Micro-comprehension: Comprehension Monitoring

Comprehension with Shurley English.jpg

In this series of blogs about micro-comprehension, I have presented strategies that boost micro-comprehension: vocabulary words, gap-filling inference, sentence structure processing, figurative language processing, and applying text structure.

When you teach students how to slow down their own thinking— to become aware of what they are thinking about while reading, you are teaching them comprehension monitoring. However, some readers, especially very young ones, fail to truly read for comprehension. Here’s a solution: teach readers to monitor their comprehension in smaller chunks. If you can help readers chunk their understanding step-by-step, you up their odds for success.

 

Chunks of Meaning

We can help our young readers by teaching them some thinking steps to use when they read. These steps make it possible for readers to put a voice to what they think about when they read. The first step in chunking meaning starts with getting students to slow their reading down a bit when they read harder texts. Then, teach them to ask the following questions after each paragraph or two. Don’t do it too often. You can tell when a plot thickens in a story, so that is the ideal place to sprinkle in these comprehension chunks:  

  • What are the times and settings of the story I know about so far?

  • Who are the main characters so far?

  • Have any new characters been introduced?

  • What important events have occurred so far and who was involved?

Make sure you model this process periodically throughout the story or book. You will know students understand the gist of a story by the way they react to and respond to these kinds of questions.

 

Strategies

When students read aloud, do not allow them to simply skip a word and move on. Sometimes, readers will substitute a wrong word. If the substitution doesn’t work, and the reader just keeps plowing through, that’s a problem. Don’t let them ignore it. Instead, teach them to go back and re-read. Good readers need to re-read to verify comprehension—it’s just that a lot of kids will never do so if they aren’t taught directly. Teach the following steps when students encounter new words or phrases or whole lines of challenging text. When a student stumbles, hesitates, or substitutes with a nonsense word, do this:

  1. Say: “Go ahead and try it.”

  2. If the student cannot correct the error, say the word for the student.

    Note:  Decide what caused the problem. Ask yourself if the student made the error because of a phonics problem, a visual miscue, or if the student substituted with a nonsense word. If the student immediately self-corrects the mistake, just move on. If the student substitutes the problem word with a synonym that works in the sentence, have them correct it after they finish reading the whole passage.

  3. Have the student start at the beginning of the sentence which contains the problem word or phrase.

As you continue your efforts to help kids learn to read and comprehend, give some thought to all of the micro-comprehension strategies in this series. If you make it a habit, you will multiply your effectiveness and improve your students’ reading comprehension at the same time. Thanks for reading!

(This post is part of a series on Micro-Comprehension. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Micro-comprehension: Figurative Language Processing

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If you are a reading teacher, or if you have a sweeping love of books, you probably know about literary devices, which include figurative language. In this series about micro-comprehension, I have been touching upon the kinds of connections students need to make with stories they read or hear. Those connections are possible when micro-comprehension is happening in the reader’s mind.

 

Most of the time, students get asked lots of questions during and after a reading lesson that focus upon macro-comprehension, an overall understanding about a passage. But teachers are often baffled when students perform poorly on comprehension checks and seem to have completely misunderstood what they were reading or hearing. That may be caused by students having poor micro-comprehension. Better macro-comprehension results if we can help students master micro-comprehension strategies.

 

Up to this point, I have introduced the importance of a rich vocabulary as a starting point. Then, I discussed gap-filling inference and sentence structure processing. Today, I want to get into the nitty-gritty of figurative language processing. 

 

Figurative language, sometimes called “picture language,” can be found everywhere in our culture, from the lyrics of our favorite songs to tag lines in commercials. But we can find almost every type of figurative language in poetry and in fine literature. Fortunately, many children’s authors use figurative language wisely to help young readers explore their imaginations—to actually see stories. It’s an ideal way to expose students to beautiful language which can be both literal and figurative at the same time. Learning how to process this kind of eloquent language is extremely complex. Figurative language processing pushes students cognitively, encouraging them to think in the abstract.

 

Notice the following strategies that promote figurative language processing.

  • Group literature study

  • Writer’s Workshop

  • Readers’ Theatre/Drama

 

Each of these strategies has a common attribute: They all include various kinds of figurative language, such as metaphors, personification, and similes—as well as a host of other types of literary devices. For an extensive list of these kinds of figurative language devices (also called rhetorical devices), check out this site and others like it.

 

Group Literature Study

In the classroom, literature study unlocks a universe of figurative language. Students of all levels benefit from focused attention about this exciting way of thinking! Be aware, however, that very young students may or may not be developmentally prepared to handle such abstract thought at first, so start small. I’ll get to the younger students later. For now, let’s deal with students who already know how to think in the abstract. Below, I have outlined how I conduct a literature study group:


 1. Establish groups: I like to have literature study groups in lieu of traditional reading groups, which have often been determined by ability. I prefer interest-based arrangements. In other words, I present to the entire class three or four short novels for them to choose from. I make sure the genres are varied and that the books have in-depth story lines with well-defined characters. I present a sort of “Book Commercial” to the students about each book and then have them choose one of the novels to study. Since the study may take up to a couple of months to finish, I strive to be as comprehensive as possible when I “advertise” a novel. I want my students to have a strong desire to study it thoroughly.

 

2.  Determine frequency: Sometimes, your schedule will allow you to meet every day with your literature group. Since I prefer to have four groups (four novels), two of my groups meet M-W-F one week, and then they meet T-Th the following week. The other three groups are set up with the same schedule with two groups meeting every day. Each session lasts between 30-45 minutes.

