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Forget Sans Forgetica

Sans Forgetica

Sans Forgetica: The Font Which Improves Reading Comprehension?

As I copy and pasted the title of this article into the title frame of my wordpress blog, I was curious about how my computer would process this new font (typeface), developed by psychology and design researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne. As used in the Pinterest pin in the margin of this article, the letters are slanted and gapped. As you can see, the computer unslanted the letters and filled in the gaps to create the easily readable title, “Forget Sans Forgetica.”

Two Fill-In-The-Gap Theories

The computer did what psychologists have been telling us for years. The theory of “closure,” first popularized by Gestalt researchers at the University of Berlin in the early Twentieth Century, suggested that “the whole is something else than the sum of its parts.” In other words, our brain tends to create whole forms from partial visual input in a fill-in-the-blanks process. In fact, recent research seems to suggest that our brains not only process, but also actively create whole images and much more. We’ve all seen illustrations of this theory in optical illusions and fill-in-the-blank numbers.

braiden.com

A second related theory is that of “desirable difficulty.” The term was coined by Dr. Robert Bjork, professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. In a Jeff Bye’s article in Psychology Today, the author sums up the theory of “desirable difficulty” as  “introducing certain difficulties into the learning process can greatly improve long-term retention of the learned material. In psychology [sic] studies thus far, these difficulties have generally been modifications to commonly used methods that add some sort of additional hurdle during the learning or studying process.”

Whenever I read of new research in a field outside of education, which has possible relevance to my own teaching and writing (I’m a reading specialist and author), my interest is piqued. When I read that researchers suggest application of their research findings to teaching reading comprehension, my reading antennae begin to rise out of my head and my crap detector alarm goes off.

As a reading specialist, teaching in public schools for 36 years, I’ve seen quite a bit of application and misapplication of theory to practice. I’ve been there and done that through numerous latest and greatest reading innovations, including specific instructional practices related to both the psychological theories of “closure” and “desirable difficulty” detailed above.

The most recent misapplication of theory to practice to my mind involves the development of the Sans Forgetica font by a group of Australian researchers. I found out about it in Taylor Telford’s October 5, 2018 article in the business section of the Washington Post, titled “Researchers create new font designed to boost your memory.”

Telford concisely sums up the theory guiding this new reading intervention:

Psychology and design researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne created a font called Sans Forgetica, which was designed to boost information retention for readers. It’s based on a theory called “desirable difficulty,” which suggests that people remember things better when their brains have to overcome minor obstacles while processing information. Sans Forgetica is sleek and back-slanted with intermittent gaps in each letter, which serve as a “simple puzzle” for the reader, according to Stephen Banham, a designer and RMIT lecturer who helped create the font.

Professors in the RMIT’s Behavioural Business Lab conducted a research study with their own students in which students read texts in a variety of fonts and took assessments to determine the impact of the different fonts upon reading comprehension. According to researchers on the RMIT site, “the research group performed ‘far better on assignments.’” That research group being those students using the Sans Forgetica font.

In Post article, one of RMIT’s principal researchers, Dr. Blijlevens commented, “We believe it is best used to emphasize key sections, like a definition, in texts rather than converting entire texts or books”and …”the benefits of using Sans Forgetica will be lost if the font is used too often, because readers’ brains will become accustomed to reading the font as they would other common fonts.”

In a video on the RMIT’s Behavioural Business Lab webpage, another researcher from the study suggests that the Sans Forgetica font can be used “to aid all students in their study during the leadup to the stressful exam period.” The font is included in the suggested “study hacks” on the same web page.

My take? “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” Although the theories of “closure” and “desirable difficulty” certainly make sense and are generally applicable to many teaching strategies, this Sans Forgetica strategy to improve reading comprehension is nothing more than a gimmick, at best, to get readers to pay better attention to text. As noted above by one of the researchers, the pay-off of using this font is reduced “if used too often.”

I could suggest standing on one’s head, using colored transparencies layered over text, or reading to stuffed animals as similar gimmicks to trick readers into better concentrating on and engaging with text, but thankfully, these have all been tried and cast off onto the dustbin of misapplied reading instructional practices.

I have no doubt that the research group performed better in the RMIT Behavioural Business Lab’s study. However, researchers claim that it’s the “sweet spot” of this particular font as compared to other fonts which produced the statistically positive correlation to better comprehension. I disagree. I say that it’s the reader engagement with the text, not the font, which produces increased comprehension. The researchers should have included another control group in which their subjects would have received prior instruction and practice in any one of many reader engagement strategies, which use external stimuli to promote internal monitoring of text.

