My second son is currently a teenager with those
silly cool bangs that are in style right now. Today’s post brings me back to when he was a kid learning to read.
He was a good decoder from early on. But by fourth grade he had developed the bad habit of speed reading.
Since he would much rather play outside (or do anything rather than sit with a book) he saw reading as a word reading task only. Just read the words, and you’re done. I noticed this during a summer reading challenge at home.
After he read his assigned chapter, I asked him to tell me about it. “What was this chapter about?”
He looked at me blankly. “I don’t know.”
My prompting didn’t help. He had nothing to say. I realized that he didn’t understand the true purpose of reading: to understand it.
We had to back up all the way to the paragraph level; after he read each paragraph aloud to me, I helped him summarize what he read. Eventually he could read a whole chapter without checking in.
What is comprehension monitoring?
My son needed to learn the comprehension monitoring strategy, which is being aware of whether or not you understand the text. In other words, it’s when you reflect on your understanding.
Even proficient readers have to monitor their comprehension
If you’re like most people, you can think of a time when you were reading and had to stop because you realized you weren’t paying attention to what you were reading. You backed up and read the section again.
You were monitoring your comprehension.
Or maybe you’ve read a sentence and paused because you read a word incorrectly, and the meaning didn’t click. You went back and re-read the sentence; this time you read the word correctly. Now everything made sense.
You were monitoring your comprehension.
How to model comprehension monitoring
1. Start by modeling comprehension monitoring as you read aloud to your students. After each page or section, stop and summarize what you’ve just read.
If I’m reading aloud Amos and Boris, by William Steig, I could stop after the second page.
“I’m going to stop for a second and talk out loud about what I just read. I want to make sure that I can remember what I’m reading.
This book is about a mouse named Amos. He likes the ocean, and he wonders about faraway places. He built a boat so he can sail far away, and he filled it with things he thinks he’ll need to stay busy and to fix the boat if it needs repairs.”
2. As you model comprehension monitoring, you may need to manufacture some misunderstandings so you can model what to do when you’re stuck.
“‘Overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of everything, he rolled over and over and right off the deck of his boat and into the sea.’ Wait … what? He rolled into the ocean? Why would he do that? Let me read that again …
‘Overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of everything …’ Oh, I get it. I think Amos was so busy thinking about the beauty of the sky and the sea that he wasn’t paying attention. That’s why he rolled into the ocean. It was an accident.”
3. As you read aloud, stop periodically to ask your students if they can picture the story in their mind. Have them describe the picture to a partner. Then randomly call on students to share what they picture.
“I’m going to read the next page without showing you the picture. Try to make a movie in your mind as I read this page.
‘Then all of a sudden he was in the water again, wide awake, spluttering and splashing about! Boris had forgotten that he had a passenger on his back and sounded. When he realized his mistake, he surfaced so quickly that Amos was sent somersaulting, tail over whiskers, high in the air.’
Boris the whale forgot that he had a little mouse on his back! What do you see in your mind? Turn to your partner. Ones, describe what you see in your mind. Then Twos have a turn … _______, tell the class what you see in your mind.”
4. Model the use of fix-up strategies as you read aloud.
Fix-up strategies are what good readers use to “fix up” their comprehension. For example:
- Reread the sentence. If that doesn’t help, back up and reread the paragraph.
- Read more slowly.
- Look up unfamiliar words.
- Take notes about what you’re reading using a graphic organizer.
- Keep reading. Stop in a page or two to see if things are starting to makes sense.
More ways to teach comprehension monitoring
- When you have a student who reads but doesn’t remember, teach him or her to use the Read, Cover, Remember, Retell strategy with your support. This requires students to pause and summarize what they’ve read at different points in the text. I’ve found it to be very helpful. Learn more in this blog post.
- Another summarization strategy is to have students do paragraph shrinking during partner reading. It’s a fantastic way to make sure students pay attention to what they read, and it can be used in second grade and up (some teachers have even used it in first grade). I love this video from teacher Lindsay Kemeny, which shows exactly how this evidence-based strategy improves fluency and comprehension.
- Create a short text with inconsistencies or errors – such as nonsense words and items that conflict with general knowledge. Read the text with the class or an individual student and have them spot the errors.
What have you found to be helpful when teaching students to monitor their comprehension? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Check out the rest of my comprehension strategy series by clicking on the image below: