Throughout this blog series, I will be writing my reflections on the book, “Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement” by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. I own the second edition; however, I recently purchased the third edition and I will peruse it as well. This blog post reflection is on Chapter Two: Reading is Strategic.
Aubrie was one of my kindergarten students several years ago. Aubrie’s zest for learning was second to none. She scooted herself up to the table, situated across from me and five days per week we addressed her decoding and encoding skills via the Orton Gillingham Approach. During the blending drill, she pointed her little index finger under each of the two grapheme cards and gave the sound for each correctly. When it came time for her to slide her finger across and blend the word, she decoded it inaccurately every time. She understood the alphabetic principle and was able to logically connect the symbols with the sounds in the English language. However, she labored over the task of decoding successfully for quite some time. Finally, the day came when Aubrie pointed her index finger under each grapheme and correctly recited the sounds. The difference this time was she blended and decoded the word accurately. I leaped out of my chair and kissed her on the top of her head. We clutched hands and did the happy dance around the room. This was a joyous day for both of us, and for good reason. Though our sessions were still intense and required cognitive effort for Aubrie, they were nonetheless extraordinarily fruitful. The growth in her literacy skills over the next several months was notable. She progressed from reading VC (vowel/consonant) words, to CVC (consonant/vowel/consonant) words, to reading sentences and passages. She had broken the code and was able to decode successfully. My next challenge as her teacher was to explicitly teach her how to comprehend and bring meaning to what she read. She was so intent on decoding word for word, she was unable to understand what she was reading. Though we had every reason to celebrate Aubrie’s incredible success, I also knew she needed to transition to the next level to catch the meaning in the text. Harvey and Goudvis stated in chapter two, “When readers focus solely on decoding, meaning takes a back seat.” I decided it was important for me to explicitly teach Aubrie how to bring meaning to what she reads. In doing so, I modeled for her how I thought about the text in ways that enhanced my learning and understanding. Harvey and Goudvis refer to this type of reading as strategic reading. Strategic readers are “proficient readers who have a plan of action that moves them towards their goal or purpose for reading.”
Over time and after much teacher modeling, Aubrie’s reading became more fluid and automatic. She developed a liking for reading and often volunteered to read. According to Harvey and Goudvis, Aubrie was not only taught to be a better reader, she was also taught to be a thoughtful, critical, and independent one as well.
Chapter two discusses the importance of making available to the students a variety of strategies according to the type and demand of the reading passages they encounter. According to researchers Trabasso and Bouchard, “There is very strong empirical, scientific evidence that the instruction of more than one strategy in a natural context leads to the acquisition and use of reading comprehension strategies and transfers to standardized comprehension as evidenced by performance on tasks that involve memory, summarizing and identification of main ideas.” (2002)
As a child, I distinctly remember diligently reading through a textbook chapter with the primary goal of answering the questions at the end of the chapter and then studying the chapter questions to prepare for a weekly test. Once I took the test, I never thought about the content again. I was not taught how to summarize and synthesize what I was reading to make the content meaningful for me. If someone were to ask me why I read the school textbooks, I would merely say, “To pass the test and receive a good grade in the class.” I wish the “Strategies That Work” book was available to my teachers so many years ago. Perhaps I would have built a stronger foundation of understanding of the various subject areas to which I was exposed.
When students come across unfamiliar content, it is important that they are able to tap into their metacognition to use a variety of strategies to bring understanding to the text. In order for them to do so, teachers need to explicitly teach the various strategies and monitor how well the students apply them as they read. As a child, I did not know the authentic purpose for reading the textbooks because I was not taught the comprehension strategies in order to match them to my purpose for reading. Linking strategies to one’s purpose for reading takes metacognitive knowledge. According to Harvey and Goudvis this metacognitive knowledge means an awareness and understanding of how one thinks and uses strategies during reading. For example, some students may bring meaning and purpose to their reading by visualizing what they are reading. Others may question as they read for clarification. Either strategy requires the use of metacognition to bring a deeper meaning and understanding.
