Sunday, January 31, 2010

Active Readers Monitor Their Understanding

This topic is going to take a few days to unravel. It is complex. I will give suggestions on how to help, but first I want to tell you what to look for.

Reading, as we know, is not just saying the words correctly, it is understanding the meaning. Yet so many kids, especially early elementary age (or struggling readers in upper grades) continue to pick up book after book and "read" them, yet not get what the story is about in its totality.

What I see in the classroom for starters, are those kids who struggle with decoding. This is the "sounding out words" part. They will either read haltingly word for word and try to sound out every other one, or they will read through, "making up" or substituting words for words they don't know or can't say. Substituting words we know phonetically start the same way and make sense is a strategy we teach early readers. That is a good strategy. But after they get to about third grade, sometimes they just substitute random words and keep going.

My favorite survival skill, however, is the mumble. Those who sort of slur through the word and keep going so that you think they got it.

Red Flag. When kids can't decode, they will spend so much braintime with that aspect that comprehension will break down.

Now there are two types of "substituters" -- those who know they are putting in other words, and those who think their word is actually the word on the page. The latter is the trickiest.

There are also two types of strugglers...those who know they are, and those who don't know they haven't got it. Again, the latter is the hardest.

What I want to start with today is this...Identify what kind of reader you have. Do they know they don't get it?

If they DO, you are ready for strategies, and you also may have some issues with knowing their struggles. You may have a struggler who is frustrated, sad, angry, or resistant. Or, maybe you are lucky and they want to learn, but know it is tough.

If you have the emotional side, nurture that along with giving strategies. The more they are successful, the less emotions will play a role in resistance. We will talk attitude as we go through this.

BUT. If you have a child that has no idea that they are having trouble, you have to start there. Now I am NOT suggesting in any way you go telling them that straight out. They don't need that.

Here's what I am saying. We cannot expect kids to use strategies we give them if they think there is no need for them. They need to be aware they are having comprehension/decoding breakdown.

We need to work with them and show them how YOUR understanding of what they are reading and saying is different than what they are.

For example, as I was reading with a child the other day about worms, they were reading along and substituting words for the words that were there, but they were not getting the right ones.
Before I jumped in to either tell him the words or give him a phonics lesson, I stopped him after he read a particularly disgusting fact. "Oh MY!" I exclaimed, "Didn't that just gross you out!" "What?" He looked puzzled. "You just read that worms in some parts of the world can grow to be 3 feet long!" I added, showing him with my hands the length of his desk. "Wow. That's really big!" he said, wide eyed.

I asked him if he had realized what he had read. He admitted that, no, he didn't. He just understood that it was facts about worms and that some of the words were tricky, so he kind of skipped over them.

PERFECT. He now knew he wasn't understanding.

I praised him for telling me that and said that it was so important to have a just right book and to STOP reading when we don't understand. It could be a word or an entire paragraph. WHEN UNDERSTANDING BREAKS DOWN, STOP.

In his case, I told him he was missing some incredibly gross and funny stuff, and he wouldn't want to do that!

Now, what if your child keeps up, not knowing they are missing? It depends. If your child is a preschooler/Kindergartener, they may still be using the pictures to tell the story, so the words aren't exact. THAT'S FINE. Age appropriate.

But if your child is in third grade and still using that "skip over/mumble through/just stick whatever in" survival skill, you need to spend time helping them understand that they are not understanding.

Use my example to help you. Don't make it a big deal that they didn't get it, make a big deal about something you learned/understand from the story...sometimes it is even a reaction you get from an event or something a character did.

"I would feel so mad/sad/excited if that..."
"Can you believe what she did?"
"I didn't know..."

So step one: Let's help them see they need help.

Tomorrow...Fix Up Strategies! What to do when you don't understand!

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