Bottom Line? Teachers and their students don’t need more reading fads. Instead of gimmicks to increase reader interaction with text, shouldn’t we look to external prompts which move readers to greater self-monitoring of text? For example, self-questioning strategies. See my FREE download of the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies self-questioning prompts below. The research is long-standing and clear that these reader-reminders can have significant and permanent impacts on improving reading comprehension by engaging the author-reader relationship.

Sans Forgetica? Fuh-get-about-it!

Focus practice more on the internal monitoring of text, such as with my five SCRIP reading comprehension strategies that teach readers how to independently interact with and understand both narrative and expository text to improve reading comprehension. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:


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.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

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Predict to Increase Comprehension

The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

Readers can develop good reading habits by integrating specific cueing strategies into their reading. These cueing strategies serve as a set of tasks to perform while reading to maintain concentration and determine the meaning of text.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has developed five cueing strategies, using the SCRIP acronym, which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Here is a nice set of SCRIP Bookmarks to download, print, and distribute to your students.

Both good and struggling readers can practice these cueing strategies to improve comprehension. Despite what many teachers have learned, reading is not a natural process; it needs to be taught, and not just caught. Teaching students to interact with the text. the SCRIP strategies will help them better understand and better remember what they read.

Good readers learn how to carry on an internal dialog while they read. Many readers consider reading to be a passive activity in which the author talks to the attentive listener. Reading research supports the notion that reading should be active with an ongoing dialogue between reader and author. Up to 50% of comprehension is what the reader brings to the text in terms of prior knowledge. Follow this link here to learn how to teach developing readers to carry on this conversation.

Predict to Increase Comprehension

The fifth cueing strategy in the SCRIP comprehension strategies is Predict. Predict means “to think about what they are going to read based on clues from the reading. It is an ongoing process that actively engages the reader in two ways: The reader’s mind is a jump ahead, trying to figure out what is coming next (making new predictions), while at the same time the reader is revising and refining the old predictions” (Guisinger).

Types of Clues that Inform Prediction for Narrative and Expository Text

Text Structure and Genre

Knowing the structure of a story can help readers make informed predictions. With narrative text, knowledge of the elements of plot: basic situation, problem-conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution will inform predictions. With informational/explanatory or argumentative text, knowledge of paragraph structure: topic sentence/claims, evidence/reasons, analysis/commentary and/or counterargument/refutations will help the reader more accurately predict the writer’s train of thought or line of argument.

Vocabulary

Paying close attention to transition words and phrases will help the reader make specific predictions. Transitions signal the development of ideas including the following purposes: definition, example, explanation, analysis, comparison, contrast, cause-effect, conclusion, addition, numerical, sequence.

Literary Devices

Recognizing literary devices such as foreshadowing, tone, and mood can assist the reader in making accurate predictions. The writer’s style gives important clues to what will happen next.

Check out the other SCRIP Comprehension Strategies: summaryconnect , re-think, and interpret.

Because teaching the Interpret cueing strategy is the focus of this article, let’s work through a teaching script to teach this Predict cueing strategy.

Predict means to make an educated guess about what will happen or be said next in the text. A good prediction uses the clues presented in a story, article, or textbook to make a logical guess that makes sense. Good readers check their predictions with what actually happens or is said next.”

“When you reach a part of a story, article, or textbook in which a clue to understanding what will happen next appears, pause to predict what will happen as a result of that clue. Your prediction might be what happens immediately after the clue, later in the reading, or at the end of the reading.”

“Continue to read with your prediction at the back of your mind. If additional, related clues appear, adjust your prediction to reflect these clues. Aim at a specific prediction, not a general one.”

“For example, you would probably not be surprised by a fortune in a fortune cookie which reads ‘Your life will have many ups and downs’ because the prediction is so general and could probably apply to everyone who gets that same fortune. However, if you open a fortune cookie to read ‘Tomorrow at 3:10 p.m. you will get a call from someone you haven’t heard from in a long time’ you would be very interested in checking to see it the prediction comes true because of how specific the fortune reads.”

“Let’s take a look at a fairy tale that many of you will have read or heard about and practice how to make and check on predictions.”

Sam and Friends Phonics Books Hi-Lo Readers

Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Here is a one-page version of “The Three Little Pigs” for you to download, print, and distribute to your students. Have students read, break the reading into sections, and complete the summaries, connections, re-thinks, and interprets in their heads. Direct students to answer the Interpret questions. Share out the student answers. Check out a YouTube video demonstration of the Predict Comprehension Strategy, using The Three Little Pigs fairy tale to illustrate this strategy. The storyteller first reads the fairy tale without comment. Next,  the story is read once again as a think-aloud with interruptions to show how readers should predict sections of the reading and check the accuracy of their predictions as they read to monitor and build comprehension.