Harvey and Goudvis have adapted Perkins and Swartz (Perkins 1992) four aspects of metacognitive knowledge to apply to learners/readers:
- Tacit learners/readers – They lack awareness of how they think as they read.
- Aware learners/readers – They realize meaning is confusing, but lack strategies to remedy the problem.
- Strategic learners/readers – They are able to use and apply the comprehension strategies to bring meaning and understanding to text. They are able to monitor and repair a text’s meaning when necessary.
- Reflective learners/readers – They are able to flexibly use and apply a variety of strategies based upon their goals or purposes for reading. They are able to effectively reflect upon and revise the strategies as needed.
My student, Aubrie, transitioned from a tacit learner/reader to a strategic learner/reader, as she was able to use and apply the comprehension strategies I taught her to repair meaning for a deeper understanding of what she read. According to Harvey and Goudvis, “A clear knowledge of comprehension strategies combined with an awareness of when and how to use them provides readers with an arsenal of tactics to ensure that they construct meaning as they read.”
Those of you who enjoy reading will understand how easy it is to get wrapped up in a story. I am quite busy during the day, so I read at night before bed. My husband can attest to the stack of books on my bedside table, all of equal value to me. Most nights, I know when I have had enough and I am too exhausted to keep reading. Other nights, I read until I doze (those are generally the page turners that I cannot put down until my hands relax, loosen their grip, and the book comes crashing down on my neck). When I begin reading the next night, it is often necessary for me to turn back a few pages and reread them again in order to bring meaning and understanding to the passages. Harvey and Goudvis state “the fact that all readers space out when they read. Kids need to know this, or they risk feeling inadequate when it happens to them.”
The ability to monitor one’s comprehension is an important step to becoming an independent reader. Harvey and Goudvis believe teachers need to teach readers to:
- Become aware of their thinking as they read
- Monitor their understanding and keep track of meaning
- Listen to the voice in their head to make sense of the text
- Notice when they stray from thinking about the text
- Notice when meaning breaks down
- Detect obstacles and confusions that derail understanding
- Understand how a variety of strategies can help them repair meaning when it breaks down
- Know when, why, and how to apply specific strategies to maintain and understand further meaning
Though important, monitoring one’s comprehension is not enough. When a reader detects that meaning is lost in a passage, it is also essential to know what strategies to apply to find meaning in the face of problems. For example, a reflective and strategic reader is not only able to monitor his comprehension, he is also able to match the strategies learned. Activating his background knowledge, questioning, inferring, or visualizing to his purpose for reading, he constructs meaning and gleans a deeper understanding of what he is reading. According to Harvey and Goudvis, “A reader’s repertoire of strategies needs to be flexible enough to solve comprehension problems with words, sentences, or overall meaning.”
How many of you write in the margins of a book, highlight important messages or concepts, or adhere sticky notes with information to remember throughout the pages of a book? I do this all of the time. Partly because I am a kinesthetic and visual learner and partly because I want to leave “tracks” for later reference to be reminded of what I was thinking as I read. Harvey and Goudvis provide reading comprehension instructions for students in their book. These instructions encourage students to “mark and code text with thoughts and questions to ‘leave tracks’ so they can remember later what they were thinking as they read.” These tracks not only assist the reader with monitoring their comprehension, they also provide information for the teacher about what the reader was thinking while reading.
Harvey and Goudvis conclude chapter two by recommending that teachers use a common language when referring to comprehension strategies. The strategies are presented in a sequential fashion according to what is developmentally appropriate. Each year teachers build upon those strategies the students already know. For this reason, Harvey and Goudvis suggest that teachers choose whatever terms make most sense to them. A consistent bank of terms relating to the strategies of comprehension across the grade levels won’t confound the students with an ever-changing jargon.
Teachers explicitly teach their students comprehension strategies in order to become independent, active readers. Teachers also closely monitor their students to make sure the students are successfully using and applying a variety of strategies according to their purpose for reading. They do this by talking with their students, reading the “tracks” they have left in the margins, on stickies, and in their journals, and finally, observing them closely.
Keep doing what you are doing because the world needs what only YOU have to offer!