The current trend in NAPLAN results show that the most academically able students are not correctly answering the most difficult questions. One reasons for this is that students are not explicitly taught about texts in a way that will achieve these outcomes; interpreting aspects of the text, synthesising in various ways, and analysing and evaluating aspects of the texts.
This may be because many teachers do not know the difference between ‘comprehending’ and ‘comprehension’ and the corresponding strategies. Comprehending is when the reader forms an interpretation of the text in their head that reflects the author’s intention. Comprehension is when the reader is able to apply this interpretation in particular ways through extending, analysing and evaluating.
Most literacy programs focus on the latter, which cannot be done effectively if the students have not interpreted the text as the author intended. What compounds this is that students who are more academically able are assumed to form the correct interpretation automatically.
There are clear strategies that can be taught to help students comprehend at a higher level. These strategies can be taught at a number of levels starting at sentence level to evaluating the author’s intention. The question I have is, how do we teach high-level comprehension and comprehending when you only have each group of students for a 20mins rotation once or twice a week?
Despite this being an article for high-ability students, these reading strategies are important for all readers to develop. If the ‘at-risk’ students are not exposed to these explicit strategies, how are they to develop a deeper understanding in their reading. In my situation I believe I need to strip reading back and focus deeply on a smaller amount of text. These high-level strategies are “slower” cognitive processes that require time to learn and practice to apply. Students need time for in-depth analysis and to explore the text thoroughly by providing them time to think critically and empathetically about the text.
In a whole class situation you would incorporate these strategies into shared reading time and across multiple KLAs whenever a text is used. There is also a lot that could be done at a leadership level through PL, creating a shared vision and team teaching.
My greatest concern with the groups that I work with is that they are still very much ‘learning to’ read with decoding being a major learning point. Despite this, it is possible to teach both decoding strategies and comprehending / comprehension in the same lesson. Decoding can be taught using specific texts written by me that focus on the sounds that are being taught during during the Sound Waves program. Comprehending / comprehension can be explored more deeply using a text that the students find ‘easy’ to read so that they can think deeply about the text without hitting the barriers of unknown words. Obviously the goal would be to to marry the two with one text (which is what I will do with the more capable at-risk learners).
Oral language is also an important aspect to achieving comprehension. Considering that many of students whom I work with have a language delay, including a focus on vocabulary would be beneficial. Additionally for these strategies to be taught effectively, a great deal of practice and reflection will need to be done on my part to ensure that I am taking the students to the next level.