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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 overhead 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 overhead 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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How to Improve Reading Comprehension Using the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

SCRIP Comprehension Strategies

Readers fail to understand text because they lack cueing strategies to prompt effective interaction with what the text says. Reading research is clear that readers who internally monitor their own reading with self-questioning strategies understand and retain textual information far better than readers who simply passively read text. These cueing strategies to increase reading comprehension are more efficiently “taught,” rather than just “caught.”

The five SCRIP reading comprehension strategies 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. Here are the SCRIP Bookmarks for you to download.

Take the time to explicitly teach and model the five strategies. Emphasize one strategy at a time on a given text. Use both narrative and expository texts to demonstrate how the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies can be applied to any reading. Have students practice verbalizing and writing down the SCRIP strategy responses. Post a SCRIP chart and use the SCRIP bookmarks for student reference.

Summarize means to put together the main ideas and important details of a reading into a short-version of what the author has said. A summary can be of an entire reading, but it is more useful to summarize more than once at key transition points in the author’s train of thought. It frequently requires the reader to skim that part of the reading once more. Check out a YouTube video demonstration of the Summarize Comprehension Strategy, using The Boy Who Cried Wolf 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 summarize sections of the reading as they read to monitor and build comprehension.

Connect means to notice the relationship between one part of the text with another part of the text. The parts may compare (be similar) or contrast (be different). The parts may be a sequence (an order) of events or ideas. The parts may respond to other parts of the text, such as to provide reasons for or effects of what came before in the reading. Next, Connect also means to examine the relationship between one part of the text with something outside of the text. It could be something from another book, movie, television show, or historical event. Finally, Connect also means to see the relationship between one part of the text with your own personal experience. You may have had a similar experience in your own life to that described in the text. Check out a YouTube video demonstration of the Connect Comprehension Strategy, using Hansel and Gretel 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 connect sections of the reading within or outside of the text as they read to monitor and build comprehension.

Re-think means to re-read the text when you are confused or have lost the author’s train of thought. Reviewing what has just been read will improve understanding. You may even understand what the author has said in a different way than how you understood that section the first time reading it. Check out a YouTube video demonstration of the Re-think Comprehension Strategy, using Little Red Riding Hood 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 re-think sections of the reading as they read to monitor and build comprehension.

Interpret means to focus on what the author means. Authors may directly say what they mean right in the lines of the text. They also may suggest what they mean with hints to allow readers to draw their own conclusions. These hints can be found in the tone (feeling/attitude) of the writing, the word choice, or in other parts of the writing that may be more directly stated. Check out a YouTube video demonstration of the Interpret Comprehension Strategy, using Goldilocks and the Three Bears 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 re-think sections of the reading as they read to monitor and build comprehension.

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 the reading to make a logical guess that makes sense. Good readers check their predictions with what actually happens or is said next. 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.

Using the SCRIP reading comprehension strategies will make a difference in the reading abilities of your students. Here’s a great set of SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks to print for your students to help them self-cue as they read and discuss text.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed 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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also check out the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , ,

How to Use Think-Alouds to Teach Reading Comprehension

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialogue with the author and text as they read is vitally important. “Talking to the text” significantly increases reader comprehension and promotes retention as well. However, this is not a skill acquired by osmosis. It requires effective modeling using the Think-Aloud strategy.

Good readers are adept at practicing many metacognitive strategies. That’s a big word that means “thinking about thinking.” Research shows that 50% of reading comprehension is based on what the reader brings to the text by way of prior knowledge and internal dialogue. Students who practice the self-monitoring strategies modeled by teachers using Think-Alouds have better reading comprehension than those who do not.

Here’s how to set-up an effective Think-Aloud with your students:

1. Select a short reading with a beginning, middle, and an end.

2. Tell students that they are about to enter a strange new world, that is the world of your thoughts as a reader. Tell them that your thoughts will not be the same thoughts as theirs.

3. Tell them that reading is not just pronouncing words; it is making meaning out of what the author has written. Tell them that they can improve their reading comprehension.

4. Begin reading the text for a few lines and then alter your voice (raise the pitch, lower the volume, or use an accent) to model what you are thinking. Stop and explain what the voice altering meant and keep this voice altering consistent throughout the Think-Aloud.

5. Keep your thoughts concise and on the focus of the reading. Don’t ramble on with personal anecdotes. Comment much more on the text than on your personal connection with the text.

6. Don’t over-do the amount of your Think-Aloud thoughts. Once every paragraph or two is about right. Don’t interrupt the flow of the reading and lose sight of the textual meaning.

7. Talk to the text and to the author.

8. 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 done an effective Think-Aloud.

