A Reflection on Strategic Reading Comprehension and Motivating Contexts For Developing Offline Reading Comprehension

Strategic Readers

What makes a reader strategic?

A strategic reader can develop a plan for reading, execute that plan, and modify and adjust the plan when necessary. In order to develop an effective plan to execute, a reader must have a base level of knowledge and skills necessary to approach a reading task with not just the ability to begin but the mental tools for handling the inevitable challenges that will present themselves along the way. These mental tools can be (loosely) categorized into two domains: specific comprehension skills, and dispositions/attitudes that influence engagement, which affects comprehension.

Strategic Readers
Skill based comprehension strategies
(drawn from Duke and Pearson (2002))
Dispositions/attitudes
(drawn from Swan (2003))
  • Identify a purpose for reading
  • Preview a text before reading
  • Make predictions before and during reading
  • Activate background knowledge
  • Think aloud or in one’s head
  • Create or imagine visual representations of the text
  • Separate main ideas from details
  • Summarize what was read
  • Sense of competence/self-efficacy
  • Feelings of responsibility derived from choice/autonomy
  • Sense of belonging and value to community
  • Desire for conceptual knowledge
  • Opportunity for social interaction surrounding reading experiences
  • Self-monitoring, metacognition, fix-up strategies (could fall under “skill based comprehension strategies”)

 

How do more strategic readers differ from less strategic readers?

More strategic readers will have a wider range of these mental tools at their disposal, and they will be able to work through comprehending text that might be considered above their reading level because they are able to use these strategies in tandem to climb the metaphorical mountain that is a given text. Acquiring these tools requires years of diverse reading experiences, is probably (certainly) aided by instruction in how to use these mental tools, and develops as procedural knowledge, not as specialized content knowledge like knowledge in math or science (Johnson, 2014). More strategic readers are more comfortable and adept with all of the mental tools at their disposal. An analogy: it is the difference between a new driver who might need to think consciously about a driving procedure like changing lanes or checking a blind spot, and a more experienced driver who has built automatic habits for these procedures.

What appears to be some of the key research that informs how we currently define reading comprehension and how to teach it to learners of various ages?

Swan (2003) focused on the CORI model, and what struck me about this model was its concern with so many of the emotions related to reading processes. It considered effective reading comprehension to be inextricably connected to movtivation and engagement, which are driven by autonomy, inquiry, social learning, and intellectual curiosity.

Johnson (2014) introduces the idea that while there are differences between reading comprehension when it comes to a traditional print text and a digital (particularly online) text, digital text appears to augment existing print based material rather than replace it with something completely novel. Additionally, it appears that some of the reading skills necessary for comprehending print text (like sustained focus on longer texts) can be useful for counteracting some of downsides of online text (namely the overwhelming choice available and the short nature of many online texts).

Duke and Pearson (2002) give an overview of a variety of approaches to teaching comprehension, all of which show evidence of improving students’ reading comprehension abilities. A connection among them that I notice is that they all make explicit what are usually “hidden” thinking processes, and the strategies give students gradually more independent practice at those thinking processes. Duke and Pearson end their piece with the following advice, which rings true to me based on my experience teaching: “Although we can now point to a litany of effective techniques, that does not mean that using a litany of techniques will be effective” (235).

Connections

What connections do you see across the texts and ideas?

Swan (2003) examined CORI, which–based on the short videos and the description of “Margaret’s” classroom–shares many of the same hallmarks of our definition of inquiry from the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. In particular, the notion of student autonomy as essential to motivation and engagement resonated with my experiences and learning from the Summer Institute, and the questions students asked in the videos reminded me a lot of the Question Formulation Technique.

Across all texts (Swan, Duke and Pearson, and Johnson), I notice that there is an appreciation for the complex and understandably messy procedure that is comprehending a piece of text, as well as an appreciation for the difficulty in teaching how to comprehend text. There is an acknowledgement of the many pieces of mental machinery that work must work together for a reader to comprehend a specific text, and also a sense that reading comprehension can be improved through specific techniques designed to strengthen individual pieces of this machinery with “Coach O” (Johnson, 2014) serving as a model for identifying just which pieces need polish and how to do so.

Given the messy nature of comprehending text and teaching reading comprehension, it doesn’t surprise me that reading comprehension is not taught as often or as effectively as we might hope–and that I have not yet learned how to teach reading comprehension as effectively as I would like.

What connections do you see between these ideas and things happening in your teaching/learning/working context? Teaching practices? Learner behaviors? Classroom (or other setting) climates?

The description of CORI in Swan (2003) reinforced the notion that I need to improve my implementation of a few concepts I made the goal of incorporating into my instruction following the Summer Institute: teaching students to ask their own questions, giving students more autonomy/choice, increasing the amount of social learning time I give to students, and building in opportunities for reflection.

Implications/Questions/Critiques

What implications do these ideas have for your work in education?

A point Johnson (2014) made was that we need to prepare learners to be strategic readers in ways that will give them the skills they need not just to be strategic readers now, but in a few decades when they graduate, go to college, join the workforce, and engage in their communities as active citizens. This point shifts my thinking from putting an emphasis on skills students will need to read specific kinds of texts in their immediate context to putting an increased emphasis on developing the kinds of mental tools described in part one of this post. Having specific knowledge for how to read a certain kind of text is great; having the procedural knowledge for how to respond when you encounter challenges with a brand-new form of text is better.

What questions do you have? (e.g., clarifying terms, broader applications, extended wonderings, critiques)

Swan (2003) examined coherent versus fragmented instruction, and reading that section made my heart sink a little, because I know how challenging a process it can be to integrate specific strategies across grade levels at the secondary level, much less across disciplines. The CORI model was described in various elementary classrooms where an individual teacher may have control over the various subjects of the curriculum (though I realize this is not always the case), and while a great deal of what was described is directly applicable to my work with 9th and 11th graders in an English classroom, my particular context in a traditional high school by nature creates a fragmented learning experience for students, where the day is separated into seven 45-minute chunks where the learning in each class usually has nothing to do with the learning in any other class.

There is a real challenge to creating a less fragmented environment for students in a setting specifically designed for that fragmentation, but some of the ideas introduced in Swan (2003) are already part of the conversation for how to improve reading instruction in my school. There has already been discussion about integrating more teaching of reading into the various subject areas in my school, and in the last two years we have hired (or trained) two new reading specialists. In the near future, this discussion will continue–now I have something to add to it!

 

*Note: When it comes to reading digital text, a whole slew of complicating factors come into play. I might add the following list as a companion to the description in part one of strategic readers when considering skills involved in comprehending online text (drawn from Johnson’s (2014) discussion of Corio and Dobler (2007) and NCTE’s 21st Century Literacies Framework (2008)):
  • The ability to self-regulate in an online environment, particularly by moving between 1) information generated through quick online searches of short texts and 2) more traditional reading of longer texts
  • Take risks, work independently and collaboratively, create new knowledge, engage with diverse perspectives
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia
  • Use inquiry to ask questions and solve problems
As seen from the above list, comprehending online text is not simply a more advanced reading process–it is a two way street in the world of Web 2.0, inextricable from writing, where a reader is no longer simply a processor of information but an active participant in the creation of knowledge using another author’s text as a stimulus.
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