The author, Mark Pennington, has written the comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies, the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards, and the accompanying 54 take home decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These books include teenage characters and themes and are perfect for older readers.

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How to Teach Main Idea

Finding the main idea is a basic reading comprehension skill. However, basic does not mean easy. Main idea questions are found on every normed reading comprehension assessment and are the most frequently asked types of questions on the passage-based reading questions of the SAT®. Following are a workable definition, some important disclaimers, and a few critical strategies which will make sense out of this sometimes challenging task for readers of all ages.

Definition: In Googling the meaning of main idea, these two useful entries pop up:

  • The gist of a passage; central thought; the chief topic of a passage expressed or implied in a word or phrase; the topic sentence of a paragraph; a statement that gives the explicit or implied major topic of a passage and the specific way in which the passage is limited in content or reference.
    csmpx.ucop.edu/crlp/resources/glossary.html
  • The main idea of an essay, or other written discourse, is the point that the author is trying to make. It is the most important thing that he wants you to understand about the topic. It is most often stated explicitly, although in narrative essays or in fiction it may be implicit. …
    www.moonstar.com/~acpjr/Blackboard/Common/Glossary/GlossTwo.html

Disclaimers: What main idea is not…

  • Main idea is not the same as the topic.
  • Main idea is not necessarily the thesis statement.
  • Main idea is not necessarily the topic sentence(s).
  • Main idea is not found within the narrative domain of writing, unless tagged on by the author to comment on the story such as with a moral at the end of a fairy tale.
  • Main idea is not limited to one per reading selection.
  • Main idea is not a generalization or something necessarily broad in scope.
  • Main idea is not the minor detail of a reading selection.

Finding Main Idea: Strategies that Readers Can Use

Organization: Access the Writing Connection

Knowing the structure of expository writing (informational, explanatory, analytical, and persuasive) can help readers identify main idea(s) in a reading selection. Reading and writing instruction mirror one another. The reading-writing connection is well-established in research.

  • The thesis statement tells the purpose or point of view of the exposition. Finding the thesis statement will help the reader learn the parameters of the main ideas. Muchlike an umbrella, the thesis statement is designed to cover the main idea(s) of a reading/writing selection. As a starting point, research demonstrates that about 50% of expository writing includes the thesis statement in the last sentence of the introduction.
  • The topic sentences can serve as main ideas in a reading/writing selection. Major details and minor details pertain to, provide support to, and are limited to the topic sentence in any essay body paragraph.
  • The main idea(s) can be repeated in expository writing—frequently in the conclusion.

Language of Instruction

Often the language of the reading text itself or the language of test problems can help readers identify main ideas. In addition to using the phase, main idea, the following references are used in expository text and on standardized tests:

  • “best”                                                  Another answer may be acceptable, but this one most closely fits.
  • “mainly”                                              Not completely, but most importantly.
  • “chiefly”                                              Compared to the others, this is above the rest.
  • “primarily”                                          This means mainly or the chief one, before all others.
  • “most likely”                                       A logical prediction or conclusion.
  • “most directly”                                   Most specifically.

Process of Elimination: Goldilocks and Wanted Posters

Much like Goldilocks eliminates the porridge, chairs, and beds of Papa Bear and Momma Bear from consideration in favor of those of Baby Bear’s, the careful reader can eliminate what is too general and what is too detailed to identify the “just right” the main idea(s).

  • If the material lacks specificity and so is hard to identify as the author’s central point(s), then it is too general to be the main idea(s). Imagine a wanted poster that does not focus in on the specific recognizable physical traits that would help an observer identify the accused criminal in person, but instead affords only hints of the accused’s characteristics with a general description, association, or category.
  • If the material is too specific and so is difficult to identify as the author’s central point(s), then it is probably a major or minor detail that supports the main idea(s). Picture a wanted poster that focuses in on only a part of the whole. Even if that part is the most recognizable physical trait, the accused criminal will not be identifiable unless there is adequate perspective and context.

The “just right” balance of specificity, perspective and context on a wanted poster will enable the observer to identify the accused criminal. Similarly, that same balance will help readers identify the main idea(s) in a reading selection.

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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.

