Learning to have authentic conversations around various kinds of text: One road that can lead to improving comprehension
By Dr. Sam Bommarito
A lot has happened this week. I’m still trying to unpack it all and make sense of it. By and large it was a very good week. The events of the week all focused around the topic of comprehension. They’ve lead me to propose the position you find in the title of this piece. Scaffolding students into authentic conversations around text can dramatically improve the student’s comprehension. I’ve drawn this conclusion while looking advocates of what might seem on the surfaced seem to be disparate (maybe polar opposite) views of reading. But surprisingly, listening carefully to what advocates each of these positions has to say about literacy instruction can lead one to support the position I’ve proposed on comprehension. Let’s dive right in, start unpacking, and see what on earth I’m talking about.
The first of the sources I looked at was a live on-line chat between Dr. Timothy Shanahan and Larry Berger CEO of Amplify; Here is a link to a YouTube video of that chat (note the whole wait period of the chat was taped so you have to drag the play line to .28:00 or so to get to the start of the chat)
The part of the chat that caught my attention was what was said around comprehension. When asked about what strategies to teach and how to teach them, Dr. Shanahan referred me to the following PDF:
Here is a link to this PDF: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED512029.pdf
I found a good explanation of the PDF on the What Works Clearinghouse website:
The link to the above analysis is: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/PracticeGuide/14
The upshot of it all is this: Shanahan cites research indicating that a factor analysis of comprehension resource fails to find more than one factor. He criticizes what many teachers do. They build instruction in reading comprehension around multiple reading strategies, treating each as an isolated, distinct skill. He maintains that research is not kind to that way of doing things. There is just not much evidence of gains in comprehension scores when doing things that way Instead, he advocates what I characterize as a wholistic approach to teaching comprehension strategies. It really is just one factor so treat it that way. The pdf explains what implementing such an approach might look like. The chart from What Works Clearinghouse details the effectiveness of what is advocated based on research. My take: the five things listed above constitute the kinds of things teachers could be (should be) doing. Doing these things gets research based results, especially 1, 2 and 5 (see the evidence ratings for each). So teachers should teach students how to use reading strategies, teach them to use the texts organizational structure and establish engaging and motivation context in which to reach reading comprehension.
On the very same day I found this post on WordPress:
Rhonda and Gen are two literacy specialists who have been doing this very popular blog for quite some time. Their world view is quite different from that of Shanahan. Here is the link to their post https://literacypages.wordpress.com/2019/01/24/what-works-independent-reading-works/. Their blog entry talks about a book from the This Not That Series. That series is edited by Duke and Keene. Good credentials there. The book is by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss . My summary of the blog post content is as follows: IR is done with maximum student choice and minimum interference from the teacher. That independent reading by the student is supported by individualized direct instruction. The idea of what support the teacher should give is detailed. It includes direct instruction, mini lessons and conferencing. They cite research claiming IR with the kind of teacher support advocated in this book has merit.
As I thought about what both Rhonda and Gen/Shanahan were talking about it hit me. I’d seen this kind of thing before. I’d seen it while watching workshop teachers and trainers scaffold children into deep conversations about books. Some of those students were as young as first graders. I’d seen those self-same teachers teaching comprehension strategies in the same manner as each of the folks from these disparate points of view about reading advocated. Dare I say that I think I’ve found some common ground here? I think I have.
Which brings us back to where I started, my proposition that learning to have authentic conversations around various kinds of text is one road that can lead to improving reading comprehension. Teachers must provide direct instruction. They must also scaffold students in to learning how to handle various texts and text structures. They must scaffold them into having deep conversations around those texts, both with their teacher and with each other. It’s not about the rote teaching of isolate comprehension strategies. It’s about the smart teaching of comprehension strategies, scaffolding students into making the strategies their own. Readers what do you think? Am I on to something here? I’d love to know.
Let’s change gears for a minute. Next week I will continue with this topic. I think I found another real gem in the handout the participants on the Amplify talk got. . However I right now I wanted to make my readers award of a new feature I will be adding to the blog from time to time. I like to do interviews of literacy leaders. I’ve been doing more of them lately. Decided to test the waters to see if there are still more literacy leaders willing to talk with me. Turns out there are. Among them are Ralph Fletcher (conferencing guru), Molly Ness (primary author of the newly released ILA position statement on Read Alouds & Independent Reading) and Willy Woods (organizer of the annual write to Read Conference, a major annual statewide conference here in Missouri). Sooooo. Expect that I will be interlacing interviews of these people in the upcoming weeks. That means from time to time I’ll be take a break from the ongoing topics I’m exploring to do those interviews.
So until next week, this is Dr. B signing off
Dr Sam Bommarito (aka, seeker of common ground and best practices)
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Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.