When one reads a text and understands it, one is said to have comprehended it. However, comprehension should be seen as a process, rather than a particular outcome or product, through which the reader interacts with the text constructing meaning. This view of comprehension emphasizes the strategic, problem solving processes of the reader as he engages with a text. The meaning a reader derives from a text is influenced by his own knowledge, experience, and perceived purpose for reading. This meaning-making process is what Durkin (1993) terms "the essence of reading."
There are several general characteristics of effective strategy instruction for reading comprehension. First, it is important for instruction to be explicit. Second, it is important for the teacher to provide temporary support, to help the student move toward independent application of strategies and skills. It is also important for instruction to be sustained over time. Effective strategy instruction needs to be an integral part of reading instruction on an ongoing basis. Finally, instruction should be differentiated (Mosenthal, 1984; Spiro, 2001).
Scaffolding the Development and Use of Comprehension Strategies
Teachers need to explicitly teach and demonstrate strategies so that students know how to construct meaning before, during, and after reading. Before reading, for instance, they may define their goals for reading and consider what they already know about a topic and the structure of a text. During reading, they will activate relevant prior knowledge, make connections among important ideas, construct and test hypotheses, and try to resolve any comprehension difficulties that arise. After reading, they may reread or skim the passage, summarize it, or take notes. Good readers often continue to reflect on the meaning of a text long after they have read it.
Scaffolded instruction means that teachers model the strategies step by step and explicitly demostrate the processes of thinking before, during, and after one reads. After this, teachers have to provide students with guided practice in the strategies, followed by independent practice and application. We have the following comprehension strategies:
Active comprehension and Asking Questions
Reciprocal Questioning (ReQuest)
Question-Answer Relationships (QARs)
Questioning the Author (QtA)
We are going to give a brief description of each strategy.
Active Comprehension and Asking Questions. This strategy engages the students in a process of generation questions and making connections throughout the reading. Traditionally these questions have been divided into three categories: literal questions, inferential questions and evaluative questions, by asking literal questions students answer by using information explicitly from the text, inferential questions will make students answer by using their background knowledge along with information from the text and evaluative questions will make students answer by making judgments about what they read. Asking questions not only stimulates interest but will also draw students into the story, it is also important to encourage students to ask questions to clarify meaning. It is important for teachers to encourage students to ask their own questions; this way students will feel that they have complete control of the reading process. Other strategies that can be effectively used with all students are: highlighting sections of copied text, recording questions on sticky notes, developing question maps and coding questions.
It is important that teachers of ELLs students select literature that is culturally relevant to the students, teachers have to be aware of the background knowledge of culturally diverse students.
Reciprocal Questioning (ReQuest). This strategy encourages students to ask their own questions about the material being read. Reciprocal questioning is a good strategy to work in small groups in which each student in the group will get to ask questions, by working in small teams (3 to 4 students) this activity can become very interactive since after the students finish working in their small groups they can go and challenge another group of the class.
When asking students to write questions, we have to make sure that we guide them in this process as well since some of them might not know how or they will only know how to write one type of question. To avoid encountering these difficulties in our class, we should provide a model so that the students learn from us, by guiding the students in this process with time we will see an improvement in the quality of questions asked and in the ability of the students to ask questions.
When doing Reciprocal Reading there are two things that will help you. The first one is that if there are pictures, maps or charts, it will help to try to picture them in your head, this way when they ask you something about that you can bring it up from your memory. The second thing is when you are reading, ask yourself the questions that you think they might ask you, this way you will be ready for them.
Question-Answer Relationships (QARs). This strategy helps learners know what information sources are available for seeking answers to different types of questions. QARs enhance children's ability to answer comprehension questions by teaching them how to find information they need to answer questions. Explicit instruction will make students aware of two information sources where the answers can be found.
The first source is the text, some answers to questions can be found right in the text. Some of the answers found in the text demand a think and search strategy in which students have to search the text for information and they also have to think about the relationships that exist among the information found. The second information source is the reader, there are many questions as well in which the answer has to come from the reader´s mind, the answers to this questions will reflect personal prior knowledge.
Questioning the Author (QtA). This strategy models for students the importance of asking questions while reading. The strategy is based on the notion that successful readers act on the author´s message. If successful readers don´t understand what they are reading, they will have questions on what the author says and means. QtA places value on the quality and depth of students responses to the author´s intent. Some of the questions that could be asked are: "What is the author trying to say here?" "What does the author mean?" "What is the significance of the authors message?". QtA builds knowledge by making students aware of an important principle related to reading comprehension: Not comprehending what the author is trying to say is not always the fault of the reader.
Reciprocal Teaching. Is an approach to reading comprehension in which teachers introduce four strategies, model the strategies and then gradually encourage independent use of the strategies by the students in small groups as students take the role of the teacher. The four strategies are: predicting what the text is about, raising questions about the text, summarizing the text, clarifying difficult vocabulary and concepts. Reciprocal teaching involves the student taking the role of the teacher, the teachers starts teaching his class, but after a point he invites the students to share or add more information to what the teacher has stated, once the students are sharing their knowledge and points of view over the topic being taught, the teacher gradually withdraws support and the students continue teaching the lesson. Oczkus (2003) suggests that reciprocal teaching can be organized by initiating each strategy with whole class instruction, followed by either partner or table work groups, guided reading groups, or literature circles.
Think-Alouds. Is a strategy in which teachers and students share their thoughts, discuss what they wonder about what confuses them, and make connections as they are reading. A prime opportunity to conduct think-alouds is when teachers read aloud to students (Santoro, Chard, Howard, & Baker, 2008; Scharlach, 2008). Think-alouds during teacher read-aloud provides a window to view what is going on in the minds of the students as they read. As the teacher reads aloud, the students follow silently and listen as the teacher describes what they are thinking. When the teacher finishes, the students are encouraged to describe their thoughts, students can work in partners to share their thinking.
