June 14, 2013

Reading is Thinking: Explaining Reading Comprehension to Families of ELLs

A school's expectations of its students varies depending on where it is located in the world.  In many countries, a good student memorizes, recites, and amasses knowledge.  Students are expected to absorb as much information as possible from the teacher.  In the United States, we tend to value critical thinking over rote responses.  Students are expected to work with the teacher to construct new learning, building on what they know from their own lives.

I want to stress that neither educational ideology is inherently better than the other; however, for families who are hoping to help their children excel in American schools, these differing viewpoints can be confusing.  (See this post for ideas about how to help families become more involved in their children's education.)  When families attend parent-teacher conferences, they may hear, for example, that their child repeats back what he's read in a story, instead of analyzing it.  It can be difficult for parents to truly understand what their children are being asked to do, as the school systems they are familiar with may have had very different expectations.  Oftentimes, parents believe that if their child is able to read aloud with correct pronunciation, the child is doing everything a reader should do.

To excel in US schools, readers must do more than recite the words accurately and fluently.  They must think deeply and meaningfully about the text, and be able to articulate that thinking.  Reading is the active process of making meaning of the text.  This can be a confusing thing to try and talk about, for students (we spend years working on comprehension!) and parents alike.  To help families understand what we mean when we say that reading is thinking, provide them with questions to ask their children when they read together at home (see below).  Most families are more than willing to read with their children and appreciate the suggestions for encouraging deeper comprehension.

The prompts below correlate with the seven comprehension strategies that support students in becoming proficient readers.  Parents can ask these questions about books they read in English or their native language, about books the child reads to the parent or the parent reads to the child, about movies or plays or stories they tell each other.  You can download a printable copy to give parents here.

How does this book remind you of your life?  How does it remind you of another story we know?  How does this book remind you of something you've noticed about the world?
What are you wondering about when you read this part?  What questions do you have?  What are you still wondering after finishing this book?
What do you think will happen next?  Why do you think so?  What clues did the author give that helped you make this prediction?  Why do you think the character acted this way?  What do you think the character is feeling?  What would you guess the character is thinking?  Why?
In just three sentences, tell me what happened in the beginning, middle, and end of this book.  What was the problem in this book?  How did the characters solve this problem?  What was the main idea?  Who was the main character?
What do you picture in your mind when you read this part?  What words helped you make this picture in your mind?  Will you draw me a picture of what you imagine?  I wonder if your picture will be different from mine.  Make your face look the way you imagine the character's face looks right now.  Make your voice sound the way you imagine the character's voice sounds right now.
Did that part make sense to you?  Have you seen that word before?  What do you think that means?  How did you know you were confused?  How did you figure it out?
How did your ideas change as you read this book?  Did your predictions come true, or were you surprised?  Does this story make you think about anything in your own life differently?  Does it make you see the world differently?
Remind parents that when they listen to their child read, it is not all about getting the words right; it's also about the thinking and meaning-making that is going on in their child's head!

Want more ideas and resources for reaching out to parents of ELLs?  Check out this post for 10 ways to help families become more involved in their children's educations.  Our post about parent communication offers printable forms to help parents navigate their children's first months of school in an unfamiliar language environment.

1 comment:

  1. This is probably the most coherent explanation of reading comprehension that I have ever seen. The outlined strategies together with the excellent examples that accompany each strategy are extremely helpful--useful for parent and teacher alike. Thanks for a terrific "amplification".