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'.
Wife, Mom, Educator and Lifelong Learner