Story Structure Awareness: Story Elements
Student's reading comprehension has to have a frame of reference for processing and storing information. One way we can aid a student with reading comprehension is with the use of elements of a story. According to Dr. Burkey, "elements of a story are an organized structure that includes plot, character, setting, and theme in an orderly time frame." The plot usually revolves around a conflict that is presented at the initiating event of the story and as the story evolves then the conflict is resolved towards the end. According to teachervision.com, "the ability to identify the elements of a story aids in comprehension, leads to a deeper understanding and appreciation of stories, and helps students learn to write stories of their own". Elements of a story also assist students in prewriting and post-reading activities. The organizers are intended to focus on the key elements of character, setting, conflict, and resolution development. Students can become aware of how characters are created and they can analyze them. Once students can become aware of how characters develop in a story then this would help them in preparation for writing their own fiction. Another benefit is that the students can reflect on the characteristics of the protagonist or antagonist which they can create constructive criticism. As the teacher reads the story with the class it is important that the students know the setting of the story, the types of characters, the interactions between characters, cause and effects, conflicts, and themes.
Figure 1, shows a plot diagram that includes resolution, conflicts, themes, falling action, climax and rising action. This chart has a frame reference which allows students to grasp stories and represents the essential information for a child to comprehend a literal work. C:\Users\Angela Zarruk\Desktop\plot chart pic.jpg
According to the authors of Reading and Learning to Read, it is important to introduce reading comprehension at an early stage and as a student growths intellectually then teachers need to use more in depth analysis. Teachers need to make sure that students are aware that every story has the same basic elements in which the student need to identify and increase his understanding. When teaching reading comprehension we must make sure that we are instructing correctly. If instructed well then the student can develop their reading comprehension. For example, often we receive student who have never been taught a topic in a particular class. Therefore we have to select a story which is clear; this will allow the student to understand how to apply the elements of story correct. As students' comprehension increases, introduce more difficult stories to stimulate critical thinking skills. In this case we can add the different types of character such as static, foil, and round characters, discuss in depth the resolutions or why the characters developed certain characteristics in order to find a resolution at the end of the story. We can also add the two
different types of conflicts 1) external conflict which include man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society and 2) internal conflict man.
Story Structure Awareness: Building a schema
Another great technique is to build a schema. Dr. Vacca, Dr. Burkey, Dr. Lenhart and Dr. McKeon emphasis, "that for developing readers, a teacher can read text aloud to them, stopping at key points to discuss the information and ask and answer questions". Some activities that teachers can do with students are to complete charts in groups in which you can discuss and collaborate with one another.
Once students are accustomed with the process then activities can change, for example read the text aloud to them, or have them read on their own. You can reinforce their knowledge with instructional activities. As students become more capable with identifying story elements, increase the complexity, challenge students' ability to define and limit the main events of the story by choosing stories that include multiple characters and events that have varying degrees of importance. You can create questions that will guide students to relate specific text to literary elements. Teacher can assign guiding questions related to story elements in addition such as the following; who are the main characters in the story? What is the setting of the story? What is conflict of the story and how does the protagonist solved it? What does the author intend the read to interrupt after the reading? These questions will create depth in the student analysis and will also help them grasp the reading comprehension. Therefore it's very important to create well established questions which can guide and mold a student's reading comprehension.
Guiding and Developing Interactions with texts
As students mature their reading habits they need to develop their skills in recognizing reading structure. It is very important that teachers guide and develop interactions with the use of texts so students can develop better reading comprehension. There a several strategies to develop their recognition on reading comprehension such as Discussion Webs, KWL, DR-TA, Text Connections, and Story Impressions. For this section we will discuss DR-TA and KWL strategies in depth. Dr. Jennings and Dr. Shepherd define Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DR-TA) as "a comprehension strategy that guides students in asking questions about a text, making predictions, and then reading to confirm or refute their predictions. The DRTA process encourages students to be active and thoughtful readers enhancing their comprehension". As seen in the Reading and Learning to Read textbook there are several reasons for using the DR-TA method which are
1)encourages students to be active readers, 2) focus on students' prior knowledge, 3) teaches students to comprehend the text, 4) finally students strengthen reading and critical thinking skills.
In Figure 2 which is taken from the Reading and Learning to Read textbook, the DR-TA method is shown in which teachers direct and activate. In this figure the teacher discusses the title, illustrations, and chapters. Next, teachers should create questions that are direct students as they can predictions about the story or text. Students read up to the first pre-selected stopping point. Finally the teacher encourages students to think about specific information in which they will evaluate their answers and derive to a final conclusion.
The DRTA is a great way to let students understand the concepts of a reading and allows students to question and criticize a reading. I have often used this model and it has created a positive contribution to my student reading comprehension.
KWL chart is a strategy which uses 3 categories in order to gather information and then process it. In this process student write what they know about the subject, what the wish to know about the subject and finally what they learned after during the activity. The categories, what they already know about that topic and what they want to know about that topic of the chart are to be filled out previous to the lesson. The last column which is what they learned about the topic needs to be filled out after the lesson. A KWL chart can also be a useful assessment instrument because it allows teachers to quickly determine what students already understand about a topic. I have gain several benefits from using this model such as, it organizes information and shows students prior knowledge and provide a summary of what the student has learned. A KWL is not only design to literature courses it can be used for several different courses such as math, history, etc.
Figure 3 is an example of a KWL which is applied to a science.
Jennings, C. & Shepherd, J. (1998). Literacy and the key learning areas: successful classroom strategies. Eleanor Curtain Publishing.
"Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DRTA)." Reading Rockets. N.p., n.d. Print. 13 Feb. 2013.