9. Have students practice their own Think-Alouds in pairs.

10. Repeat Think-Alouds often with both narrative and expository texts.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed 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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , , ,

The Top Ten Inference Tips

Often, an author intentionally leaves parts of the text unclear. This is done to allow the reader to construct meaning as the reader discovers clues in the plot of a story or in the line of argument in an article or essay. At other times, the author suggests (implies) the meaning without directly stating it. In these cases, the author expects the reader to guess or draw conclusions (infer) the meaning from other textual clues. In poetry, the poet uses poetic devices, such as metaphors, to compare unlike objects and require the reader to make those connections. Some authors use allegories, such as C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia series.

Why don’t authors just come out and say what they mean? They have their reasons. A good deal of learning involves the process of how something is learned. When the reader discovers the meaning of the text, the reader understands and appreciates the text and ideas much more than if the meaning is spoon-fed. For example, we all enjoy a good mystery best when the clues of the text interact with our prior knowledge to help us guess “Who done it.” This is the essence of how to inference. Inferencing involves interpreting, making connections, and drawing conclusions.

Although good detective work in searching for textual clues and prior experience  both help readers inference, teachers can also help students become more adept at the process by teaching reading schema. Reading schema involves knowing how a story, essay, poem, or article are structured, the characteristics of each genre, and the writing style and interests of a particular author. For example, knowing that Arthur Conan Doyle likes to use Dr. Watson as Holmes’ foil, knowing that mysteries set up the obvious suspects but use twists and obfuscation to intentionally throw the reader off track, and knowing a bit about British dry wit will help the reader better inference throughout any Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Additionally, having some familiarity with and practice in applying the common categories of thought that authors use to develop their clues can provide an organizational schema to improve inference accuracy and efficiency. Here are ten such common inference categories (with examples) that are frequently used to help readers to inference.

Here are ten inference categories (with examples) that are frequently used to help readers to discover meaning on their own. Re-read the section before and after the unclear section with these categories in mind. Select the category that best fits to help you interpret difficult reading text.

The Top Ten Inference Tips

1. Location: While we roared down the tracks, we could feel the bounce and sway.

What Can Be Inferred? They are riding a train.

2. Agent (Occupation or Hobby): With clippers in one hand and scissors in the other, Chris was ready to begin the task.

What Can Be Inferred? He was giving a haircut.

3. Time: When the porch light burned out, the darkness was total.

What Can Be Inferred? It is late at night.

4. Action: Carol dribbled down the court and then passed the ball to Ann.

What Can Be Inferred? They are playing basketball.

5. Instrument (tool or device): With a steady hand, she put the buzzing device on the tooth.

What Can Be Inferred? The dentist is drilling out a cavity.

6. Cause and Effect: In the morning, we noticed that the trees were uprooted and homes were missing their roof shingles.

What Can Be Inferred? There had been a tornado or hurricane.

7. Object: The broad wings were swept back into a “V” and the two powerful engines roared to life.

What Can Be Inferred? A jet plane is preparing to take off.

8. Groups (kinds or types): The Toyota and Honda were in the garage and the Chevy was out in the front.

What Can Be Inferred? These are all automobiles.

9. Problem-Solution: The side of his face was swollen and his tooth was loose.

What Can Be Inferred? He got hit in the face.

1o. Feeling-Attitude: While I marched past, in the middle school band, my Dad’s eyes were filled with tears.

What Can Be Inferred? The child’s father was proud of his or her involvement in the band.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed 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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading , , , , ,

How to Read Textbooks with PQ RAR

Many of us remember the old stand-by: the SQ3R reading-study method. Designed to improve reading comprehension of textbooks, the SQ3R method did help the reader to read expository text differently than narrative text. However, this method sorely needs an update to connect with recent reading research regarding what techniques best improve comprehension and retention of expository-based textbooks.

Try the PQ RAR reading-study method as you read or teach your next textbook chapter.

P-First of all, preview the reading selection. Try to limit the reading selection to a manageable size. Overly long chapters, say over six pages for elementary students, eight for middle school students, twelve for high school students, and sixteen for college students should be “chunked” into manageable reading sections.

1. Preview the first and last paragraphs of the chapter and the chapter review, if one is provided.

2. Preview all subtitles and any book study helps at the beginning of the chapter.

3. Preview all graphics such as photographs, charts, maps, etc. and their captions.

QSecondly, make use of text-based questions to read textbooks effectively.  Good questions produce good answers and significantly increase expository comprehension. Determining questions before reading provides a purpose for reading, that is-to find the answers as you read.

1. Develop questions from the subtitles and write these down on binder paper or on your computer, skipping lines between each question. Try “What,” “How,” and “Why” question-starters. Avoid the “Who” and “When” questions, as these tend to focus attention on the minor details of expository text.

