4 Powerful Strategies for Struggling Readers Grades 3-8: Small Group Instruction that Improves Comprehension


Lois A. Lanning

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    Recently, while spending my time riding subways to and from Columbia University or to New York Public Schools reading a book in Erin Hunter's Warriors series, the excitement picked up when Bluestar, the Windclan leader of the group of wild cats, and two of her apprentices are attacked by rats. Bluestar is fatally injured and Firepaw, the orange tabby protagonist, is very concerned whether or not Bluestar is still alive. To his joy, Bluestar recovers, explaining that she lost the fourth life the Starclan Warriors (departed warrior cats whose spirits reside in a constellation) had given her. Later, when Bluestar confesses that she had actually lost her seventh life during the rat attack, Firepaw's anxiety rises again. This time he expresses his grave worry that the Windclan leader will leave them if two more fatal injuries occur.

    In the second book of the series, Bluestar is stricken with “green cough” during the leaf bear (winter) season and loses an eighth life. Firepaw has been promoted from apprentice to warrior, and is now named Fireheart. He, as well as the other warriors, becomes very protective of Bluestar, refusing to allow her to participate in any other activities that place her in harm's way.

    Although I have pulled only two scenarios from this totally mesmerizing series of books (mesmerizing especially if you, like me, are a cat lover), I use the previous paragraphs to illustrate my engagement with the book. In fact, I was so moved beyond merely reading the words that I missed several subway stops! I analyze my reading below.

    I used information from my background knowledge (e.g., cats have nine lives) to infer that even though gravely ill, Bluestar could be revived. I created meaningful connections from my experiences of loyalty to school/university communities where I have taught and educational networks in which I have been a member, in order to understand the whole concept of honoring a “warrior code,” holding the clan leader in a position of respect, having concerns about losing a leader.

    I inferred from Fireheart's reaction that losing the fourth life was not good, but that Bluestar could still feel and function. To do this, I drew conclusions by using my knowledge of cats and several bits of text information: Only the help of Barkley allowed Bluestar to be freed from the gnawing rats; Bluestar was left with serious wounds; the warriors gathered spiderwebs to close the wounds; cats have nine lives, which left Bluestar with five; Bluestar opens her eyes and speaks to the waiting clan members; she is able to make the trip back to the Windclan Camp.

    I created meaningful connections with my previous reading experiences with fantasy books (e.g., Watership Down, and my brief inquiry into mystics and new age thinking). I made text-to-text connections from these sources to help me understand the mystical qualities Hunter uses in her writing as she describes some of the environment, beliefs, artifacts, messages through dreams, and the setting of the warrior cats.

    In all of my interactions with this text, I was self-regulating, using the subcomponents (skills) of this and other strategies, to support my comprehension and create a realistic interpretation of Hunter's story. For example, I figured out that a road with moving vehicles is called a thunderpath.

    My dialogue exemplifies a belief we must share about comprehension and comprehension instruction if we are to teach all children to become literate. James Flood and Diane Lapp (1991) ask educators to alter their belief that each text has one, true accurate meaning and accept what Rosenblatt (1978) calls “transaction” or interrogation between the text and the reader (p. 736). Therefore, to discuss my reading as I did, I had to bring as much to the page as the page brought to me.

    The preceding discussion may not have been enough to get you to run out and buy a copy of the first book in the Warriors series, but one middle school child in New York City Public Schools did just that. He saw me in the school during my visit after I gave a book talk to his group about Warriors: Into the Wild. He excitedly walked up and said, “I got the book!!!” (Really his teacher went to the bookstore and bought it for him.)

    We enjoyed a conversation about where he was in the first book, Into the Wild, where I was in the series, and our hopes and fears for Fireheart and the other members of the Windclan. The student was not able to use the italicized vocabulary that I used above to describe his reading. Nor did he realize that in order to fully comprehend Hunter's message and create an interpretation of her work, a reader may access one strategy and meld information and processing gleaned from several supporting skills while also integrating another strategy. But, I feel that this boy, if taught by a teacher who read, internalized, studied, and reshaped her teaching using Lois Lanning's book, Four Powerful Strategies for Struggling Readers, Grades 3–8, would be able to use some of the same language and behaviors I used to describe how he made sense of the struggles between the four clans of wild cats trying to survive in their territories that are being overtaken by “two-legs” (humans).

    I have read and reread the chapters of Four Powerful Strategies for Struggling Readers, Grades 3–8, and through Lois Lanning's explanations, examples, and practical teaching recommendations, I can explain my comprehension processing using her terms. And, I do not feel I would have described my comprehension processing in the same way before reading her book. The first step in effective teaching requires us to have a thorough, research-based understanding of what we are trying to teach. We (teachers), like our students, benefit from the words of David Wood (1998): If children [teachers], (1) do not know what is relevant to the task as set, and (2) cannot analyze and grasp what they need to take into account, and if they are (3) unsure of the teacher's [comprehension teaching] motives, or if (4) they assume that there is more to the problem than meets the eye, they will appear incompetent.

