Monday, July 27, 2015

Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension

Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis's book, Strategies that Work: Teaching Reading Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement: Second Edition, is a book that reiterates much of what is said in other comprehension books. Primarily they contend that to make comprehension a goal, you must explicitly teach kids to actively read. Without active involvement, readers are just going through the motions. The strategies they suggest are:
  • monitoring comprehension
  • activating background knowledge
  • questioning
  • visualizing and inferring
  • determining importance in text
  • summarizing and synthesizing.

They utilize two primary techniques- annotating and taking notes. By annotating, they recommend notes in margins and a heavy use of sticky notes. Taking notes is primarily achieved through various modifications of a two column chart: what the text says and what do you think about it. These two techniques are modified throughout with various examples. They never discuss teaching kids to identify how to modify the charts. I suspect this is because their target audience is elementary with a bleed into middle school. Even so it would be a good idea to discuss how to decide exactly what type of chart to use based on your purpose for reading.

One place they do think about high school kids is in reference to use of picture books across all grade levels. Cris Tovani is referenced as using them (p. 66). I have certainly used picture books with my high school kids. It is a great way to build background knowledge and vocabulary as well as capture interest for secondary students. When you first attempt this, there will be comments about picture books being inappropriate. After you share really good ones that complement the curriculum and make it more accessible, however, kids begin to catch on. They enjoy being read to and the stories help to anchor content knowledge.

They include a chapter on reading textbooks. One of their statements brought home how unique my son is. They comment on the general dislike of reading textbooks. They comment that not only do kids not clamor to read them the adults do not either (p. 233). My son, on the other hand loved reading history textbooks. I had brought home a copy of the text so that I could plan lessons at home and he read the book cover to cover multiple times. In fact he can quote many esoteric facts from its pages, much to the amazement of his teachers. Although not the reading of choice, some kids do like the content rich, authoritative style they embody.

This book is liberally peppered with references to children's books. There is an extensive appendix of nearly 40 pages of content area books, magazines and newspapers which is followed by 13 pages of children's books listed out. I am champing at the bit to get my hands on some of them. For me, this might be the most valuable part of the book.

A very readable book with lots of samples of how to teach the various strategies, this book is useful for teachers trying to expand their comprehension instruction. As mentioned, the book lists are highly valuable as well. Designed for the teacher of reading at the elementary and middle school level, this book would not be a great find for most secondary teachers who would find an absence of examples for implementation.

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