TOO GENERAL/TOO SPECIFIC/ MAIN IDEA (Jesse James Wanted Posters)

 

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , ,

Differentiated Reading Instruction for Gifted Students

As an MA reading specialist, much of my time is spent advocating for differentiated instruction. Clearly, not all students progress at the same rates nor have the same academic needs. Most of my attention is on encouraging teachers to help students “catch up” on gaps in their reading skills while they “keep up” with grade level standards. However, reading differentiation also applies to students at the other end of the academic spectrum. Gifted students frequently get lost in the mix because their needs tend to whisper, while the needs of remedial reading students tend to shout.

A common misconception about gifted students is actually a misconception about the nature of reading instruction. Most educators view reading from the dichotomous framework of learning to read and reading to learn. Reading is viewed as a skill set to be acquired much like memorizing the multiplication tables. Once both reading and multiplication are mastered (typically in the third grade), these tools are used to read the social studies textbook for content and complete long division. All that is left to learn for reading is more vocabulary. All that is left to learn for multiplication is different applications such as multiplying fractions, decimals, etc.

However, reading is not solely a basic tool to be mastered. Reading is not a simplistic “how-to” that is once learned well and thereafter applied. Academic reading is multi-faceted and complex. In other words, there is plenty to learn that will challenge gifted students throughout their K-12 experience. In fact, the old learning to read and reading to learn dichotomy is limiting our “best and brightest” students. In a 2002 study, fully half of college-bound juniors and seniors were not proficient at reading freshman survey course college text (ACT).

Tips to Differentiate Reading Instruction for Gifted Students

1. Use a good diagnostic assessment to screen gifted students, just as you would for students of all levels. Gifted students should demonstrate greater proficiency, and have less specific challenges, than remedial reading students; however, it has been my experience that some gifted students do struggle with basic reading skills, such as decoding, and that they are simply adept at using coping skills to avoid confronting their reading issues. Sometimes “gap filling” can make all the difference in the world to a gifted student. Former California State University education professor, John McFadden, tells his personal story as a gifted nine-year-old who could not read.

“…We learned reading by the look-say method of Dick and Jane reading. The other students seemed to catch on, but I struggled. In third grade, my parents hired a tutor, who taught me phonics. Phonics unlocked the door of reading for me, and I quickly became a good reader.”

2. Make independent reading an important part of your teaching, especially for gifted students. Allow students free choice of authors and genres, though encourage exploration with new ones. Self-initiated and self-directed learning are critically important skills to nurture in gifted students (Passow 1982). Make sure that your students are self-selecting at their instructional level. All-too-often, gifted students read below their grade level. I recommend using word recognition as your primary means of matching reading levels. For more, see How to Determine Reading Levels. Avoid the arbitrary constraints of Degrees of Reading Power (DRP), Fleish-Kincaid, Lexiles, Fountas and Pinnell Levels, Accelerated Reader ATOS, Reading Recovery Levels, Fry’s Readability, John’s Basic Reading Inventory, and Standardized test data reading levels. Motivation is important as well as average length of word, sentence, and vocabulary.

3. Teach gifted students to be analytical readers. Training gifted students to internalize reading discussion with the author will prompt the “out of the box” critical thinking that we hope to see in these students. Beginning reading instruction tends to teach the wrong message to many of our gifted students. Gifted students who catch on early to reading instruction can be habituated into practicing reading as a passive activity of blending and word calling. The more we can stress the active and relational nature of reading instruction as a conversation between author and reader, the more we will challenge our students. Using comprehension discussion starters is a terrific means to this end.

It’s time to differentiate reading instruction for all students, including our gifted ones. An entirely different curriculum is not the answer, but gifted students do need to be taught differently to maximize their progress and love of learning.

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 Teach Reading Comprehension

SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

SCRIP Comprehension Strategy Questions

Teachers struggle with how to teach reading comprehension. The implicit-instruction teachers hope that reading a lot really will teach comprehension through some form of reading osmosis. The explicit-instruction teachers teach the skills that can be quantified, but ignore meaning-making as the true purpose of reading.

The die-hard implicit-instruction teachers want to believe that reading comprehension is something caught, and not taught. They want to believe this “feel-good” saying because it assuages guilt and legitimizes pedagogical laziness. These same teachers spend tremendous amounts of time reading out loud and enjoying literature with their students. Occasionally, these “sages on their stages” may drop pearls of literary wisdom to their enraptured audiences. Of course, students enjoy this implicit, spoon-fed “instruction” because it keeps them from having to read challenging text on their own.

The die-hard explicit-instruction teachers believe that every instructional moment  must be planned as part of the teachers’ instructional objectives. If the reading skill cannot be measured and put on a progress monitoring chart, then it is simply not worth teaching. Unfortunately, these teachers focus on the appetizers of reading and not the main course. The appetizers of discreet reading skills are easily diagnosed and are frequently easy to teach. The main course of reading comprehension is difficult to diagnose, even more difficult to teach, and just cannot be quantified on traditional recording matrices.

Perhaps we need to shift our focus: from teaching reading comprehension to practicing reading comprehension. This paradigm shift will help teachers strike the balance between implicit and explicit instruction and turn their students into capable independent readers. If fact, I would advise teachers: Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension. Here’s why and how to help students improve reading comprehension through assessment-based practice.

1. The explicit direct instruction advocates are right: the appetizers are necessary to enjoy the meal. But the appetizers are not the meal; reading comprehension is the meal. So, as efficiently as possible, teach the pre-requisite reading skills and help students unlearn their bad reading habits.

How? Know your readers. Each comes to your class with different skill-sets and deficits. Each needs mastery of phonemic awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, and grade-level fluency to master the reading automaticity that will allow them to attend to meaning-making.

Effective whole-class diagnostic assessments that won’t take up all of your teaching time and differentiated reading skills instruction are crucial to setting the main course. However, students need to understand the purpose behind the appetizers. Teachers accomplish this by helping all students “catch up” in their areas of reading skill deficits, while they concurrently “keep up” with challenging reading comprehension strategies instruction and practice. Read about the value and purpose of reading assessments and get the free diagnostic reading assessments that will inform your instruction. Learn about the importance and role of phonemic awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, and fluency in shaping reading comprehension for you readers.

2. Use shared reading to model the synthesized process of reading. Shared reading means that the teacher reads stories, articles, poetry, songs, etc. out loud to students to model the whole reading process. Students need to see and hear modeled reading that integrates all of the reading skills with a focus on meaning-making. Without this “whole to part” modeling, isolated reading skills instruction will fail to develop readers who read well on their own. The teacher shares the reading strategies as she reads that help her understand, interpret, and enjoy the text. She models self-questioning strategies and problem solving. Learn how to do a reading think-aloud and teach self-questioning skills.

3. Use guided reading to teach discreet reading comprehension strategies. Guided reading means that the teacher reads or plays an audio book and stops to help students practice a pre-selected reading comprehension strategy. At stops, students share whole group, pair share, or write responses to the comprehension strategies. Students do not read out loud as they are generally poor models. Learn how to teach the following SCRIP reading comprehension strategies: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

4. Teach independent reading by getting students to practice guided reading strategies on their own. Teach students to make personal connections with the text. This does not mean that students relate aspects of the reading to their own experience. Instead, readers access their prior knowledge and experiences to understand and interpret the reading. The focus is on the author-reader relationship. Learn how to teach students to visualize and connect their lives and knowledge to the text to increase reading comprehension.

Assign reading homework with required parental discussion, even at the middle school level. We have to get students practicing reading for at least two hours weekly at 5% unknown word recognition with accountability. SSR in the classroom won’t get this done, even with response journals. Immediate discussion at the summary and analytical levels builds comprehension. Parents can quite capably supervise this independent activity. Learn how to develop a successful independent reading homework component.

5. Teach the reading and writing connection. Reinforce the reading/writing connection by showing how expository and narrative texts are organized and how each should be read according to their own characteristics. Wide experience across many reading genres will help build comprehension and writing ability. Learn the reading-writing strategies that “kill two birds with one stone”  and learn how to teach an effective read-study method for expository text.

6. Teach vocabulary explicitly and in context. Vocabulary acquisition is essential to reading comprehension. Teachers need to expose students to challenging text, teach context clues, teach the common Greek and Latin word parts, teach vocabulary strategies such as semantic spectrums, and practice “word play” and memory tricks to increase vocabulary proficiency.

7. Teach content. Teaching content is teaching reading comprehension. Good readers bring content, prior knowledge, and experience to their side of the author-reader relationship. Content-deficient readers can’t make relevant personal, literary, or academic connections to the text and comprehension suffers. Pre-teaching story background is essential to build comprehension. For example, why not show the movie first, once in awhile, before reading the novel? Pull aside a group of struggling readers and pre-teach key concepts to scaffold meaning.

Remedial readers often practice reading skills ad nauseum, but grow more deficient in content. For example, a seventh grade student who is removed from an English-language arts class for remedial reading will probably lose the content of reading two novels, learning grade level grammar and vocabulary, missing the speech and poetry units… you get the idea. Not to mention, the possibility of losing social science or science instruction if placed in a remedial reading class… Both content and reading strategies are critical for reading development.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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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