    Lois makes us competent about the comprehension process and its most efficient strategies by citing numerous studies, papers, and authorities who are recognized as leaders in comprehension research. In addition, she has tested the words of these authorities by working with numerous groups of teachers and children implementing the theories that she built into her model of comprehension instruction. In her writing, Lois practices the research on transfer by using Bransford and Swartz's (1999) overriding principle of presenting new material: (1) in multiple contexts throughout the book, (2) through “what-if” problem solving for teaching comprehension strategies, and (3) by requiring us to invent solutions to a broad class of applications for teaching comprehension strategies rather than simply a teaching idea or graphic organizer to teach a single strategy.

    Yes, I have heard the mantra from some teachers, “I don't want research, or theories, or models! I want practical ideas I can use tomorrow.”

    Through Lois's thorough, teacher-friendly descriptions of identified “best practices” in teaching comprehension, she gives examples of what this research means for effective teaching throughout her narrative. She follows this with practical descriptions of how to put these research ideas into practice in classroom situations. Her lesson examples are stellar and provide a road map for teachers to use in constructing other lessons around the skills and behaviors that lead to her Four Powerful Comprehension Strategies—summarizing, creating meaningful connections, self-regulating, and inferring—using a Gradual Release Lesson Model of strategy instruction.

    I feel this book will become a major contribution to building an effective comprehension curriculum for struggling readers from Grades 3–8. But even further, the author herself challenges us to read many different sources, letting us know that this book will become one of a group of books that will assist us in moving toward effective teaching of comprehension to all children.

    I would strongly encourage the readers of this book to read several of the books on teaching comprehension cited as well as others. Only by studying the literature can one begin to understand the complexities of comprehension. By reading widely and comparing authors’ thinking, confusion and overlaps involving terminology become apparent (see p. 2 of this volume).

    And I know this advice comes from Lois Lanning's heart, her own belief system, and her own practice. Lois and I have a history spanning many years. When she completed her master's degree in reading education at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio, the faculty unanimously agreed that she should receive the “Outstanding Reading Educator Award.” Her industry, quest for learning, willingness to challenge her thinking and the thinking of others, and her dedication to finding the best practices for helping all children learn earned her this award. As I watched her move from District Reading Consultant, to Principal of an elementary school, to Assistant Superintendent of Schools, and completion of her doctoral studies, this industry and quest for best teaching never ceased. She was and continues to be the administrator we dream of who understands teaching, studies with her teachers, and challenges herself and others to stretch their learning and mastery of teaching all children. She also found funds in budgets and grants to provide excellent staff development, which also provided instruction for students needing extra help in summer programs that continued through the school year.

    In the late 1980s, Lois and I became colleagues when she moved to Connecticut and brought me in as a consultant to work with her teachers studying “Teaching for Integration of Sources of Information During Small Group Reading Instruction.” As she moved from district to district, we continued to work together, watching children, teachers, and each other. We spent evenings in her home, eating the wonderful dinners cooked by her husband, Sam, boring him with our discoveries of the day. From this beginning work, we decided to branch out into her current studies and investigations of comprehension instruction for struggling students in upper elementary and middle school.

    As she mentions in the Introduction, after a conversation at the very beginning of writing this book, our careers took us in different directions. Although we meet periodically at conferences, through e-mail, and during phone conversations, my current duties as Senior Primary Reading Advisor to the Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project prompted me to encourage Lois to write the book alone.

    Reading the book in order to write this Foreword was an excellent opportunity for me to view the work she has done with her teachers over the past years, and marvel that she can still stretch my thinking through her written words. She will do that for you also as you work your way through these pages. Be prepared to dog-ear pages, use post-its, and insert your notes when you try something, but also be prepared to learn from a wonderful teacher, colleague, and dearest friend of mine.

    Joseph F.YukishPhD

    Emeritus Professor of Education, Clemson University Senior Primary Reading Advisor, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project


    The primary purpose of this book is to provide teachers of Grades 3–8 with a clear and concise picture of how to structure comprehension instruction for students who are not meeting grade level literacy standards. For teachers responsible for reading instruction in these grade levels, this book shares ideas for implementing the intensive, focused instruction necessary to accelerate students’ reading progress. Because students who are not meeting grade level literacy standards often are also lagging in other subjects (where they are expected to be grade level readers), this book offers suggestions to content area teachers for leveraging students’ literacy learning. The result can be life-changing when all teachers work together to improve a struggling reader's ability to comprehend text.

    Why this book when there is so much written about reading comprehension? One answer is that within each author, research study, professional article, and book, lies a new chance to gain a new insight, another perspective, and/or confirmation of current practice. The complexities of the comprehension process and instruction are not yet fully understood so the writing must continue.

