Friday, August 29, 2014

Building Comprehension in Adolescents

Linda H. Mason, Robert Reid and Jessica L. Hagaman's masterful book, Building Comprehension in Adolescents: Powerful Strategies for Improving Reading and Writing in Content Areas, was a great read. The book starts with a description of teaching how to teach strategy acquisition and self-regulation. We know that many of our struggling learners lack self-regulation skills. These skills impact every moment of the school day. It behooves us to teach them, yet often we merely expect them or say it is not part of the curriculum and we have no time for it. We need to make time because students who have self-regulation skills allow us to teach more effectively and learn more efficiently.

Self-monitoring is the first self-regulation routine discussed. The authors describe a step-by-step process for teaching self-monitoring. After all, teachers who are busy teaching cannot effectively monitor each student's progress the way each  student can monitor themselves. They describe taking baseline data, obtaining buy-in, teaching the skills of self-monitoring and  then implementing the activity. Every other strategy illustrated in the book uses self-monitoring. Knowing that goal setting is an important feature of maximized learning and motivation, they also discuss goal setting. It is made realistic by using baseline data and modeling obtainable, intermittent goals rather than end goals (i.e. 100% of the time). They talk about self-instructions as a way to help moderate behavior. They also address self-reinforcement. Clearly the authors' goal is to develop skills that students can independently implement across a variety of settings.

The authors share strategies to address three areas: reading to learn, writing to learn and homework.  A section of the book is devoted to each topic. There is a description of the importance of the activity and when to use the strategies, a series of semi-scripted lessons to teach the strategies and pages of reproducibles to use with the lessons.

In the reading section one key aspect is the focus on reading level. In todays CCSS age, we are asking students to read increasingly complex material. When teaching strategies, it is essential, however, that the reading material be at the student's independent reading level- not at the instructional reading level or at a challenge reading level. Knowing your students and having a variety of readings at a range of levels is important when teaching the strategy. Once the strategy is taught, more complex material can be introduced. It is important to note that many reading strategies are designed to improve a students ability to gather information from text at or near their reading level. If a student is reading significantly below grade level, they need different strategies to approach and learn from readings. The authors introduce TRAP, TRAP IDEAS, and TWA strategies for reading. TRAP is a strategy for students reading at or about at grade level. This will not be a successful strategy for students struggling with the text itself.

TWA is a strategy to encourage students to Think before, Think While and Think After reading. This concept encourages active rather than passive reading which is essential for learning from reading. By asking students to internalize thinking around reading, we give them a strategy they can use everywhere to improve their skills. The strategy, like all the others, is taught with a self-monitoring and goal setting approach: baseline data is obtained, students set goals for improvement and monitor and record progress.

One of the ideas that I found useful was how to evaluate oral or written retellings. The authors provide a series of reading passages accompanied by a sheet with the main idea of each paragraph and supporting details spelled out in a checklist. Students can evaluate success on retellings against the checklist. This alleviates the teacher or student from needing to evaluate success with identifying main idea and supporting details while the retelling is occurring.  It takes the vague concept we sometimes are using to evaluate students and puts it in a quantitative format that can be easily used to gauge progress.

This book would be useful for a group to use to assist students with reading and writing in the content areas. A school-wide set of strategies could be adopted to help students become more proficient in addressing language in the content areas. If a school does adopt the strategies, teachers must be aware of who the strategies will not be as useful for so that alternative strategies can be found and taught.

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