Friday, March 14, 2014

Teaching comprehension strategies to students using engaging and challenging texts

One morning, an elementary teacher casually asked the students if they had heard about an event currently in the news: the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that had gone missing. The students started to share the bits and pieces of information that they had heard from various sources and instinctively, the teacher started to make the students’ thinking visible by writing down on the board what the students were saying, under the heading: “What we think we know”. Sensing that some of the information on their list was faulty, the teacher instructed the students to do a little research on their Chromebooks to either confirm or debunk the ‘facts’ that they had amassed.

The students took to the internet, searching for news stories and articles that would give them the information they needed. Students also wrote down questions that came up as they read further about the current event. Moving around the room of engaged students, the teacher realized that what had started as a ‘mini-inquiry’ (Daniels, H. & Harvey, S. (2009).Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.) could easily be turned into a whole-group mini reading lesson.

Following the scope and sequence of the reading curriculum, students had been learning the comprehension strategy of comparing. Learning this particular strategy allowed students to meet the Minnesota ELA Reading Benchmark: “Compare and contrast texts in different forms ... in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.” Over a break, the teacher designed a learning experience for the students that would allow them to apply the comprehension strategy of comparing, while still motivating them with their interest in the missing plane.

To support the students’ learning, the teacher identified three different articles about the missing plane: one from CNN, one from Al Jazeera, and one from Fox News. (NOTE: the texts were complex, but the students were capable of reading and understanding the articles selected with appropriate support. To find a general reading level of texts online try these resources: or The students were to compare the texts, noting important similarities and differences. Through the structure of this purposeful inquiry, the students were able to extract meaning from the texts they read and come to the conceptual understanding that news articles are written from the unique perspective of the journalist (and the journalist’s organization) and it is the responsibility of readers to synthesize what they read and make judgements for themselves.

After reading about teaching comprehension strategies to students using engaging, relevant, challenging, and significant texts, what is:
  • An instructional practice you’ll continue to use because of the story.
  • An instructional practice you currently use that you’ll reexamine in light of the story.
  • An instructional practice you don’t currently use, but will try because of what you read in the story.

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