Sunday, December 28, 2014

Developing Comprehension Skills

Dr. Scott Paris's monograph, Developing Comprehension Skills, identifies five foundations to reading comprehension:
  • conceptual knowledge- In other words background knowledge. Common Core advocates can argue for not explicitly accessing and developing conceptual knowledge, but it is essential for comprehension. If we want kids to understand what we teach and what they read we need to build foundations and frameworks upon which to hang later learnings. This is why we spiral curriculum.
  • language skills- Our speech and language pathologists will tell you that without adequate expressive and receptive language skills, reading skills will be difficult to build. Students with language delays go on to struggle in reading. English language learners require special support to be able to read English. Vocabulary is the single most important determinate of comprehension after decoding is achieved.
  • text features- Common Core emphasis on nonfiction showcases this aspect of reading tangentially. Readers need to know about the meaning and importance of titles, subtitles, bold print, pictures, captions and such. Readers also need to understand critical aspects of different genres. Stories have a plot structure with mysteries usually having lots of twists and false leads and romances being more simple love stories. Haiku is not only 3 line poetry, it is about nature with its own set of symbolism. News articles typically answer either explicitly or inferentially the five wh- questions.
  • strategies- Special educators tend to love these. We see graphic organizers and question and answer skills. Typical texts have question sets. Elementary classroom teachers enjoy the prediction and answer techniques such as reciprocal reading. Beers and Probst's notice and note strategy is good at teaching students to independently look for signposts that highlight deeper meanings. (See my blogs here, here and here.) While some students will move to independently apply these strategies, others need instruction on generalizing them beyond specifically directed tasks.
  • fluent decoding- This really refers to reading fluency more than decoding. Automaticity of decoding enables more mental resources to be corralled for comprehension use. It makes reading less fatiguing and more enjoyable.
Clearly, comprehension is the critical result of reading. Without it, we cannot say that reading has taken place. When we read something and have no idea what we read. We go back and reread because we did not really read it meaningfully. Unfortunately many students spend so much time reading in this fugue that they do not even realize that text is supposed to make sense. Consequently they do not bother with reading. It is essential that we build underlying foundations so that students do understand what they read.

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