What do we mean by reading comprehension?
These assigned readings had so much heat for me. I am in my fourth year of teaching and feel that these readings support everything I have read and practiced in my classroom. I had many connections with the text as I have read many books practicing the same instructional ideas, such as Comprehension Connections (a favorite) and the Daily 5. It was extremely refreshing to see these ideas still being emphasized in teaching. Sadly, this year I am resigning from my teaching position, mainly because I feel like our district and education system in the elementary grades is moving away from teaching students to learn to read and enjoy reading. I couldn't have said it better myself when reading the excerpt about the percentage of adults that are non-readers because the education system is creating "school readers" rather than real readers. I feel as though I am in this predicament. I can't tell you how many parents and students talk to me about how they are surprised and impressed with the passion for reading they have gained throughout the year, yet I feel disappointed in my test scores year after year. I have students coming into 3rd grade two grade levels below but are finally actually reading text for enjoyment. I honestly can't change my teaching style because I know it's what is best for my students in order for them to become thoughtful, understanding readers, yet the pressure of testing, and the FORMAT of the test that is set up so inappropriately creates conflict for myself as a teacher. Reading comprehension is about creating real readers. Real readers that will use information and strategies that they have learned and continue to build upon to understand the world around them. I feel as though using reading strategies, and good reader behaviors creates authentic readers that turn into authentic learners. I feel as though when my students leave my classroom at the end of the year they have gained something more than just a grade. My students don't leave my room just knowing how to accurately untangle the words of a test and answer questions. My students are not ones to skip the text entirely and complete a scavenger hunt for clue words presented in questions. My students learn to think as they read and connect their new readings to their older readings. I get the fuzzy feelings inside when my students make connections across multiple pieces of text that we read from the beginning of the year. I know I can refer back to earlier text at anytime and they will be able to make connections because they were actually thinking and reflecting as they read. They were able to add another file to their filing cabinet, or schema as we like to call it. Using concrete methods, gradual release and an endless amount of time modeling to teach these reading strategies is what I have found works best for my students in order for them to become real readers that comprehend and actually THINK as they read in order to apply it to their everyday life, allowing them to add a tile to their mosaic of thought.
Why is text selection important in reading comprehension?
There are two words that stick out in my mind when answering this question... ACTIVE LEARNING. Text selection is so vital to reading comprehension because it creates active learning. It is also a main reason why my first few years of teaching I wondered where all of my money went.. trade books. I have always strayed away from the textbook, basal reader. Luckily, I have had great professors and intern teachers that taught me the importance of text selection and that the basal book was just a guide, not a bible. Active literacy creates active learning. In order to have active learning there needs to be explicit instruction and modeling by the use of gradual release of responsibility. From personal experience trade books and a focus on text selection fosters this type of learning. Choosing specific text allows the teacher to incorporate many standards, skills and strategies that the students eventually adopt from your teaching. When students adopt these skills and strategies they begin to use them in their own reading which creates the active learning, where they are thinking on their own, as the teacher becomes more of a facilitator. This is why it is also important to teach students about text selection. Just as we select text that will interest and fit the needs of our students to get the most engaging and active learning, students too need to learn to do this for themselves. Many times teachers mention how their kids do not have the interest or stamina to read independently and many times my response is, "Have you taught them how to select their text?" Often times teachers respond with answers that demonstrate their time constraints to sit with kids and pick a perfect book. I get it, I do, but it something that can be done early in the year to make a year full of teaching and learning ACTIVE and meaningful to students. I wouldn't read either if I just closed my eyes and picked a random book or if someone assigned me a book that had nothing to do with my interests. Below is a student holding the "IPICK" sign that hangs on my bookshop that I learned about through reading The Daily 5. My students are taught at the beginning of the year, and short lessons in between, on how to choose a book that will best fit them. I explain to students that its like wearing shoes (hence the different shoes per strategy). I read for certain purposes just as a wear shoes for different purposes. I wouldn't wear my high heels to the gym, its for the wrong purpose. If I did, I wouldn't run very well, may become frustrated and eventually give up. Same goes with my reading! You also wouldn't see soccer cleats in my closet. If you did, they would be brand new and untouched. Soccer doesn't interest me, so I don't have those type of shoes. It is important that students pick a book that interest them, if not they wont even crack open the book. If I wear shoes that are too big or too small for me this also will be a problem. I may stumble, my feet my get squished. The point is, it will be uncomfortable and I wont want to walk! Same idea goes with reading a book that isn't a good fit. If students pick books that are too easy or too challenging they will be uncomfortable and will maybe even give up on reading. I inform students that it is okay to try other "sizes" out but we should usually wear our own size to be the most comfortable and get the most out of our reading. When my kids have learned to select appropriate text themselves, I see a difference in their stamina, active learning and thinking that is taking place in class. It is so important for students and teachers to select text to foster comprehension!
Is comprehension instruction in the content areas different?
