Sometimes the demands of a content filled
curriculum put demands on some of our students that are
greater than their ability to understand.
Today students are asked to separate
important information from the trivial and inconsequential.
Reading now makes up the majority of all content area tests,
not just “reading tests.” Our students are
Interpret maps, graphs, tables and
charts (mathematics, history, science)
Draw and support conclusions (document
based questions - DBQ’s)
Collect, organize and critique evidence
used to establish a claim or support a hypothesis (thematic
Our students are asked to ”go
beyond the information given” (Jerome Bruner, 1957).
They must think as well as read. And after reading, create
a written response.
It is our mission to give students the
strategies to learn the content; the skills to comprehend
the texts given; and to combine thinking with reading to
go beyond the information given. The question is whether
students are really “understanding” what they
are expected to learn and how are they making this understanding
Different students reveal different levels
of comprehension or understanding. Some have only a minimal
understanding of the ideas, others can analyze and see
implications with ease. Children who are deficient in understanding
may become bored and inattentive or rely on memory of stored
information, but they are rarely able to interpret and
show understanding. When they are not doing anything, they
are not having fun, and they are not learning. Reducing
this boredom is about increasing student effort.
When a reading is related to the students’ experiences
or to previously learned information, it is engaging and
most probably understanding is occurring. When students
are working on a text they can organize the information
from the text into sections for facts, feelings, questions
and ideas about what they are reading. Strong
and Silver suggest creating “window notes” to
address these four areas. (Window notes are a form
of non-linguistic representation. After the child creates
a visual image of a concept, then they can convert them
into the verbal key ideas and details. Also the student
can draw a 4 or 6 pane "window" and enter relevant
information into each pane.) Then the teacher can ask students
to discuss or write about what they have noticed. The deficient
or reluctant learner believes that no one is interested
in what they think, this a strategy that asks them what
they think and lets them have their own opinion. Their
motivation to learn is enhanced because they are engaged.
Mel Levine suggests
that there are many reasons why a child may have comprehension
deficiencies. The most common is weakness in language processing.
Some students have semantic deficiencies, they have a superficial
handle on word meanings. The words they know have vague
meanings and have little or no connection to other words
or shades of meaning. These students are very literal in
their interpretations or cannot grasp words that are out
of the context of everyday life. Other students have language
processing problems at the sentence level; syntax and word
order doesn’t register. They have difficulty following
directions, interpreting word explanations and understanding
what they read. These students often develop attention
deficits that are caused by a lack of comprehension.
The previously discussed window notes
strategy would be helpful to these students because there
would be an emphasis on the understanding of understanding.
By thinking about thinking while they are thinking, students
can measure whether or not they understand. Students who
are taught to represent new information in their minds
in pictures, verbal descriptions, diagrams, formulas or
examples develop tools that aid them in comprehension and
improve their test scores as they are better prepared to
complete the tasks on the test with better understanding.
Reading for Academic Success,
Strong, Richard W. and Silver, Harvey F., , Corwin Press,