2. Write down any chapter review questions not covered by your subtitle questions, skipping lines between each question.

RRead the chapter and “talk to the text” by taking notes in the textbook margins. Use yellow stickies and paste them in the textbook margins, if you can’t write in the textbook. Write down comments, questions, predictions, and connections to other parts of the reading and your own life experiences. List examples, key details, and important terms with their definitions. Internal monitoring of the author’s train of thought and the connection to your own knowledge and experience increases comprehension as you read textbooks.

AAnswer both the subtitle questions and the book questions as you read. Write down your answers underneath your questions. Don’t be concerned if the textbook did not answer some of your reader-generated questions.

RReview the questions and answers within the next 24 hours to minimize the effects of the “forgetting cycle.” Generate possible test questions and develop memory tricks for key concepts and details.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed 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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

 

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , ,

How Margin Notes are Better than the Yellow Highlighter

We all remember the joys of highlighting articles and college textbooks with our favorite yellow marker. Aw, the smell! It is true that note-taking on the text is superior to note-taking on paper or on a computer. However, is yellow highlighting the best form of note-taking to improve reading comprehension and retention? In a word: no.

Highlighting text may even be counterproductive. Let’s face it. Highlighting takes time away from reading. It also interrupts the flow of what should be an internal dialogue between reader and author. If you stopped an important conversation every minute or so with an unconnected activity, you would certainly decrease your understanding of that dialogue. No doubt, you would also irritate your conversational partner!

Also, highlighting can’t be erased. Ever highlight what you thought was a main idea and find in a paragraph later that you were mistaken? Some even use white-out to un-do their highlighting errors!

Finally, highlighting limits effective re-reading and study review. When reviewing a highlighted text the night before an exam, your eyes are drawn only to the highlighting. You miss out on the possibility of revising your understanding of the text or seeing the author’s train of thought from another angle.

Now that I’ve de-bunked the cherished highlighter, is there a better reading and note-taking option to improve reading comprehension? Yes. Try using marginal annotations.

Marginal annotations are simple pencil notes in the blank spaces of the text that promote interactive reading. Reading comprehension research is clear that internal dialogue with the text improves understanding and retention. “Talking to the text” makes reading comprehensible and memorable. Try using the following marginal annotation tips with your next article or text. Who knows, you might just save a few dollars on yellow highlighters!

  1. Write out definitions
  2. List examples
  3. Write a question mark for confusing passages or sections to review.
  4. Write comments. Personalize your reading with criticisms, praises, and insights.
  5. Write out questions. Reader-generated questions significantly increase reading comprehension.
  6. Summarize reading sections.
  7. Write down predictions as to where the author will go next or what conclusions will be drawn.
  8. Draw arrows in the margin to connect related ideas.
  9. Number key details that the author provides.
  10. Write a check mark in the margin when a key new term is introduced.

Check out these brief articles on helpful memorization techniques: catch sentencescatch words, linking, association, This Old Man, location, and grouping.

The author’s Essential Study Skills is the study skill curriculum that teaches what students need to know to succeed and thrive in schoolOften, the reason why students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because of laziness or lack of effort, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success. The forty lessons in Essential Study Skills will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable. Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. em>Essential Study Skills is the ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, Advocacy/Advisory, Opportunity Program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice. Teachers may post the program on class websites. Contact the publisher for affordable site licenses.

Pennington Publishing's Essential Study Skills

Essential Study Skills

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How to Lead Effective Group Discussions

Knowing how to lead effective group discussions is a vitally important skill for both the classroom teacher and the corporate executive. Knowing some tricks of the trade will increase student/audience participation and prevent avoidable boredom from rearing its ugly head.

Transitions and Pacing

Transitions between questions are important in leading group discussions. A good group discussion leader builds upon what the audience says of importance and maintains a rhythm and flow to the discussion. A skilled discussion leader knows when to pepper the discussion with brief commentary and when to allow the audience to control the transitions. Audience members can be taught to respond to the previous answer and then move on.  They can also be taught to disagree agreeably and avoid an ad homonym argument. Paraphrasing is an important skill that can be practiced in group discussions.  Ending the discussion while there is still interest (and hands raised) can be done by announcing, “We can take three more comments.” If the discussion is bombing, end it quickly. There is no use in kicking a dead horse.

Discussion Management

Physical positioning is important when eliciting audience answers. Make sure that responses can be heard by every group member by moving to the opposite side of the room or cupping your hand to your ear or by asking “Can you hear him or her?” to distant audience members. Participants need to know that they are not just addressing the leader, but that they are also speaking to the entire group. Reinforce this by occasionally asking for another audience member to paraphrase someone else’s response.  Don’t, however, use this as a weapon to catch those “napping.”  Ask, “What do you think about that?” or “Who disagrees with that statement and why?” or “Can someone add to that?”

