Thursday, April 10, 2014

Monitoring Comprehension

Hi again!  It's Alison from Ms. Lilypad's Primary Pond.  Today I want to share with you a little tip on self monitoring comprehension that has been helpful with some of my second grade readers.  This idea will also work with kids up through middle or even high school!

I've taught PreK through 2nd grade, with most of my experience being in Kindergarten.  When I taught self monitoring to my Kindergarten readers, I taught it in terms of decoding (does it look right?   does it sound right?  does it make sense?).  I wanted my students to self-correct errors by monitoring their own reading.  Even though I placed comprehension as our main priority in reading, I didn't really delve into having my kindergarteners monitor their own comprehension.  I didn't teach self-monitoring comprehension because most (though definitely not all!) emergent readers will not have a problem comprehending the texts at the earliest reading levels, since they are typically so simple (Look at the ball.  Look at the tree. etc.).

Example of a simple book for emergent readers

When I moved into first and second grade, however, I found that I needed to teach students to monitor not only their decoding, but also their comprehension.  Readers need to notice when they are not understanding what the text is saying, not following the story, or are otherwise confused.  Once they notice that their comprehension is off, they use fix-up strategies (rereading, looking at the picture, looking ahead, etc.).

Toward the second half of first grade and into second grade, some students will begin to struggle with comprehension.  You may refer to these kiddos as "word callers."  They can say the words in a text, but aren't really thinking about what the words mean.  But what do you do about it??  Teaching a complex internal process like self monitoring can be a BIG challenge.  I certainly don't have it down pat, but here are some things that have worked for my readers.

#1:  Have the conversation about monitoring comprehension over.  And over.  And over.  Kids need to hear again and again that comprehension is the most important aspect of reading.  Period.

#2:  For students who struggle with self-monitoring, use sticky notes to divide up the books they are reading (during guided reading or individual reading conferences).  Place sticky notes throughout the book to create stopping points where students will pause to monitor their own comprehension.  On each sticky note, you can simply write something like, "Retell the story so far," or "Tell the main idea of this section."  You can also write a comprehension question on each sticky note.  If students are able to retell, state the main idea, or answer the comprehension question, then they can continue reading.  Have students first practice talking to you at every sticky note point.  Once they are proficient with this, release responsibility to them and have them do this retelling / comprehension check in their heads (check in with them from time to time to see how it is going).

#3:  After students are able to use the sticky notes with writing to self monitor comprehension, release more responsibility to them by removing the writing.  Continue to place sticky notes for stopping points, but do not write anything on the sticky notes.  First, have students stop at each sticky note and retell / discuss main idea with you.  Once they are proficient with this, have them do this silently to themselves (again checking in with you every so often).

#4:  Now that students can independently check for their own comprehension with plain sticky notes, give them the responsibility of placing the sticky notes.  Before giving them a text to read, explain that you want them to choose their stopping points.  Tell them that the end of a page, end of a chapter, or end of a section are logical places to put the sticky notes.  Have students put the sticky notes in, and then monitor their own comprehension at those self-selected places.

#5:  Once students are proficient with step 4, they are now ready to work without sticky notes!  When you sit down with a student, have them preview the text and decide where they plan to stop and check for their own comprehension.  You still want them stopping and checking every so often, but you want this monitoring to become automatic and part of their everyday reading behavior.

At this point, the responsibility for self monitoring has been released entirely to the student.  However...this does not mean the child will not have setbacks!  If you notice that a student is struggling at any one of these steps, simply go back to an earlier step, reteach, and begin moving through the steps again.  Hopefully the student will, in time, automatically be monitoring their own comprehension.  This whole process may take quite a while for younger readers.  This strategy will also work with older readers - I have successfully used a variation of it with a 7th grader!

As you are teaching your students to monitor their comprehension, you'll also want to teach them "fix up" strategies that they can use when their comprehension breaks down (reread, read to the end of the page and then go back if necessary, look at the pictures, etc.).  Here's a free little poster you can use to help students remember fix-up strategies (most appropriate for 2nd grade and up).

If you teach second grade, check out my series of reading workshop units (the poster is from Unit 5). These mini lessons help students learn strategies like monitoring their comprehension, actively reading and using sticky notes, and talking to others about what they are reading.

That's all for today!  Happy teaching!