TEACHING COMPREHENSION STRATEGIES
KEEP IT SIMPLE!
AVOID THE COMPREHENSION STRATEGY SMORGASBORD!
If you search the internet you will find a fairly consistent list of mental strategies that are considered to be conducive to the act of comprehension. Most of these 'most important' lists provide an outline of each strategy and suggestions for introducing and practising the skill.
Unfortunately this leads to what we call the smorgasbord approach.
Each strategy is treated as a stand alone skill that is taught and practised in isolation. The result: we end up teaching a bit of this and a bit of that with strategies for the construction of the literal meaning getting mixed in alongside higher order thinking strategies.
My experience and my research into cognitive loading theory tells me that this smorgasbord approach isn't conducive to a coherent understanding for the learner of what is happening or real transference into life-long reading skills.
I can remember my own long term plan...two weeks of skimming and scanning, two weeks of main idea, two weeks of .... a haphazard 'a bit of this and a bit of that approach' followed by me urging students to use these strategies as they wade their way through the text I had selected for a guided reading lesson.
Two paragraphs in 25 minutes loaded with cueing and prompting for strategy use, many many teachable moments and the uncomfortable feeling at the end that I was doing most of the talking. This is an adherence to establishing metacognition at the expense of the habituation of thinking processes.
"All we seem to do is sit around talking about the strategies we should be using."
We do not dispute that learning to be an effective comprehender of text involves an integration of very complex mental processes and that understanding the metacognition is helpful. The problem is that if we get too involved at a micro level we, the teacher, and they the students, can easily get overwhelmed by this complexity.
Our learners swim around in the pool of 26 strategies trying to remember which ones to use and when. It's a bit like trying to work out how an insect works. We take off the wings and the legs and any other appendages and examine them closely for clues ... and while we increase our understanding of the mechanisms, the insect no longer works.
Learning to be an efficient comprehender doesn't work like that either.
The comprehension skills we are after are the ones that happen instantaneously in the head of the reader WHILE THEY ARE READING. Our task is to train the brain to be active...awake...engaged, analysing, synthesising, engaging in multiple possibilities and discarding false trails as the reading occurs.
Brian and I have spent years refining a routine which forces this type of mental activity during 'independent practice' until it becomes habituated. Asking a reader to unpack a sentence requires the reader to use multiple strategies in a nanosecond. They identify and wrestle with unfamiliar vocabulary, make connections to their prior knowledge, generate images, make inferences, monitor whether they are getting it right ... it all can be done without endless teachable moments and cueing and prompting, all of which rob the learner of their sense of autonomy and create this overwhelming feeling of many many strategy fragments.
And we allow them the space to achieve fluency before we load the brain up with another slightly more complex higher order skill.
More like a la cart dining ... a gradual progression through a series of carefully crafted dishes which compliment each other and generate a feeling of satisfaction at the end.
"Comprehension instruction should be about training your students to
take over the thinking about text processing for themselves." Michael Pressley.
Interested? ... Have a look at what our Comprehension Course looks like
Fill in your NAME and EMAIL address in the form opposite and click SUBMIT and you will be taken inside our initial comprehension course "Stage 3: 'A Systematic Approach to Comprehension".
No credit card details required - this is a no obligation, no strings attached PREVIEW.
This is an opportunity to take a good look at the course and actually see how it is structured, the type of content you will have access to, (including the resources) and get a feel for the training you will be purchasing.
Of course not all the download links be active but you will easily be able to imagine the value of this course for advancing your teaching career.
YOU WILL get to download a FREE selection of our StoryBytes and InfoBytes!