Frequently, good group discussions can sometimes break into parts, with smaller groups discussing the subject such as in dinner conversation.  If planned, or controlled, a “Pair-Share” can be effective; however, if prolonged, audience members will tend to wander into off-topic conversations or distracting behaviors. Usually, the movement of the leader to the location of the conversationalists will frequently extinguish the behavior without interrupting the flow of discussion. Proximity controls behavior.

In a discussion, it is sometimes helpful to alternate between sexes, between those of differing perceived abilities or job functions, or even among different ethnic groups to ensure that all are receive fair hearings. Picking labeled 3 x 5 cards or popsicle sticks (in the school setting) will ensure equitability. Audience members should be forewarned that they might be called upon even though their hands are not raised, so they should practice good listening strategies. Sometimes it is effective to begin a discussion without raising hands with the leader calling upon the audience members. Explain calling on participants without raising hands allows for the leader to fairly choose among all, and that it provides “wait time” so that those who do not think as quickly on a particular question can have enough time to develop their thoughts.

Dealing with over-zealous audience members can present a problem, especially during “wait times.” Interrupt interrupters with comments such as “Let’s give everyone a chance to reflect on this point.” In the school setting, forewarn students that you never pick those who shout “Oooh, ooh, ooh,” “Pick me, pick me!” or wave hands. Students who raise their hand too often can be assigned a limited number of “discussion star” moments per discussion to prevent their monopolization of the discussion.

Modeling Appropriate Discussion

Body language is extremely important in a discussion leader. Communicate openness and good listening skills by making eye contact, not turning your back on the speaker, and listening to the entire train of thought.  Interrupt only if the speaker is off target or goes on a tangent. Avoid folding your arms or putting your hands in your pockets. By not repeating student answers, we stress the importance of a student-centered discussion. This also forces students to listen to each other. Occasionally it will be important to translate or even paraphrase a particularly long student response, but do so sparingly. Ask others to do this, if necessary. Encourage participants to make eye contact with each other by reminding audience members to “talk to them, not just me.”

Praising and Correcting

Praising should be catered to the response, rather than to the individual. Specific praise that teaches is better than a general blessing. For example, “I like how you compared such and such to the idea in the last chapter” is better than “Super, duper, most excellent answer!”

Incorrect responses need to be dealt with honestly, clearly and quickly. Group discussion leaders who strive to maintain the self-esteem of the individual by praising or validating incorrect responses run the risk of confusing the participant and the rest of the learners and disrupting the scaffolded nature of a well-planned group discussion. It is better to say a simple “No,” than “Not quite,” “Good try,” or “Can someone add to that?”

Getting the Whole Group to Participate

It is important to develop a consistent “wait time” to allow and encourage the whole group to think through an answer after each question.  Easier questions need less wait time than harder ones.  This models careful, considered thought, rather than, as many group discussions are all too often a race of the quick wits. Allow silence to be understood as a normal course of events in a discussion.  Fill the silence only to clarify a question, if you believe that it was not understood, or to encourage more participation.  How long of a “wait time” is a matter of teacher judgment.  As a rule of thumb, if at least half of the hands are not raised in the group, then there is a problem in the question sequencing, question wording, or the perceived pay-off is not worth the effort.

Regarding pay-off, audience members need to know that their participation in class discussion is an important part of their overall grade* or evaluation. Otherwise, many audience members will avoid participation or perceive the group discussion as being of minimal importance. In the school setting, rewards such as grades, extra credit, treats, stickers, privileges are all weapons which the creative teacher can employ to motivate class participation in discussions. In the business setting, clever discussion leaders can also provide rewards. Short term, explicit rewards tend to work better than long term ones.

*In the classroom, one pay-off method that words well is to have a graded discussion in which the teacher selects a student recorder to score the points earned. This frees the teacher up to lead the discussion without worrying about properly crediting responses. After a correct student response, the teacher signals the recorder with the forefinger and the recorder places a tally mark next to the name of the student.  If the response is particularly insightful or directly responds to the response of another student, the teacher may signal two fingers, for two tally marks. The latter must, of course, be accompanied by a resonating class “oooh!”  A good feature of this technique is that it tracks student responses.  During class discussion, the teacher can survey the hash marks to determine who is failing to contribute or contributing excessively.  It is also a very objective means of grading such a subjective student performance area.  Students tend to perceive this graded discussion as being quite fair.

The author’s Essential Study Skills is the study skill curriculum that teaches what students need to know to succeed and thrive in schoolOften, the reason why students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because of laziness or lack of effort, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success. The forty lessons in Essential Study Skills will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable. Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. em>Essential Study Skills is the ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, Advocacy/Advisory, Opportunity Program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice. Teachers may post the program on class websites. Contact the publisher for affordable site licenses.

Pennington Publishing's Essential Study Skills

Essential Study Skills

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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 Strategies. Designed 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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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