Comprehension Monitoring, Predicting, Graphic Organizers, Questioning, Summarizing
These metacognitive strategies are typically a significant part of any educator’s instruction when teaching students how to comprehend text. And for good reason – it’s repeatedly been proven effective (National Institute of Child Health and Development [NICHD], 2000; Vaughn , Gerseten, & Chard, 2000), but the same number of educators who find success with students using these strategies, also hit major roadblocks with other students. Unfortunately, these students are the ones who struggle most with reading.
This was my story. . . I had Harvey & Goudvis’ Strategies That Work dog eared with the accompanying sticky notes to break down the text into meaningful parts, record their questions, predictions, monitoring, and then, Nessel’s Thinking Strategies was always there with excellent graphic organizers to organize all of this great thinking. And it worked! Beautifully worked with a majority of my suburban, mainstream class. Yet, each year, I would have a small number of students who just didn’t get it. After all of this scaffolding and support to demonstrate their thinking, their metacognitive strategies, I would ask these students to tell me what they just read, and all I got were blank looks. With my bag of “research based best practice” tricks empty, how did I respond? Well, what else was there to do. but move on to a more capable, or who I thought was more capable, student who gave me the answer I was looking for. But I cringed as I knew it was my lack of knowledge, not the students, that was holding them back. And I cringe now knowing I built myself back up as a teacher, as a practitioner, by finding a reliable student who could demonstrate my teaching was still “good,” even though the previous student just showed me loud and clear that it was not.
But, now, I know better. No longer can I accept success when my middle and high fliers show success. My success can only be defined on the success of all students. We must dig deeper and find ways to make text accessible for all students.
So, why isn’t strategy instruction enough? Why can it not be our stand alone, go to when teaching students to comprehend text? Kamhi & Catts (2012) explain it perfectly, “finding the main idea or making a summary is more likely to be the product or result of comprehension rather than the cause. Although comprehension strategies may be helpful in facilitating comprehension, they do not address . . . background and language factors or motivational factors that research 2010] has shown are the most significant causes of comprehension problems (Guthrie, Wigfield, & Perencevich, 2004; Hirsch, 2006; Snow, 2010). The students who were able to tell me a strong summary of the text were simply demonstrating their comprehension. They already got it. I was not teaching students how to comprehend.
Before we can teach metacognitive strategies that demonstrate comprehension, we need to teach students how to comprehend. To do this, we need to teach students how to unlock the language of the text. How is it organized? How is it ordered? How is it connected? We need to show students how text works at a broad level (the discourse level). If that’s too complex, then we drill to the sentence level. If that’s too difficult, drill to the clause level. Move down to the word level if needed. Focus on language to ensure comprehension.
Where do we begin? How do we teach this? Thanks to people like Beverly Derewianka and other scholars dedicated to the work of making the language of school explicit has made our job easier. Through their work from the Sydney School, they have analyzed thousands of texts, and determined the key text types, or academic genres, that most occur in Western schools. We not only know the type of texts students are expected to comprehend and learn from, thanks to Derewianka and others such as Maria Estela Brisk, we also know deeper details like the language & text organizational features students will encounter in each of the these genres. So, writing our language objectives couldn’t’ be clearer or easier. And once we know the students understand the language, they will have full, equitable access to the content objectives.
Free to you is a comprehensive list of the most common academic genres used in western schools that details how each genre is organized & the language features of each genre. This will be your go-to guide when making text accessible to all students. To access this free resource, be sure to subscribe & register to www.ericksoneducationalconsulting.com!