Thoughts on readers as thinkers and strategy instruction. Part 1

Take a look at this quote:

“Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.”

 

This quote brought me back to my reflecting on transfer and strategy instruction.  I am considering what I have learned from Sunday Cumins, Vicki Vinton and  Dorthy Barnhouse and reflecting on the works they have written. I am currently putting many of their ideas into practice with my students.

nurture         Unknown    What Readers Really Do

 

I believe like Barnhouse and Vinton say in their book “What Readers Really Do” reading happens within three modes or processes and those modes are recursive. Students flip back and forth continuously between these three modes.

Comprehension – – Understanding – – Evaluation 

We use different strategies while we read within these modes. Readers are constantly engaged in the process of drafting an understanding and revising it as they read.

Comprehension  is done line-by-line and paragraph-by-praragraph, page-by-page as readers try to comprehend the text literally and inferentially.  Readers consider and assign meaning  to the line-by-line details they. This is comprehending at the basic level. Next readers piece together those literal and inferential  ideas into interpretations of the text (Barnhouse/Vinton).  Reader assign more value to some details  without completely disregarding others.   Or they should. Striving readers often dismiss what they find confusing or initially understand. They do not carry details with them to consider as they read on.  This is often a missed component of the basic level of comprehension.

As readers connect details they make interpretations  that lead to some understandings about a text on a whole level or on multi-layered levels. You are building upon those literal and inferential thoughts and are considering and interpreting what the writer might be saying about a topic or life, which can lead to understanding an emerging theme or overarching idea. This is your first-draft understanding (Barnhouse/Vinton). Then you evaluate this understanding you have pieced together and re-examine the text on the page and in your mind. This re-examining of parts of the text is crucial to building a rough draft understanding. This is where you might go back into a text to reconsider some of your thinking, look closer at confusing parts, or simply try to understand what the writer might want readers to take away from a text. This close re-reading of different parts of a text are critical.  This is where you may reconsider those confusing details, you hopefully carried with you. You  weigh your interpretation and consider their worth. This is a recursive process through the whole text.

Sunday Cummins talks about reading a text closely in her book “Nurturing  Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area-Sources.” Vinton discusses reading closely instead of reading a text multiple times through different lenes. Reading closely requires readers to hold on to the confusing details, and the details that confront what they believe and consider them across a text. This is something we have to get better at in schools. When students do not notice and note inconsistencies, misunderstandings and confusing details as they read on, they never reach the understanding and evaluations stages with the depth they need.  We have to be wiling to hold onto what we do not understand as readers because we never know when a writer will expect us to refer back to them.

Teachers often expect students to quickly comprehend what they are reading and move them along, to make interpretations and build understandings, without doing the basic comprehension work. This is the invisible thinking of considering the text details and what they might mean literally and inferentially line by line before the considering whole text and its theme or the writers overall point on a topic.  I think we are trying to move students through the modes of comprehension and understanding much too quickly.

When most teachers model, they are modeling a strategy in isolation, and it ends up being more of a task added to the reading process.  Teachers are often asked to design a lesson that makes a strategy the teaching point, without considering the thinking and understanding a reader has to consider before using of the strategy. We often meet readers with the thinking we want them to achieve at the end, skipping over the thinking work that is not as easy to evaluate and grade.

I think that a teaching point can be more about the thinking readers do or something that readers speculate about as the they consider what the writer might want them to feel or think. It can be helping readers create the mindset they need to do this thinking work. A teaching point can help move readers between the modes of comprehension, understanding and evaluation.  Consider using a strategy as a tool to help readers meet the teaching point, not the teaching point itself. In her book Dynamic Teaching For Deeper Reading, Vinton, describes this as a teaching point in one lesson: “Sometimes writers don’t come right out and tell us exactly what’s happening, so readers need to be aware of what they don’t know and then try to figure out what hasn’t been said by paying close attention to the details the writer gives them.”   This is not what I see as a typical teaching point. It does not put a typical strategy front and center.  Vinton brings readers attention to the behind the scenes thinking a reader has to accomplish. This is what I feel is missing in reading instruction. When we try to make the abstract, concrete we often end up making the strategy something readers do outside of meaning making and a step that separates itself out from meaning making. We too often want to make a strategy something that we have to do to a text, or on a separate piece of paper, not the thinking itself that a reader must complete internally before anything can be shared as an understanding about a text.