No way! What's great about reading is that you can read about anything..including all content areas. The same strategies can be applied throughout these content areas using many different methods and strategies that we are already doing in reading instruction. In fact, what I have learned teaching is that when I incorporate science and social studies into my reading block, my kids are way more engaged! Sadly for many teachers, the complaint is time and pacing guides. Sometimes it is unrealistic to expect teachers to incorporate content areas when they are too focused on certain standards mandated by district. What gets tricky is having to follow the reading pacing guide and the writing pacing guide and the science pacing guide, etc. It is very few and far between that they all align, giving you the opportunity to teach these things all in one setting, unless the teacher is willing to put in hours of research for resources (raising my hand). When I find a great piece of text on mammals that would fit perfectly with our reading standards and strategies, the science pacing guide pops in my head and reminds me that mammals aren't supposed to be introduce until next quarter. I can see the root of many teacher's frustrations here, which is what leads to the statistic mentioned in the book. A sickening statistic that shows how rarely our students get to dive into other content areas through reading instruction. On the flip side, if you can brush off the guilt of not following every pacing guide and knowing that your adding a little prior knowledge before you get to the quarter where mammals are supposed to be taught, then good for you. You've now got yourself an integrated reading time allowing for more engagement while not missing out on any of your reading instruction practices! One of my absolute favorite methods to use is a method I learned just a couple years ago called Comprehension Instructional Sequence (CIS). CIS is a great method for blending content areas into your usual reading instruction with a focus on close reading. CIS starts with students writing a prediction on a topic you will be focusing on, just as a formative to see what students already know. For example, in this particular lesson we read a close read about Ruby Bridges, the first African American to attend a white school. The prediction question was, "What was it like to go to school over 50 years ago?" Students will write about how everything was black and white and that children had to write on stone (this always makes me giggle). Other children have learned about segregation and get excited to retell a story that their parents have told them. This really allows me to judge what they will need teacher support with. Students then read the text for the first time on their own using "think notes" to code their text. They must be prepared to talk to a partner about it and share out questions. Questions, as mentioned in the text this week, are vital and should not go unanswered. For that we have an anchor chart labeled "In the Text", "Text Discussion" and "Further Research" that allows us to address important questions students have throughout the text. They also have been introduced to Tier III words that they probably are unfamiliar with. The definition has not been given, but the words are underlined for students to try and tackle in their vocabulary journal. After students have read and discussed with their peers and as a class, students will respond to the same question they did before reading, in a 1st draft format. I expect to see improvement in their knowledge of the topic and see more accurate answers. The teacher then models while thinking aloud about the text, stopping and showing good reader behaviors and the strategies and skills focused on for the week. After modeling, students then pair up and answer deep questions about the text prompted by the teacher and students (I always love when they create questions). When we have dug deep into the text using a close read format and answered many questions, I always try to provide a primary source or something that will really connect them to the text. In this case it was an interview between Ruby Bridges and a Scholastic reporter. Students are mind blown at this point due to the reality that this is a real person who faced these issues. I also provide an inquiry, such as the picture posted below. I cracked two eggs of different colors and students were to tell me how this represented the text we read. Many of them are bursting out of their seats to share with me how we are all the same no matter what color we are. People should be treated equally is usually the rant of the day. Students return to their notebooks for a final draft question about the text using evidence to support their answer. This last question is a bit more sophisticated since we have in fact dug deeply into our social studies content. It would be more on the lines of "After reading this text, how has school changed from 50 years ago and what impact did Ruby Bridges have on this change?" Yes, my 3rd graders answered this question with ease after thinking about content and having instruction through active literacy.
Why is comprehension strategy instruction important?
In order for students to learn to read and apply their reading to their life they have to learn strategy. If they are not learning to use these strategies, you can forget about active literacy and creating an environment where students find their passion for reading. A few statements from our readings this week stuck out to me that I will share, but what I was happy to see is that these are things I use in my classroom on a daily basis. What bothers me is that I feel that our mandates and standards have driven teachers further away from comprehension strategy instruction more than ever. I spend far less time on these strategies with my whole group, small groups and conferencing individually than ever before. This is mainly because I am trying to fit so many other things in. I feel it is vital these strategies be addressed in PLCs in every school so teachers see that without the foundation of comprehension strategy instruction, conferencing and modeling, students will have trouble negotiating text, especially now when we are knee deep in the text trying to dissect every bit of it. Less questioning and more strategy is key because this type of instruction will create questions...questions from the students at that.
"We want our kids to of more than skim bold print to discover answers. We want them to merge their thinking with he text information, building knowledge as they go. And we want them to stay engaged in their reading and be stimulated by their thinking" (Harvey and Goudvis p.75).
"Monitoring happens when readers pay attention to their own thinking and explore it" (Harvey and Goudvis p.81).
"When readers interact with the text they are more apt to stay on top of meaning as they read" (Harvey and Goudvis p.84).
"This exercise should deepen students' understanding of the text and their ability to articulate their thinking" (Cummins p.49).
All of these quotes from the reading indicate why comprehension strategy instruction is so important for teachers and students!
How do we tie everything together? What does it mean for diverse learners?
All of these reading and comprehension strategies cumulate to one thing, understanding and synthesizing what you have read in order to learn and become a productive member of society. What we need to realize, and what I have gathered from the readings this week, is that everyone is a diverse learner. That we should look closely and examine what each and every student needs in order for them to be able to synthesize what they have read. Having a "cookie cutter" curriculum or intervention program will not increase student learning or reading ability, especially for our diverse learners such as ELL's or ESE students. We need to assess our students in ways that allow us to determine their strengths and weaknesses so we can build upon their knowledge and lead them to understand and synthesize new material. Standardized test alone will not do this. In fact looking at standardized test alone could jeopardized and further derail our diverse students from this goal. I say this because the research showed that vocabulary and comprehension were areas of weakness for ELL's. If you are to look at a standardized test alone for data and see that they are below grade level you might start with the phonics when, in reality, that really isn't a weakness but "is part of the program". My point is, this may be the unfortunate scenario for diverse learners even more so than anyone else because they already have a challenge before them. Along with other learners they will benefit best from comprehension strategies and instruction that are fit to their level and specific needs. This is what will make a well rounded and strong reader for life.