Friday, December 31, 2021

Reading Comprehension

 A high level of reading comprehension -the process of making meaning from text - is not just one of the goals of language arts education: it is the major goal. This would be the consensus choice of a survey of educators and perhaps the unanimous choice. The only real competitor would be the ability to express oneself effectively.

But achieving proficiency in reading comprehension for most readers remains a huge challenge across the educational spectrum. The reason is that reading comprehension requires proficiency across a range of disparate skills. These skills can be expressed as the Reading Skills Pyramid,  Scarborough’s Reading Rope, or the Bush's (younger) NCLB Five Steps to Learning to Read. In all of these cases, the  message is start with a strong base in sounds prior to learning phonics, systematic phonics, adequate vocabulary, some sight words and lots of automaticity across phonics to achieve fluency, and some techniques for monitoring and ensuring comprehension rather than just reading.

This article explores the limits of what is actually understood about meaning. You can go deep in the literature and you will find that there is not much understanding of these questions.

Reading endurance versus reading skills.  Obviously, a short story is easier to understand than a long one. Students must learn to comprehend longer and tougher passages as they progress. But what is the value of focusing on extracting meaning from very short passages, does it build invaluable skills to build on? For example:  

My Dad told me early last night to get my homework done first before logging on but instead, I got immersed in playing online games with my friends and played until very late. I tried to do my homework after we finished playing but I was too exhausted. At school today, I was again unprepared and humiliated by the teacher in front of the class.  I wish I had done what my Dad said. I wonder if I will ever learn?

These fifty words enable a complete set of reading comprehension  questions such as:
- What is the main idea of this story?
- Who is telling the story?
- What is the sequence of events?
- Arrange the following into cause and effect?
- What do we know about the main character? Who are the other characters?

Is practicing extracting and interpreting meaning from short passages an invaluable step in building reading skills? Can core reading comprehension skills can be meaningfully honed using shorter passages and having built these skills, will students have the skills to build endurance and navigate longer passages?  If so, why aren't there any major reading curriculum which provide this sort of practice?  Today, all the major reading programs focus on hefty thousand word passages which must be read prior to answering reading comprehension questions. This greatly limits the practice than a student can have. I strongly feel (but would like to research) that a key to increased success in reading comprehension is recognizing that the core comprehension concepts are a form of academic thinking (or vocabulary) that should be heavily taught in a number of forms prior to dealing with hefty reading passages. These forms including listening to stories, watching videos, looking at visuals, and reading short-passage stories.

Reading comprehension skills are the ultimate form of academic vocabulary. It should be taught but without it being a reading endurance test. That's the key point.

Hierarchy of Understanding. This seems so obvious but it is not built into most reading programs. A sentence has meaning. If a student can't comprehend a sentence, no reason to keep reading.  The same is true of each paragraph, each section (if passages are broken into sections), and an overall piece. Making sure a student monitors and maintains understanding both of each piece and how the pieces come together is a s huge and interesting challenge.


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Education Week: Powerful Year End News



I think this week's summary of the year by the Education Week staff is worth reflecting on. I reproduce the bulk of their weekly FREE newsletter below.  Since my focus is primarily servicing the families homeschooling their children, I can see some trends that will help build homeschooling in the years ahead.

The Education Week staff wants to wish a Happy New Year to all the dedicated and resilient educators out there. (The list below should remind you just how much you've overcome.)





1.     What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?

Debates about critical race theory made their way into school board meetings, classrooms, and nightly news broadcasts. This story, Education Week's most read of 2021, explained the academic concept.

Also Popular: Map: Where Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack

2.     School Shootings This Year: How Many and Where

Education Week began tracking school shootings in 2018. This year, we saw the highest number of incidents yet.

See Also: School Shootings in 2021: 4 Takeaways, in Charts

3.     No Bus Drivers, Custodians, or Subs. What's Really Behind Schools' Staffing Shortages?

Dismal pay, certification requirements, and longstanding disrespect caused many classified workers to quit this year.

Also Popular: How Staff Shortages Are Crushing Schools

4.     Teachers Are Not OK, Even Though We Need Them to Be

The pandemic put teachers through the wringer, forcing administrators to think about staff well-being differently.

Also Popular: Teachers Want Their Administrators to Teach. Here's Why

5.     Where Teachers Are Eligible for the COVID-19 Vaccine

Access to vaccines was one of 2021's big stories. At the time, Education Week tracked plans for vaccinating K-12 educators.

See Also: Teachers Who Refuse to Comply With Vaccine Mandates Won't Face Consequences in Many Places

6.     New Curriculum Review Gives Failing Marks to Two Popular Reading Programs

Two of the nation's most-used literacy programs faced new criticism in 2021.

From the Archives: The Most Popular Reading Programs Aren't Backed by Science

7.     Educators We've Lost to the Coronavirus

In this memorial first started in 2020, we remember some of the dedicated educators lost to their communities and to the field.

See Also: We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19

8.     Students Respond to Adults' Fixation on 'Learning Loss'

There was a lot of talk about students suffering "learning loss" because of the pandemic. What did students have to say about it?

See Also: Student Learning Declined This Year, Especially for the Most Vulnerable Kids, Data Shows

9.     The Dr. Seuss Controversy: What Educators Need to Know

The business that manages Dr. Seuss' work and legacy announced this year they will cease publishing six books due to racist stereotypes and offensive content.

From the Archives: Is 'The Cat in the Hat' Racist?

10. Caring for Students in the Wake of a Traumatic News Event

Helping students unpack emotions in the wake of troubling news events was top of mind for educators after pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

See Also: Insurgency at the U.S. Capitol: A Dreaded, Real-Life Lesson Facing Teachers





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