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How to Teach a Write Aloud

Writing is a complicated thinking process. It requires an enormous amount of multi-tasking, problem-solving, interactivity, and creativity. There is science to effective writing, but there is also art. Unlike reading, which provides the author component of the dialog between reader and text, writing requires the thinker to generate both sides of the dialog. The writer must create the content and anticipate the reader response. Like reading, writing is chiefly learned through direct instruction, modeling, and practice.

Of the three instructional components necessary for effective writing instruction (direct instruction, modeling, and practice), the Write Aloud strategy focuses on the modeling component. In essence, the teacher shows students how he or she composes by thinking out loud and writing out that process so that students can think along with the writer. The Write Aloud is also referred to as “Modeled Writing.”

Writing is certainly not a natural process. Developing writers do not have a priori understanding about how to compose. Thus, teachers play a crucial role in helping to develop good writers.

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog with their anticipated readers while they write is vitally important. “Talking to the reader” significantly increases writing coherency. Placing the emphasis on writing as the reader will read that writing also helps the writer determine the structure of that writing and so unify the whole.

Good writers are adept at practicing many metacognitive strategies.  That’s a big word that means “thinking about thinking.”  Students who practice these self-monitoring strategies develop better writing fluency those who do not.

Write Aloud Sample Lesson

1. Select a short, high interest section of dialog from a story familiar to all students. The dialog will help students understand the interactive components of the Write Aloud strategy. Post the dialog on the board, Smartboard®, or display projector. Write this brief prompt, or one of your own, below the dialog: “Analyze the character development in ___________.”

2. Tell them that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, as you read the brief dialog from ____________, and that they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during your reading. Read the short dialog out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about the plot context and what and why the characters are saying what they say. Focus on comprehension, not character development for your first read.

3. After reading, ask students if they think they understood the text better because of your verbalized thoughts than just by passively reading without active thoughts. Their answer will be “Yes,” if you have read effectively. Quickly remind students to listen well and not to interrupt.

4. Tell students that they are now going to learn an important thinking strategy, and that they will listen to your thoughts as an experienced writer. Tell them that your thoughts will not be the same thoughts as theirs. Explain that learning how to think is the focus of this activity, not what to think. Tell them that they can improve the ways in which they think.

5. Tell students that you are going to brainstorm ideas for a character analysis essay during your Write Aloud. Point to the word brainstorm on your Writing Process charts and tell students that you are only going Write Aloud this one part of the process. Remind students that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, but they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during the activity.

6. Now, read the prompt out loud and define analyze as “to break apart the subject and to explain each part” as if you are reminding yourself of the definition. Re-read the dialog out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about how the characters are saying what they say. Write down your comments below the dialog in a graphic organizer. Explain that you are going to use a mapping, a.k.a. bubble cluster, graphic organizer to brainstorm your ideas because it will help you organize your thoughts and allow you to add on new ones as you think of them. Focus your comments (and writing) on these four components: character personalities, descriptions, motives, and author word choice. Ask if the organization and comments will make sense to the reader. Don’t ramble on with personal anecdotes. Comment much more on the text than on your personal connection with the text.

7. After reading, ask students if listening to you think and watching you write down your thoughts helped them understand how the characters are saying what they say. Their answer will be “Yes.” Ask students to repeat what you said that most helped them understand your thinking process. Ask students how they would think differently about what to write, if they were teaching the Write Aloud.

8. Post two new dialogs on the board, Smartboard®, or display projector with the same prompt as above.

9. Group students into pairs and have students practice their own Write Alouds, using the two dialogs. This can get quite noisy, so establish your expectations and remind students that they will be turning in their graphic organizers.

10. Repeat the Write Aloud procedure often with different components of the Writing Process, with or without different prompts, and with different writing tasks or genre.

Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies at www.penningtonpublishing.com.TES

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Problems with the KWL Reading Strategy

The KWL Reading Strategy has been with us for years. Developed by Donna Ogle in 1986 at the height of “whole language” movement, KWL is a metacognitive reading strategy that frequently masquerades under the guise of a comprehension strategy. KWL has been often misapplied and has taken the place of other more relevant and effective reading comprehension strategies.

Essentially, here is the KWL strategy: The teacher passes out a three-column KWL worksheet to each student. The teacher activates students’ prior knowledge by asking them what they already Know; then students individually, in small groups, or as a whole class list what they Want to learn; after reading, students list and discuss what they have Learned. In 1992, Professor Ogle revised the strategy as KWHL. The added H refers to How the reader plans to find what he or she Wants to learn.

KWL is a metacognitive strategy because it is a problem-solving process that focuses on thinking about and developing a language for the thinking (reading) process. It is reader-centered, not author-centered. There-in lie the pitfalls of this strategy, when misapplied as a reading comprehension strategy.

Because KWL is reader-centered, it is also limited by the background knowledge of the readers. Although the prior knowledge of the K step is significantly enhanced, when brainstormed collaboratively, oftentimes students will share irrelevant, inaccurate, or incomplete information which may well confuse their reading. Of course, the teacher has a role, here, to make the student contributions comprehensible by using analogies, filling in gaps, and synthesizing the students’ collective prior knowledge; however, the question has to be raised: Is this process really worth the time? Is the pay-off worth the process? At the minimum, teachers should be judicious about using the KWL activity by selecting reading topics that are very familiar with their students.

Again, because KWL is reader-centered, it is limited by what is shared by students in the W step. Students don’t know what they don’t know and they similarly don’t know what they Want to know. Or, they may Want to know what is inconsequential, trivial, or not available in the reading or available resources. Following the dictates of reader interest may lead to lots of spinning in circles and tangential bird-walking. A much more useful and purposeful step would be a P for a prediction about what the author will say, after accessing students’ prior knowledge and a brief “picture walk” or “preview” of the reading.

There is nothing magical about the L step. Listing what the reader has learned makes sense as a comprehension check, although it is doubtful whether providing an end-of-reading list actually improves reading comprehension. It does make sense to validate or correct what has been listed in the K and W steps. Other note-taking strategies do teach reader monitoring of the text, so the real issue is a reductive one: Although the L step does focus on the author and text (a good thing), there are better strategies that can be used instead. For example, the PQ RAR read-study method is one of the better author/text-centered reading comprehension strategies for expository text.

Although the author-reader connection is vital to comprehension, the relationship should be weighted heavily on the side of the author. It is the author’s thoughts that we are trying to interpret, not ours as readers. The “whole language” movement skewed this relationship on the side of the reader, at the expense of the author, his or her writing, and the reading process itself (decoding, etc.).This is the key issue with response journals disguising themselves as comprehension strategies, such as KWL. They are weighted too heavily on the reader side of the ledger. Schema theory aside, accessing prior knowledge (K) and setting a purpose for the reading (W) are somewhat helpful, but frankly over-valued. The (L) component is really what readers are after. Response journals are good note-taking vehicles and serve nicely to hold students accountable for what they read, but internal monitoring and self-questioning strategies can teach readers to understand the author’s ideas better.

Additionally, focusing on the experience and needs of the readers (K,W) can lead the readers to think of the text as a purely subjective experience. Instead, readers need to view the text as objectively as possible, setting aside all preconceived ideas and biases. Readers are supposed to infer what the author means. This skill can be taught and practiced to improve comprehension. In sum, good readers focus more on the text and less on themselves; the majority of our instructional strategies should reflect this.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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How to Improve Reading Comprehension with Self-Questioning

Everyone knows that to get the right answers you need to ask the right questions. Asking questions about the text as you read significantly improves reading comprehension. “Talking to the text” improves concentration and helps the reader interact with the author. Reading becomes a two-way active process, not a one-way passive activity.

But, what questions will produce the best understanding of the text? Try these eight questions to boost your reading comprehension and retention.

  1. What’s the big picture here? Constantly ask how each reading section relates to the main idea(s) of the chapter.
  2. What’s the author going to say next? Stay one step ahead of the author by anticipating what will be said next.  Prediction significantly boosts reading comprehension. Check the outcomes of your predictions as you read.
  3. Think about the “expert questions” that fit the subject about which you are reading. For example: History is big on compare and contrast, cause-effect and sequence related questions.  Science can ask classification, chemical and physical properties and literature might focus on theme, genre, character, and plot.
  4. What questions does this information raise for me? Your questions may and should differ from the expert question as they are related to your own background knowledge and your interests.  Remember that some very good questions have more than one answer!
  5. What information is important here? As you read, decide which information is important enough to include in your notes.
  6. How can I paraphrase and summarize this information? Translate the author’s important words into your own.  Use as few words as possible without changing the meaning.  Do this at the end of each subtitle section in a textbook or at the end of the chapter in a novel.
  7. How does this information fit with what I already know? Think about the “big picture” and how pieces of information fit together to improve reading comprehension.
  8. Ask WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY questions as you read. Note introduction and description of characters, major plot changes, setting descriptions and changes, and reasons given to explain important ideas.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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