I can see drafting a teaching point around how readers need to hold on to details that are confusing, and misleading. Another teaching point might be pointing out that readers are often asked to reconsider current beliefs and consider news ones. These teaching points leaves it open for students to be decision makers. They set them up to be their own problem-solvers by focusing on the thinking work, without teachers answering text specific questions for students. This is a teaching point that could lead into using the strategy of  thinking about what we know versus what we don’t know as we read. Some students may need to see this thinking on a What We Know/What We Wonder Chart. (Barnhouse/Vinton). It could lead to using a coding strategy and then annotating some of what was coded with what we wonder or are interpreting. You could use the STP strategy of “Stop, think, Paraphrase with this teaching point, to help you consider what you understanding and what you don’t understand yet, that you will read to find out. If you keep the focus on text understanding and bring in strategies to enhance meaning, not lead it, then students are able to build up some agency to their reading.

We have to give students a chance to consider the many things that might be running through their heads. The what if’s, and might be’s our mind has to consider before making a claim at understanding and being able to evaluate that understanding.  When we skip these over this type of thinking, young readers might feel very frustrated because we are expecting them to do what more experienced readers sometimes struggle to do. Our students need more time to consider a text, and be shown how to do that.

Part 2 coming soon.

Troy

The 5 Why Approach and Transfer of Strategy Instruction Part 2

As a Reading Specialist I always talk about reading being a skill that can help you change your life in a positive and powerful way.  When introducing the coding strategy to a group of 5th grade striving readers I related it to being a tool readers use to help them self-monitor.  I teach in a year round school and get the opportunity to support readers and grow my practice all year.  I have found if I do not tie a strategy to reading for meaning and text understanding, students do not understand its function and see its power or connect it back to reading for meaning. They instead see it as something their teacher is asking them to do, that often takes away from the meaning of the text because it has become so isolated out as a standard to be address in the curriculum or a heavy hitter on state tests. Those can be factors you take into consideration when teaching the strategy but never take the focus away from meaning.

I intentionally taught this group of students the coding strategy which includes annotating and then went back and connected it to self-monitoring wanting then to make the connection themselves. I also did this because I knew 2 of the students had used the coding strategy in the past and wanted see when and how they were applying the strategy.  I could then use the 5 Why Approach I had just read about and see if it has an impact on transfer. I feel to be effective the 5 Why Approach has to be used once students have had experience using a skill or strategy.  They have to use their experience to help them answer the questions that are generated.

I let this group of 5th grade students code 2 different non-fiction articles using the coding strategy before we attempted the 5 Why’s.

This was our first attempt.

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The students wrote answers to the generated questions in silence, not hearing or seeing others responses.  Then they shared responses which I used to generate the next question. In the future I think I need to be more specific with the questions that I generated from students answers. Or maybe this approach needs to start with a more direct question. Students I feel will become more specific with their answers as we complete more 5 Why’s together.  The question of self-monitoring is not one that lends itself to a tight and succinctly worded answer. These students really generated a wonderful reason for reading which can be our reason for self-monitoring also. Although the coding strategy (which lends itself as a way self-monitoring non-fiction texts) was not specifically discussed in this 5 Why chart, I set it up to be discussed in later lessons with a chart. I can also go back to this chart when teaching self-monitoring in fiction texts, by using the Stop, Think, Paraphrase (STP) strategy or the Know/Wonder chart strategy. I will go into these strategies in future posts.

Students connected reading with thinking and meaning making. I am pleased with the result. As long as the students understand and transfer this thinking, and use it to help motivate themselves to self-monitor then the lesson served its purpose. We have talked about my goal for them is to be able to self-monitor using the coding strategy in their heads as they move into high school. I want them to use the strategy with automaticity when reading.  I think even then and as adults however, there will be times when readers are better served to complete the coding and annotating on paper or the text itself.  The coding strategy is ultimately a form of note taking when completed on paper.

 

When teaching strategies we must keep the focus of reading on making meaning. The strategy itself is not more important than text meaning which in part is how the text is interpreted by the reader, which is influenced by personal experiences. That being said a reader has to also be thinking about the writers intentions, taking into consideration the intent of the language the author is using to try and make readers feel and react in certain ways. As readers we cannot leave the writers voice and purpose behind thinking only on our own believes and understandings of the world.   Strategies are effective when used as tool to help readers make meaning. They are not and should not be used solely as a method for grading a students reading ability. As readers we do not let the use of strategies limit our text selection or hold us back as readers and thinkers. We should not do this to our students as well. Strategies are tools to help not dominate the reading process. They should not take away from the messy thinking process reading really is. Never make strategies more important then the reading itself or the act of self-monitoring for meaning.

Troy