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3/19/2009 11:44:36 AM
Home School Legal Defense Association
HSLDA's Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter

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HSLDA's Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter
March 2009--Reading Comprehension: "I Read It, but I Don't Get It"
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Give Your Child the Keys to Unlock Meaning

By Faith Berens, M.Ed./Reading Specialist

In this newsletter, I will share the "Keys to Comprehension" and some
teaching ideas that will help to unlock meaning for your children who
are struggling with reading comprehension.

What Is Reading?

Reading is a complex process of making meaning from print and includes
processing strategies, problem-solving, and thinking. Decoding or
applying phonics rules in order to "sound out" words is but one small
piece of the big reading puzzle. Phonics is one cueing system that
good readers use in order to make sense of print. However, if children
do not understand what they read, then they are not truly reading.
Merely solving words on the page, but not thinking about the writer's
message, is what one literacy specialist termed "barking at print".

I have spoken to many parents who tell me their child is doing fine
with "figuring out the words" or decoding, but is struggling with
understanding what he reads. Often times, children with special needs
or struggling learners have difficulty with comprehension because they
do not interact with the text by creating mental pictures, reflecting
about what they have read, asking questions, rereading to clarify, or
drawing conclusions and making inferences. Also, children with
language-based processing problems, such as autism and Asperger's,
frequently experience trouble with reading comprehension.

Modeling Good Reading Strategies

In our home, it has become part of our bedtime routine to curl up in
our 6-year- old daughter's bed for family read aloud time. Sometimes,
we all take turns reading parts of the story and at other times, just
mom or dad do the reading aloud. When we read aloud to her, we model
proper phrasing and expression (voice inflections) which are helping
to convey the meaning of the passage, and we also stop to ask each
other, "What do you think is going to happen now?" (That is what
making predictions means, so we read to find out if our predictions
were correct.) By "thinking aloud" and modeling our thought processes
while reading, we are giving our daughter a window into our strategic
reading processes as proficient readers.

Recently, our family was enjoying the book The Tanglewoods' Secret,
by Patricia St. John. At the sad climax of the book, my daughter
burst into tears and asked sorrowfully, "Mommy, why did that have to
happen?" Judging from her emotional reaction to the story, it was safe
to say that my daughter was "getting it".

Good readers have a constant internal dialogue with the text, like the
dialogue my daughter was initiating about the story we were reading
together. In the 1980s, some leading researchers in the field of
reading indentified specific thinking strategies that proficient
readers utilize. They discovered that reading is definitely an
interactive process!

Proficient readers use the following Keys to "Unlock Meaning" on
texts:

> Create mental images--create visual, auditory, and other sensory
images as they read to "make a movie in their mind" and to become
emotionally engaged with what they are reading.

> Make connections--draw on relevant background knowledge and personal
experiences before, during, and after reading to enhance their
comprehension of what they are reading

> Ask questions--generate questions before, during, and after reading
to make predictions, clarify meaning, and focus their attention on
what is important.

> Make inferences--use their background knowledge and information read
to make predictions, search out answers to questions, make
interpretations and draw conclusions that deepen their understanding
of what they are reading.

> Determine the most important themes and ideas--identify themes and
key ideas, as well as distinguish between unimportant and important
details or information.

> Synthesize information--get overall meaning by piecing together
information and tracking their thinking as it evolves or changes
during reading.

> Apply "fix-up" strategies--be aware of when they are understanding
or not, go back and reread, clarify, and ask questions.

Do You Feel Locked Into One Method of Comprehension Instruction?

If your "teaching" for comprehension simply involves assigning pages
or texts to be read by your child and then having him either orally or
in writing answer the curriculum's comprehension questions, chances
are your struggling learner or child with special needs is feeling
"trapped" and will not benefit from that type of "instruction". They
will, however, benefit greatly from you, as parent-teacher, coming
alongside them and coaching them through modeling for them the good
reading strategies you want them to implement. After the selected
comprehension strategy or skill has been taught and modeled, lots of
guided practice must be given prior to having your child apply the
strategy freely and independently. Just like when he is learning to
drive a car, a gradual release of responsibility is necessary before
your child is ready to take possession of the keys!

Teaching Ideas to Unlock Meaning for your Child

Pick one strategy at a time to work on, such as making predictions,
and model it repeatedly in the context of good quality
literature/texts or what Charlotte Mason called "living books".

> Have your child keep a journal or reader's response notebook. For
instance, if you are focusing on having him make predictions, after
reading to a certain, pre-determined part of a book or passage, have
him stop and make a prediction. For a younger child, allow him to
draw and narrate his predictions.

> Have your child do an oral retelling of the story or text; a
strategy Charlotte Mason termed "narration".

> Teach your child how to "code" text using different color
highlighters, symbols, or sticky notes to signify parts that need to
clarified, most exciting, or most important details, etc.

> Use graphic organizers to have a visual map of what was read, such
as a flow chart, story map with story elements, facts learned, etc.

> Have your child use the "mind mapping" strategy before, during, and
after reading.

> Use the "sketch to stretch" strategy to help the child learn how to
create mental images--student sketches what he is imagining in the
"movie in his mind" as you read aloud.

> When having your child do silent reading, particularly with content
area texts (such as science, history, social studies), use a guided
directed reading thinking activity format.

There is no single best method for teaching reading, nor is there a
"one-size fits all" curriculum that will be the magic bullet. Indeed,
our children and the reading process are far too complex for any
single instructional practice or singular set of materials to meet
every child's needs, but I know some of these teaching ideas will help
unlock meaning for your child. What truly helps children the most is
an insightful and caring parent-teacher who will come alongside during
the development of the amazing skill of reading. By explicitly,
systematically teaching and modeling these keys to unlocking
comprehension, in the context of real texts, a whole new world of
reading will open up for your child!

To access the downloadable handouts with directions for how to do the
Guided Directed Thinking Activity, Sketch to Stretch, and other
comprehension strategies go to http://www.hslda.org/strugglinglearner/

Teaching Resources:

"Making Connections" series published by EPS books
(http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=6279)
"Specific Skills" series available at
http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=6280
Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking by
Nanci Bell available at http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=6281
Reading Comprehension Graphic Organizers (Grades 1-6) available
Creative Teaching Press
Reading Rockets http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=6282

Sources:

7 Keys to Comprehension by Susan Zimmermann and Chryse Hutchins
Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller
Improving Comprehension with Think Aloud Strategies by Jeffery D.
Wilhelm, PH.D.
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