 

3. Pre-read: Pre-read the novels to be studied before your students get into the groups—you cannot talk about what you do not know! However, if you prefer, you can just make sure you stay one or two chapters ahead of where your students are in the books as you go along. The pre-reading phase is all-important because this allows you to make notes in the margin of your book…notes that highlight author’s purpose, unique features of the story, special character attributes, and of course the figurative language the author uses.

 

4. Reading assignments: During the actual studies, I always want my students to feel free to read aloud during the group meeting, as opposed to round-robin reading. Think of the meetings as the kind of book club meetings you may participate in as an adult reader. Keeping the literature discussion as casual as possible make the study less intimidating. You’re establishing a literacy culture when you do this.

I don’t force my students to read aloud during group, but I highly encourage the risk-taking involved when they do decide to take a turn. For those who do not volunteer to read aloud, make sure you have the chance to hear them read at other times when the stress is low. After a short time of read aloud by the students (10-15 minutes), I assign independent reading before leaving the session for that day. Try to cover a chapter every other day. You must determine the volume of reading you wish to cover with your students. Marginal readers cannot handle as much volume, so go easy at first. Increase their independent reading gradually.

 

5. Literary discussion: The rich discussion and conversation that results from literature study is the most exciting part! Teachers do well to use a give-and-take approach to help students get the most out of the discussion. I discussed in previous blog entries about the importance of teacher modeling. Modeling a think-aloud is easy when you take a turn to read aloud in group just like you want your students to do. When I take my turn, I strategically “think out loud” about a specific use of language, a specific character’s role in the story, or whatever, so that students can start to pick up on how to think about literature. And, since my focus for this entire blog series is promoting micro-comprehension, let me add that during my own think alouds, I make a pretty big deal about how authors use figurative language. This segues to a review of my overall theme for this blog series: encouraging micro-comprehension.

 

Next time, I will dig into Writer’s Workshop with you and show you how both Literature Study Groups and Writer’s Workshop serve as a dynamic duo to help students get a firm grasp on figurative language processing.

(This post is part of a series on Micro-Comprehension. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Micro-comprehension: Sentence Structure Processing

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In this series about developing micro-comprehension I have discussed how students need a good vocabulary in order to create accurate mental models of the stories they read or hear. We also know that those mental models are affected by the way the brain fills-in missing information, called gap-filling inference. Next up is sentence structure processing.

 

Students who can recognize how a sentence is organized have a great advantage. They can tell by the word arrangement if a clause is telling something, asking something, commanding something, or exclaiming something. In Shurley English, we teach students to understand the four basic sentence types early in the curriculum:

  • declarative

  • interrogative

  • imperative

  • exclamatory

Once students can readily recognize these sentence structures, they have a better foundation for building better sentences. Strong mental models result if students know what kind of sentence they’re dealing with.

 

To give students practice with sentence structure processing, I used to show them how to reconfigure sentences by simply writing the same basic sentence four different ways. I called it The 4-Way Sentence Strategy.

 

Step 1: Teach them that a declarative sentence just tells something.

A declarative sentence doesn’t ask anything of anyone. It doesn’t command a person to do anything, and it doesn’t demonstrate excess emotion. Because a declarative sentence just tells the reader something, start with that and teach them to write a basic declarative sentence. Look at the example below.

Example: I like to jump on the trampoline.

This declarative sentence simply states an idea. No questions. No commands. No strong emotions.

 

Step 2: Teach them how to convert the sentence into a question (interrogative) sentence.

Students become pros at sentence structure in no time by moving words around. They soon notice how the point of view changes to second person and how the helping verb at the start of the sentence converts the sentence into a question. This kind of sentence now seeks an answer—because it asks a question.

 Example: Do you like to jump on the trampoline?

 

Step 3: Teach them how to convert the sentence into a command (imperative) sentence.

I show students how to take the same basic sentence and convert it again—this time they change it into a command, like this:

Example: Jump on the trampoline.

Once again, by directly teaching sentence structure, you call attention to the word arrangement needed to change the structure and meaning of the sentence. The structure of the sentence dictates its type. When students read an imperative sentence and begin to recognize the “understood subject pronoun YOU,” they can make these conversions easily.

 

Step 4: Teach them how to convert the sentence into a strong feeling (exclamatory) sentence.

Have students notice the arrangement of the words, especially the words “how” and “what.”

Examples:

What fun it is to jump on a trampoline!

What fun to jump on a trampoline!

Wow! What fun the children had, jumping on the trampoline!

Jumping on a trampoline—what fun!

Jumping on a trampoline—how fun!

What fun I am having, jumping on a trampoline!

How exciting it is to jump on a trampoline!

How fun jumping on a trampoline can be!

How fun to jump on a trampoline!

Many kids enjoy Step 4 the most because it truly unleashes their creativity. Just make sure you work with your kids on the nuances of meaning and the punctuation requirements.

 

I hope you can see how important it is for kids to understand sentence structure from these examples. When your students make these cognitive leaps, they are free to be as creative as their brains will allow.

 

When we visit micro-comprehension again, I will discuss how to help students learn to allocate attention to the major meanings in a sentence and to filter out less significant information. It’s called allocation of attention; don’t miss it!

(This post is part of a series on Micro-Comprehension. To start at the beginning, click here.)