Contributed by Bruce Joyce
Daily instruction on comprehension in reading
During the last 30 years, scholars on learning-to-read have developed and studied a number of practical avenues to teach reading— particularly how to teach students to find the meaning in text (see, especially, Duffy, G.G. (2003) Explaining Reading, N.Y.: Guilford and chapter seven in Joyce, B. & Calhoun (2015) Models of Teaching, Boston: Pearson.)
Reading is thinking and thinking about the written word (text) involves active study of the meaning in text passages— the drive to comprehend the information and ideas that have been constructed by the author. To decode words without comprehension does not meet a reasonable definition of reading.
Comprehending a passage often requires ferreting out the meaning of unfamiliar words and putting together the meaning of passages about the topic of the text. Although the meaningful reading of fiction requires active attention to comprehension, reading informative text demands it, particularly when the information and concepts are new to the reader.
Something to do now and every day —
Modeling a comprehension strategy
Here is an example.
1. Select a short book, article or section of text where information and ideas are central and informative— new content to most of the students.
Read this passage to the students and let them know how YOU have tried to understand (comprehend) the passage. The passage should not be a chapter of a larger book that you may be reading aloud over time— the passage is chosen because its content will be new to the students and can be read in about five to ten minutes.
We will illustrate with a book called Butterflies and Moths by George S. Fichter, illustrated by Kristen Kest (Racine Publishing Co.: Racine, Wisconsin). The book compares and contrasts butterflies and moths, providing information and concepts that, we have found, are new to most students (and most of the teachers we work with in the United States and Canada). Thus the reader (the teacher) and the students will learn by studying the content
2. Read the article, passage, or short book with expression at a slow cadence
We prepare by reading the book and, possibly, looking up related content. And then read the book to the student.
3. Discuss (model) your strategies for comprehending the content
The moths and butterflies are compared and contrasted throughout the text; in the discussion we use the opportunities provided in the text to make those comparisons and build the concepts of how butterflies and moths are similar and different. Make clear that when an author uses compare/contrast structures that we can exploit them to comprehend the text.
4. Provide the students with a page of text where items are compared and contrasted and ask the students to study the content and prepare to share what they are learning— possibly by writing a statement to share.
For example, we might provide the students with a page where fruits and vegetables are compared and contrasted, including examples of ones common to their region.
In subsequent sessions we might continue the study of using compare/contrast strategies for comprehension and then proceed to other strategies, such as ones for inferring the meaning of new words.
Bruce Joyce is a long-term educational practitioner/researcher whose specialties are curriculum and teaching, school improvement, and professional development. With school districts, he and his colleagues generate school-improvement programs within which they embed research on models of teaching and professional learning. He is the co-author of Models of Professional Development, a Corwin bestseller.