do we mean by reading comprehension?
Let us begin with Allington's article, "What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers". Right off the bat I am taken aback that there is research that states "…every child could be reading grade level by the end of first grade. The bad news is that almost no schools in the United States have anything in place that much looks like what the research says young children need to become engaged reader." WOW! The main question in my head is how is this possible? The article was published in 2013, is it still true 4 years later?
He is right on the button, we are led in education not always by best practice and pedagogy but rather as he states "buy our stuff". In my years of teaching I have seen some "bad stuff" that schools are stuck with because the district or even the principal was swayed by the publishers great sales person. I also understand the need to have professionals working with struggling readers and finding funding that is being spent in the wrong places to get true reading specialists or training to teachers in "targeted professional development".
However, I must disagree with eliminating paraprofessionals from instructional roles. In my classroom I could not focus on the those who struggle nor could I individualize my teaching for all the abilities in a first grade classroom without the help of my teacher assistant. She is a vital part of our day. I have trained her well and given her strategies to help me help the students. I think training can be provided to train paraprofessionals to assist teachers better. However, if more schools employed professionally and expertly trained reading specialists then maybe we could achieve that.
I do think we are not preparing teachers to work with struggling readers as we should. Go back 30-28 years and what I remember from my undergraduate reading course was NOTHING on how to work with children who struggle. So perhaps we need to do a better job of training our teachers and providing them with the tools they need to be successful with these students. If the research supports that we need more experts to work with the children then by the same we should be able to use these experts to help us teach our teachers. Why is not every school hiring true reading specialist? Funds need to be allocated for these positions. Our schools are under such pressure to perform on assessments that we have likely lost focus as to what the reading specialist is there to do. If we utilized our reading specialist/coach to the maximum then our teachers would be better trained allowing then our reading specialist to serve his or her role as a true support to the school team.
We also need to educate parents more. I fear that the electronic age of convenience is disrupting our education and as Keene and Zimmerman write, "Electronic media, including the Internet, video games, and portable devices, have increasingly drawn Americans away from reading books." They continue to speak of a problem that is leading to the decline of reading.
But this throws some questions out there. How as educators do we compete? How do we make parents understand the importance of putting the devices away? You can't go into a restaurant, or a park even and not see a child on a device. It is alarming to read that this will lead to a "retreat from participation in civic and cultural life." Are we becoming a "Wall-E" society?
What do we mean by reading comprehension?
After reading more words in the last 9 days than I have in the last year I am tired. But thank goodness that I am reading about comprehension strategies because it is truly what is keeping me focused and organized with all the verbiage and ideas the authors share. I am making a conscience effort to apply the strategies so that I am understanding what I am reading. I am not use to balancing 4 text books, articles and a read for pleasure text.
There were so many AHA moments while reading the selected text books. Some of the AHA moments were pleasant ones "I knew that!" Others were AHA not bueno moments "Wow, I didn't look at the impact of reading in that way."
As a current first grade teacher comprehension to me has been a part of reading fluency. If a child reads with prosody, at the appropriate rate, with little to no errors and can answer some comprehension questions about the passage then BINGO. Such child is reading fluently.
Comprehension isolated to me has always been and taught as:
- the ability to identify key details
- re-tell the story in your own words
- make inferences about the text
- understand the author's purpose
It seems the authors use different vocabulary but use the same common thread in defining comprehension. Harvey and Goudvis, Strategies that Work, have the most straight forward and likely most traditional definition of comprehension. They identify the meaning of comprehension as not only understanding what you are reading but also about what you are learning. Keene and Zimmermann, Mosaic of Thought, define comprehension as understanding ideas that are not only found in the text but in the world. Cummings, Close Reading of Informational Texts, extends the need to comprehend so that the person reading can learn how to solve real life problems. This hit my like a ton of bricks. Honestly, Cummings is right here. There is an absolute need for children to learn to problem solve. This was absolutely one of those AHA moments.
But it all goes right back to Harvey and Goudvis, " The purpose of education is to enhance understanding," (p 15). If the purpose truly is to understand then education must be composed completely of comprehension including comprehension of cross curricular areas in education. The need for students to really learn how to comprehend now becomes magnified. The purpose of reading is to understand and to learn and in doing so connecting what you are reading to your knowledge that exists and if not ask questions. These are essential life skills. A student must be able to comprehend in Science just as he or she does in Math or ELA. These strategies are not limited to ELA or Elementary. Our teachers across the space of education should all be incorporating this in their teaching, especially in those elementary and middle school years when the exposure to science and history concepts and vocabulary is being introduced.
A common theme was noted for teachers to model the behaviors of a good reader. Show the students you can leave tracks in your reading. Think out loud the questions you might have. Write notes down or vocabulary you might be unfamiliar with or even about something interesting that may have caught your attention. Comprehension is far more complex than I ever gave it credit for. I understand now that not only can I teach decoding, reading, writing but I can simultaneously incorporate comprehension for better understanding. How true that what we have been focused on is really comprehension assessment rather than instruction. I hope as we continue to read through these texts and articles I can find the best way to not only get the teachers onboard at school but also to figure out the best way to show student growth in assessment. Because unfortunately all roads in education still lead us to assessments.
Wife, Mom, Educator and Lifelong Learner