Reading Comprehension Strategies for Upper Elementary
I am nearing the end of finishing my professional learning courses to earn my final pay raise with the school district I work for. This is my fifth year teaching, but I barely started working towards my credits over the summer. I am happy to say that the classes were not a waste of time or money. I have learned a lot that I feel has been beneficial to my career and most importantly my students. I have taken most of my classes through Professional Learning Development and have paid for the flex course option with university credit. The company offers discounts frequently, so if you decide to sign up, see what discounts they have going. To date, I have taken 7 classes with this company and have learned ideas and strategies that I can take to both my virtual and traditional classrooms.
The class I am currently enrolled in is “Reading Comprehension Strategies for Upper and Middle Grades.” I took this class because my students frequently struggle with reading the complex texts that my district's curriculum assigns to them. My students struggle with comprehending the text, and will often read a text, and have no knowledge of what they have just read. Students must learn effective comprehension skills, even in primary grades, so that they can comprehend difficult texts as they get older and move onto higher levels of education. When I talk to parents of struggling readers I often hear “but my child reads well.” This is when I must discuss with parents that just because a child can read well, does not mean that they understand what they have read. Unfortunately, these students often slip under the radar because yes, they can read. Where they are failing is not in decoding words, but not understanding what they have read. My goal is to use the new strategies listed below to help all my students comprehend grade-level text.
The book that was assigned for this class is “Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading.” I will be giving examples of the first two strategies I learned from the book below. It was a great read, with lots of exciting activities I am looking forward to trying out both in my virtual classroom and traditional class.
This is the first idea that I am working on with my students in a virtual environment. Metacognition is thinking about thinking. I am not a newbie teacher, nor am I a veteran. However, I have taken many classes on educational strategies, and I was shocked that I had never heard of teaching my student's metacognitive thinking strategies before reading this chapter. As soon as I finished the chapter, I knew I needed to start trying out some ideas with my virtual class. I have had to modify many of the ideas to fit my virtual environment, but they have worked, nonetheless. You may be thinking “what is metacognitive thinking/teaching.” It teaches our students to think about their reading as they are reading. As they read a text, they need to ask themselves questions and not just mindless reading. I modeled this with my students this week. We started out with a paragraph that I read aloud. As I read, I stopped and used metacognitive sentence frames to do some thinking aloud. I then had my students practice the skill using a picture from the text and sent them to breakout rooms to analyze and talk. I provided them with the sentence frames and gave them 5 minutes. As they were in their breakout rooms, I monitored the chat and was blown away by the chats I saw. Students were digging deeper into the picture than I have ever seen them. They were noticing and making connections to the picture. I heard from students I do not usually hear from because they were able to make a connection. Success!
Next, I tried it with the actual text. I started small and gave them just a paragraph to analyze and then sent them back into their breakout rooms. Again, it worked! The paragraph took them a while to read because everything in the virtual environment takes 10 times longer than it would in the traditional classroom. However, once they were finished reading, I got great responses from them. The following day I gave them a quote to analyze for part of their morning meeting. I assigned “When the mind is thinking it is talking to itself” by Plato and once again gave my students metacognition thinking stems. I received great responses.
“I wonder who is thinking is side my head and that little voice that tells me what to do.”
“I am thinking that it means that when you think does that mean your brain is talking to itself.”
“I'm thinking that it means that when you're thinking about something a voice of yours talks in your head. And it's true because I'm thinking of the words I'm going to say right now.”
We continued to work on this skill throughout the week, and I am pleased to say I feel like my students understood our text significantly more than usual.
The topic of schema has proved to be more challenging for my students, and we took a step back this week to just focus on metacognitive skills. Schema is all your thoughts, experiences, behaviors, and background experiences. I first introduced this activity as an extension of our morning meeting. I posted the following quote on Padlet and had my students respond "I am a part of all that I have met” by poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. I also posted schema thinking stems to help them out.
“I think he is trying to say if he meets someone or discovers something new he is a part of it.”
“I think he trying to say he met all the stuff he met, that makes part of him.”
“I think he was saying that everything he did was good and everything he met was all that he has met and he's a part of everything he met.”
While the quote did elicit some good responses, when we went back to discuss it aloud, the students struggled. My goal had been for my students to realize that everything that makes them who they are is part of their schema. That their schema influences how they read a text and understand a text. We were reading a story about a blind explorer who practiced his skills in Phoenix, AZ when one of my quiet students jumped into the conversation
“Mrs. Solis I have a connection to Phoenix, Arizona, my family and I used to live there”.
I felt like I was making progress! I feel that once my students have a firmer grasp of metacognitive skills, they will be ready to do even more work by making connections with the text by using their prior knowledge. I am excited to eventually introduce concentric circles of connections to them in the coming weeks and will check back in to let you know how it worked.
The text has other strategies that I would like to introduce to my students. These strategies include inference, questioning, determining importance, visualizing, and synthesizing. The one I am most looking forward to is inference. This is a skill that is ALWAYS tested on our state test and is a skill that my students struggle with. I always teach the skill, but after reading this book I feel I have a better grasp of ideas and activities to help them further. Do you have any suggestions on how you are teaching reading comprehension strategies? I would love to hear them all.