Guest post – Strategy talk: Comprehension for the start

Today we are pleased to feature a guest post from Angela Maiers! She has a 20-year career in education and is currently working as an independent consultant for literacy and literacy education. Make sure to check out her blog. Thanks for contributing to Literacy Now, Angela!

To be a reader, you must know what the words are saying. Reading is not reading without comprehension, even for our youngest readers. Comprehension develops over time and across more difficult texts through a series of active reading strategies. Sharing these key strategies with children will help them become strategic and powerful readers.

Each of these strategies supports deeper and more engaged reading:

  • Asking questions: Questioning is the strategy that propels learners and learning on. If we did not wonder about the text, why bother continuing the read? As human beings, we are driven to make sense of the work, and it is our questions that open the doors to understanding.
  • Infer and visualize meaning: Inferential thinking allows learners to grasp the deeper essence of text and information. Readers infer and visualize meaning by taking the clues in the text or the image and merging it with their own background to draw a conclusion, gain information or arrive at the big idea that is not explicitly stated in the text.
  • Monitoring comprehension: Proficient readers know when they understand what they read and when they do not, and are able to adjust their reading accordingly. A young child may say, “I don’t understand what this means.” This shows he or she is thinking about his or her reading. We can help children keep track of their thinking in a variety of ways — asking a question, stopping and rereading, reading on or stopping to jot down or draw something that captures understanding. Each “fix-up” strategy helps clear, check and recheck meaning.
  • Activate and connect to background knowledge: Nothing colors our learning more than what we bring to text. Whether we are questioning, visualizing or synthesizing, our background knowledge is the foundation of our thinking. Learning is influenced and impacted by “what we already know.”
  • Determining importance: Remember the days of trying to memorize everything we read? Proficient reading is not about how much you can “hold,” but rather how well you can “sift and sort” out what is most important. What we determine as important in text depends on our purposes for reading. Helping students make those wise and mindful decisions at an early age is crucial.
  • Synthesize and summarize: Comprehension is never static. Our knowledge and understanding is in a constant state of evolution. Synthesizing information nudges us to see the bigger picture as we read. As we summarize the most critical, most important parts of text, we merge that with our own life experiences, creating new and deeper levels of understanding. Whether we change our thinking completely or just gain a deeper, more thorough understanding, we are different readers each time we engage in the process.

There is no age requirement or statute of limitations to learn these key active reading strategies. Comprehension is a continuous and cumulative accomplishment that takes a lifetime.

Parents and teachers can make a huge contribution by encouraging children to be an active participant in the meaning making process. As you read and talk about books, try adding “Strategy Talk” into the conversation.

  • What does this remind you of?
  • What are you wondering?
  • How does this help you?
  • Close your eyes — what do you see, hear, feel, taste?
  • Does this make sense?
  • What could you do?
  • What are you thinking here?
  • Why do you think so? What clues are telling you that?
  • Does this make you think of anything else you have read, seen, experienced?
  • What is most important about…?
  • In your own words, what do you think the author is saying?
  • Tell me about you’re thinking now.

Kids are brilliant. Every child has both the capability and the capacity to think at the highest levels. Children will continue to develop their reading and thinking abilities if these strategies are nurtured right from the start! So, what are you waiting for? Grab a book now and enjoy the conversation!

— Angela Maiers