Chapter eleven is all about how to build comprehension strategies. I had actually read this chapter a while ago when I was working on my mini-unit. I took a few of my ideas from this chapter for my unit so I’ve had a chance to put some of them into practice. First, though, the chapter gives many, many strategies for how to build comprehension and ways to focus a lesson on that. Many strategies is about predicting, organizing events, picking out main ideas, and summarizing. One strategy that is suggested in the chapter and which I used for my unit is the Somebody Wanted But So chart. Students pick a main character (somebody), say what they wanted, but what happened so they couldn’t have it, so what did they do. When I used this with a group of students it went over pretty well. They were able to pick out main characters and fill in the chart. One thing that came up, though, that might have confused students is that there were many possible answers for the same character. When you have a more in depth book, it is important to help students figure out what is MOST important about the character.
Other strategies that the book talked about have a lot to do with different ways of summarizing. If students are able to summarize the book well, then it is a sign that they are comprehending what they read. It is the goal of the teacher to get students to the point where they can give a summary of the story by only including the main points necessary to the story. Using different kinds of graphic organizers, appropriate level material, and prompts to get students thinking on the right track will help with comprehension.
Chapter ten talks a lot about how comprehension difficulties are often a result of not knowing the meanings of the words. I found this to be true with Adriana, my case study child. Since she is an ELL, she does not know what a lot of words mean which causes a lot of comprehension problems. Because of this, it is important to teach students vocabulary, but it has to be in a more meaningful way than telling them the definition or having them look it up in the dictionary. I am going to go through a number of strategies that the book discusses to solve this problem because I think that they are great sources, especially because I have seen some of them in action.
Incidental instruction is a very beneficial way to teach vocabulary. When this happens, it is not planned, but just happens naturally. When students come across an unknown word when they are reading, it is discussed right then and there. Gunning says, “The main advantages of the incidental approach are that students apply their knowledge immediately and can see a need for learning the new words.” I think this is one of the best ways because students can understand why they need to understand the work and it applies to them.
Another strategy that the book suggests, and one that I have actually been able to use, is to develop vocabulary through reading aloud. Students will be able to learn more words when they read aloud because they are reading and hearing the words. What I have found in my fieldwork experience is that students are more apt to ask what words mean when they are reading aloud. When they ask, this can lead to the next strategy which is to build on what students already know. This is completely necessary when talking about vocabulary and is probably the best way that students will be able to learn it. An example of this came up in fieldwork. Adriana came across the word ‘easel’ and asked me what that was. At first I tried to explain it to her by saying it a wooden frame that will hold your paper while you paint or draw, but she still had no clue so I knew I had to try something else. I decided to draw it for her (even though I am a terrible artist!) and once I showed it to her, she knew exactly what it was and even said, “Oh it’s that? I have one of those at home that I use!” As teachers, we just have to find that one little connection so that everything makes sense.