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«Comprehension – An Overview By Diane Snowball What is Comprehension? Comprehension is a complex process that has been explained in many ways, such ...»

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TEACHING COMPREHENSION 3-6

Comprehension Overview

From: Teaching Comprehension: An Interactive Professional Development Course (grades

K-2, 3-6, and 6-9)

By Diane Snowball et al

Distributed in Australia and NZ by Curriculum Corporation

Comprehension – An Overview

By Diane Snowball

What is Comprehension?

Comprehension is a complex process that has been explained in many ways, such as the following Comprehension is “intentional thinking during which meaning is constructed through  interactions between text and reader” (Harris and Hodges, 1995).

Comprehension is the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through  interaction and involvement with written language (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002).

Comprehension is a process in which readers construct meaning by interacting with text  through the combination of prior knowledge and previous experience, information in the text, and the stance the reader takes in relationship to the text (Pardo, 2004).

You will notice that the important aspect of all of the definitions is “meaning”. If readers can read the words but do not understand what they are reading, they are not really reading.

Comprehension Strategies According to two important references, research indicates that there are specific strategies that can improve comprehension and so they are beneficial to teach your students. We have used these as the basis for selecting the six modules of comprehension in our CD-ROMs.

Duke and Pearson (2002) have identified these as prediction/prior knowledge;

 think-aloud;

 text structure;

 visual representations;

 summarisation;

 questions/questioning.

 In the National Reading Panel Report (2000) the same strategies were identified, but the report separated “questions generating” and “question answering”. It also listed “comprehension monitoring” and “cooperative learning” as effective strategies but Duke and Pearson included “comprehension monitoring” in think-aloud to some extent and we have provided a great deal on monitoring in our think-aloud module because the best way to model all kinds of monitoring and fixup strategies is through thinking out loud. As for “cooperative learning” we believe the same as Duke and Pearson, that this is an instructional approach that is implicit in all comprehension teaching. This collaborative work among teachers and students is one of the guiding principles of our work. You will find more information in the Guiding Principles section of this CD-ROM.

TEACHING COMPREHENSION 3-6

Comprehension Overview We also extended visual representations to include imagery of what is being read, and so used the embracing term of “visualising”, and extended “text structure” to “text structure and features”.

Some of you may have read Keene and Zimmermann‟s (1997) Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop, in which they describe the strategies used by good readers as relating what‟s in a text to their prior knowledge;

 figuring out the main ideas in text;

 questioning;

 constructing mental images of the meaning conveyed by the text;

 making inferences beyond the information given in the text;

 summarising;

 seeking clarification when the meaning of text is confusing.

 You will notice areas of overlap with the strategies we have focused on, with “constructing mental images” contained in our Visualising module, “making inferences” dealt with in Think-aloud because it can only be taught through thinking out loud how you are inferring, and “seeking clarification” being part of monitoring meaning, also in the Think-aloud module.

Metacognition

Metacognitive awareness (being able to think about one‟s own thinking) is an important part of learning. If students can articulate what the strategies are, and how and when to use them, they can be in control of monitoring their own comprehension. They will know when and how to adjust their own use of strategies to achieve greater understanding (Baker & Brown, 1984). Stating your purposes for teaching, giving clear explanations and demonstrations, modelling thinking aloud about strategies and processes, and encouraging your students to reflect and verbalise what they are doing when reading, are all necessary for your students to develop such metacognition of their reading process. Several studies show that students who verbalise their strategies and thoughts while reading score significantly higher on comprehension tests.

The Influence of Readers, Text, Sociocultural Context and Teachers Although “meaning” is the most important word in the definition of comprehension, there are other words in the definitions that also need to be considered in light of the roles they each play.

The readers all have individual characteristics that influence their construction or extraction of meaning. They vary in the skills, knowledge, cognitive development, culture, bias, and purpose they bring to the reading (Narvaez, 2002) and also may have different levels of motivation. The stance they take as they read the text affects their view of what the writer has written. Readers must also ask questions of the text and the author‟s purpose and this requires critical literacy.





The texts all have features that influence the readers‟ comprehension. These include the genre and related structure and features, the language, vocabulary, and difficulty of readability, as well as the author‟s purpose, bias, message and style. In order for your students to understand what they are reading they need to have texts that they can read with a high level of accuracy. For students who are novice readers, if we want them to reason their way through more complex texts, the comprehension teaching must occur mostly during Read-aloud and Shared Reading practices.

TEACHING COMPREHENSION 3-6

Comprehension Overview It is essential to have a range of all kinds of fiction and all kinds of factual texts for class, group and individual use and to teach comprehension with this range. It has been found that when factual texts are read aloud to students there are many more points at which comprehension strategies are used than when fiction texts are read aloud. This probably contributes in some substantively different way to students‟ long-term comprehension abilities (Smolkin & Donovan, 2002).

Texts are not only those available in printed form, but include all kinds of multimedia texts such as images, animations, text links, videos, audios, text messages on cell phones, websites, CD-ROMs and emails. The onslaught of text messaging and email has been a great motivation for many students to learn to read and for these students these types of text are the most common ones for them to read. The term „multiliteracies‟ has been used for some time to encapsulate the changing nature of literacy and communication and teaching your students to comprehend all of these text types is essential. Students doing research should be referring to websites and other multimedia resources, but they need to learn how to use them wisely. Access to so much information requires your students to be wary and discriminating, and to know how to manipulate and organise information from many different sources. This requires digital literacy, understanding the benefits, advantages and dangers of using technology in everyday life and learning.

The sociocultural context that is created influences the readers‟ comprehension too. Depending on the place, the situation and the purpose readers will transact with the text in different ways. The teacher‟s instructions, willingness to allow risk-taking, classroom environment, and provision of independent reading time with a variety of texts being available will all influence the way the readers view the text.

Teachers are able to influence all of these by the way you instruct and support the readers, the types and range of texts you provide, and the classroom learning environment you structure. Your role at school is vital and your influence beyond the school setting can be a positive one if you build independence and confidence in your students and instil a love of reading.

It is your “use” of methods and procedures that makes the difference to your students‟ learning. You need to be in charge of instruction and be able to make choices about what this will be by learning how to interact with students at the right time and the right place during the reading  of a text;

analyzing your students‟ statements to understand their interpretations and what intervention  is required if they are off track;

determining what specific strategy (or strategies) must be taught to struggling readers;

 deciding which students will benefit from more explicit explanations.

 Obviously your knowledge of the following are all essential for you to be able to use your influence wisely the reading process and the cognitive process that occur when reading; comprehension  strategies;

how the comprehension strategies can be used by a reader;

 how to assess comprehension;

 effective approaches to teaching through explaining, modelling, and involving your students  in interactive discussions.

–  –  –

Comprehension Instruction Research has shown that comprehension instruction can improve the reading comprehension of all readers, even beginning readers and struggling older readers.

Instruction in comprehension can help your students to

–  –  –

“Comprehension can be improved by teaching students to use specific cognitive strategies or to reason strategically when they encounter barriers to understanding what they are reading. Readers acquire these strategies informally to some extent, but explicit or formal instruction in the application of comprehension strategies has been shown to be highly effective in enhancing understanding. The teacher generally demonstrates such strategies for students until the students are able to carry them out independently.” (National Reading Panel, 2000)

Instruction should include

telling your students the purpose of your instruction and why you have chosen to involve  them in such instruction;

explaining the strategy explicitly, specifically saying what it is, and how and when it should be  used;

modelling of the strategy in authentic reading situations, saying when it is most useful or  even when it is not applicable;

thinking aloud about strategy use as you read;

 using the strategy collaboratively with your students and encouraging students to do this with  each other;

encouraging your students to explain to each other how they are processing the text;

 emphasising that choosing an appropriate strategy is important and that different strategies  may be applied in different situations;

guiding students‟ practice of the strategy in small groups and individually, gradually releasing  responsibility to them;

making sure that your students are involved in a lot of rich dialogue about what they are  reading and what they are doing to help their comprehension;

relating the use of the strategy to their own independent reading;

 providing many opportunities for students to use the strategy independently.

 Strategy instruction may be with the whole class, in small groups or with individuals, but it is stressed that as your students practise the strategies in large or small settings they are expected to transfer them to their own independent reading. Asking questions and comments such as the following will remind your students about this transfer “How could you use this strategy in your own reading?”  “How could this to help you with anything you are reading?”  “Don‟t forget to predict before and during the reading of your books today.”  Also, when listening to and conferring with your students during independent reading time, ask them to explain about the strategies they have been using in their reading, and to share this with their fellow students during share time. Your students then know you expect them to be able to use the

TEACHING COMPREHENSION 3-6

Comprehension Overview strategies they have been learning about. Effective strategy instruction involves a gradual release of responsibility from the teacher to the learner (Duke & Pearson, 2002) so that over time your students gradually take over the responsibility for decision making and putting the strategies into practice.

Teaching Comprehension at Different Grade Levels

All comprehension strategies need to be taught at all grade levels, with fiction and factual texts at every level, as these CD-ROMs (K-2, 3-6, 6-9) show. Pearson and Duke (2002) state that comprehension instruction in K-2 is not only possible, but wise and beneficial rather than detrimental to overall reading instruction.

“To delay this sort of powerful instruction until children have reached the intermediate grades is to deny them the very experiences that help them develop the most important of reading dispositions – the expectation that they should and can understand each and every text they read.” (p 257) They also describe a study that shows that comprehension instruction for young students can also improve their decoding skills.

The comprehension instruction needs to continue in all grades and by teachers in many curriculum areas because the levels of difficulty and complexity of texts increases as your students‟ reading develops and they are expected to read various types of texts in different subjects. This instruction needs to be sufficiently long term so that students‟ comprehension processes will become automatic.

Integrating Strategies

Although at times you may provide such instruction with a focus on only one strategy, include the use of other strategies as they naturally occur, particularly known strategies that have previously been introduced. Good readers do not just use one strategy when reading; they use multiple strategies in integrated ways and know what strategy to use in a particular reading situation.



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