Introduction | Guidelines for Questioning | Strategy Instruction

Comprehension Instruction: Explicit Explanation

Instead of explicitly teaching students comprehension strategies, classroom instruction often works under the assumption that repeated exposures will cause children to become strategic comprehenders. This is a practice that is in the middle of a paradigm shift. Explicit strategy instruction has been found to be beneficial to all students, especially our struggling readers. Additionally, many contend that effective teachers employ explicit teaching techniques. Let us begin by defining explicit instruction. Explicit instruction involves using a strategy that good readers eventually learn to control (e.g., questioning; monitoring). This differs from the common use of the term strategy where it is used as the technique the teacher controls to guide students through texts (e.g., KWL; Anticipation Guides).

Gerald Duffy has written extensively about explicit instruction in comprehension. His book, Explaining Reading: A Resource for Teaching Concepts, Skills, and Strategies, is an excellent resource. Duffy uses the term "explanation." An explicit explanation involves providing information, modeling, and providing guided practice. Time is of the essence, and explicit instruction provides an efficient method for skill development. Explicit instruction can be planned to address areas that are most highly associated with later literacy outcomes (i.e., phonics and spelling) as well as more global literacy areas such as comprehension. This section focuses on comprehension strategy instruction.

First, the teacher is of utmost importance. The explanation is only as effective as the teacher delivering it.

  • First, you should be thoughtful about your students' needs and responses allowing for modifications as necessary. Your goal is to help your students realize that the strategy is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Students must realize that their ultimate goal is the make sense of text and that the strategy is a tool for them to do this. We, as teachers, need to be careful not to get lost in the activity while loosing sight of the task at hand, strategy instruction.
  • Second, you must persevere. If an explanation does not work the first time, you must try again after making adjustments.
  • Third, you must provide for multiple opportunities for your students to use what they are learning during authentic reading activities. Be sure that the texts you provide are ones that call for the strategy being taught. For example, use texts that are highly descriptive if teaching the strategy of imagery construction.

Explicit Explanations: Procedures

A teacher's explanation of a strategy includes a discussion of declarative knowledge (i.e., the what), procedural knowledge (i.e., the how), and conditional knowledge (i.e., the when and why). Along with the explanation is teacher modeling. Guided practice follows where you allow students the opportunity to apply the newly learned skill while you repeatedly state and model the explanation as necessary. All along you should tie the instruction to the current reading selection to demonstrate to students that the strategy can be immediately applied to a real reading situation. Additionally, you should link the strategies that you teach, showing your students that strategy use, as Duffy puts it, is a coherent thinking process rather than simply a list of strategies. As with most explicit or direct instruction models, allow your students multiple opportunities to use the strategies with your guidance, gradually moving to independent use.

Small Pig: An Example

Consider the following example of a teacher providing an explicit explanation of prediction using the book Small Pig by Arnold Lobel. During the story, Small Pig runs away from the family farm, looking for a mud puddle. After trying many spots, Small Pig comes upon a mud puddle of sorts - wet cement. Lobel is clever in his text and illustration in that the text talks about Small Pig's excitement in the puddle he has found, but the illustration provides a clue to the problem with the inclusion of a sign labeled "Wet Cement." At this point, you could provide an explicit explanation for the strategy of predicting while reading. Let's take a close look at the steps:

Step 1 Explicit Explanation You would provide declarative knowledge (predictions use what you know about the story so far, what you know about the topic, and what you know about how stories work to make a decision about what you think will happen next); conditional knowledge (you predict and revise previous predictions as events unfold in narrative text); and procedural knowledge (you must summarize what has happened so far in the story, link what you know about the topic to the story, and think about how narrative texts are constructed in order to make a plausible prediction).
Step 2 Model At the juncture in Small Pig described above, you would first stop reading and think aloud about why you stopped to predict, explaining that Small Pig is about to run into a bigger problem than simply looking for a mud puddle. At this point, you would discuss how a prediction uses what you know about the story so far, what you know about the topic, and what you know about how stories work. Next, you would demonstrate this through thinking aloud. Using what you know about the story, you know that Small Pig will stop at nothing to find a nice mud puddle. Using your knowledge of the topic, you know that pigs don't read (so he can't read the sign) and that cement dries hard so Small Pig will get permanently stuck. Using what you know about story structure, you would highlight that problems arise in stories and that they are resolved in the end. Using all of this information, you would predict that Small Pig will settle down in the cement thinking he has found his long searched for mud puddle, BUT he will get out somehow since the big problems in stories are generally solved in the end. You may even say that the farmer may come to the rescue since you think Small Pig will go home in the conclusion.
Step 3 Guided Practice Provide the children with multiple opportunities to predict in Small Pig as well as other narrative texts. You could finish Small Pig in a traditional Directed Reading - Thinking Activity. The next key event in Small Pig (where you would stop to revisit your prediction) is the farmer and his wife coming to the city and finding Small Pig in the cement. If you think that your students are versed enough in predicting, then have them work through their own predictions with your guidance. For example, you might walk them through the steps aloud and then let them share back their predictions with evidence. At this point, you would also bring up your previous prediction where you thought that the farmer would come to the rescue and decide how you would like to revise it to accommodate the new information you have learned from continued reading.

Pictorial Case Study: Comprehension

Introduction | Guidelines for Questioning | Strategy Instruction

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