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: