Friday, August 31, 2012

In a Reading State of Mind

I picked up In A Reading State of Mind: Brain Research, Teacher Modeling, and Comprehension Instruction by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and Diane Lapp because I enjoy brain research and its applications to education. Although there is a thread of neuroscience behind the text, there is little overt mention to it. For someone looking to better understand the brain and learning Judy Willis's materials are more explicit and easier to read.

The book focuses on using modeling to teach. This key step in effective direct instruction has been acknowledged for decades in the education field, but it often gets minimized in an attempt to wade through the curriculum. The authors clearly link the research on modeling to the skills. The examples in the text are short but effective, however there are not enough to really demonstrate the ideas presented. The book includes a CD with classroom examples and focus questions for observations. This would be useful for profession discussions on using modeling effectively.

Repeatedly the authors say that they do not want students doing worksheets merely identifying the word solving, text structure and test features that need to be understood. Rather than a worksheet identifying the literary devices in each short passage, they suggest having it be part of the whole instruction. Instead of remaining at Blooms lowest levels, it suggests ways of using those questions in a big picture to help inform the reader's comprehension.  There is some concern on my part that without some dedicated direct instruction in the techniques, if the teacher only models integrated use, students will not necessarily learn them and all the modelling in the world will not help someone to correctly use something they do not know. Exposing me to days of Greek language will not help me speak Greek without some basic knowledge level instruction. The authors share how to model using the techniques in an integrated fashion. True to modeling, it shows how real readers would utilize a skill. This is where we need to get our students.

The piece of the book that I found most useful was the comprehension monitoring guidelines that I highlighted in a previous post. Comprehension monitoring is an essential component of instruction in all subjects. Struggling students are particularly bad at identifying when comprehension breaks down. This applies to reading as well as classroom instruction. Many students have experienced feeling capable until they attempt the homework and fail. They do not monitor their comprehension. It is a major reason why the classic, " Any questions?" statement is ineffective. We need to model how to monitor comprehension of both reading and lecture. It is a great opportunity to use coteachers or flipped, video-based instruction so that someone can model this skill. Furthermore, modeling cannot be a one and done strategy. Teachers need to provide on going comprehension monitoring  modeling throughout an educational career. Seniors who have been exposed to good instruction, may or may not have internalized ways to monitor comprehension as they are taught. We cannot give up on them as they will never learn it, nor can we expect it without teaching it.

As education in this country moves to a new phase with the Common Core State Standards, we need to ensure that students have at their disposal a wide variety of comprehension enhancing strategies to help them get meaning from the text. This includes being able to identify a variety of word solving strategies, text features, and text structures and apply that knowledge to increasing the comprehsnion of the material itself. Directly teaching and modeling the use of these strategies is key to wide implementation of them by students.

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