    Chapter 1 consolidates much of the research-validated comprehension strategies others have written about and provides the rationale for the resulting Four Powerful Comprehension Strategies this book advocates explicitly teaching to struggling readers: summarizing, creating meaningful connections, self-regulating, and inferring. These strategies have “high utility” and transferability across all texts without overwhelming struggling readers. Focusing on four—rather than eight or ten or six—essential strategies, gives a struggling reader a tighter lens on the strategies and also the task of remembering is simplified. We know even average adults have a limited capacity to hold information in their working memories (George Miller's Classic Magical Number 7 +/−2). The Four Powerful Strategies described in this book provide an economical and compelling way to organize and represent the essentials of comprehension. Additionally, many of the key skills embedded in these Four Powerful Strategies are identified so that teachers can help students learn how to organize their knowledge about comprehension without feeling besieged by a long list of discrete, disconnected performance expectations.

    Chapter 1 concludes by examining what we know about the transfer of learning. Instruction of struggling readers needs to be carefully designed so that students are able to independently transfer their small group learning to other reading contexts. What we know about factors that support and/or inhibit the transfer of learning from one situation to another provides a rationale for using a Gradual Release Lesson Design (Duke & Pearson, 2002) when teaching struggling readers.

    Chapter 2 reminds intermediate grade teachers that struggling readers need daily, explicit, small group instruction using a Gradual Release Lesson Design. By letting go of small group reading instruction too early, these students begin the downward spiral of school failure. This book argues that struggling readers in Grades 3–8 do not fully understand the comprehension process and therefore need explicit instruction and numerous experiences applying the strategies across many different types of text in order to discover the interconnectedness of strategic reading. As these students learn how to systematically control their strategy use to understand text, they begin to believe in themselves as readers and to transfer their reading strategies to other situations. We know that, ultimately, the key to successful reading comprehension is actively understanding the strategies and applying them in combination with other reading strategies to construct text meaning (Anderson, 1991). Proficient readers, unlike those who struggle, recognize the interplay among comprehension skills and strategies throughout the process of constructing text meaning.

    The Four Powerful Comprehension Strategies are covered in Chapters 3 through 6, each of which contain two sample lessons for the strategy covered. These sample lessons show teachers how to structure instructional support as students learn how reading works. The lesson design shifts gradually from teacher control to student responsibility so that the teacher can be sure students are successful during their independent practice. Most of the sample lessons in this book are designed for small groups. The lessons describe effective instruction activities/techniques that support comprehension.

    A lesson suggestion for content area teachers is also offered in each of the strategy chapters. It is important that content area teachers share the responsibility for helping the struggling reader. Content area lessons, designed to leverage literacy learning, not only provide support to struggling readers but help them learn the content material as well. When subject area instruction is organized around the important concepts of the discipline, the student is better able to make connections among the knowledge and facts being taught. If students know in advance what kinds of relationships to look for and are reminded to look for them while reading their content area text, they will find it easier to identify important relationships in the material they read.

    Chapter 7 concludes by bringing together the ideas discussed throughout this book and by leaving the reader with final questions and reflections to consider when planning small group instruction for struggling readers. Chapter 7 is followed by the Glossary which provides in-depth definitions of the Four Powerful Strategies and other terminology. The Glossary is a critical piece to understanding the whole. It ensures that we, reader and author, share common definitions of terms. Although each chapter includes key terminology explained by excerpts from the Glossary, I suggest reading the Glossary in its entirety as the best way to begin this book.

    Struggling readers are at the heart of my work as an educator. During my career as a special education teacher at all school levels, classroom teacher, and districtwide reading consultant, it became clear to me that the children who leave the primary grades still struggling with reading face a dismal school future. As these students enter middle school and high school, they become further marginalized by daunting textbooks with readabilities well beyond their reach, increased writing expectations, less small group instruction, and a more fragmented school schedule. My commitment to reaching these readers never waned when I moved into school administration. In fact, I believe the literacy work I continue to do with many talented teachers is what keeps me grounded in my current position.

    Continuing to learn how to help struggling readers is one thing—writing a book about it is quite another! Almost a decade ago, after presenting at an International Reading Association Conference with my good friend and mentor, Dr. Joseph Yukish, we sat in a diner in Atlanta and talked about capturing some of our ideas and beliefs in a book. We both returned to our very busy lives but continued to stay in touch and nudge each other's thinking via e-mail and occasional visits. After extending my comprehension conversations with many Connecticut teachers (most recently with the wonderful literacy teachers in Pomperaug Regional School District 15, Middlebury/Southbury, Connecticut, and in an Interdistrict Summer School Program), my understanding of this work was pushed to a much deeper level. As teachers I worked with began to implement the practices advocated in this book, success stories began to emerge. Now I am taking the plunge and sharing these ideas with other educators whose obligation is to help struggling readers. It is my sincere hope that Four Powerful Strategies for Struggling Readers, Grades 3–8 provides readers with at least a few new ideas and understandings about comprehension instruction.


    My commitment to helping struggling readers began at the onset of my teaching career. It did not take long to realize how essential the collaboration of highly knowledgeable colleagues is to successfully reaching students who find reading an embarrassing, frustrating, and wearisome task. I continue to be richly blessed with numerous opportunities to grow and learn from many outstanding and talented educators.

    In the preparation of this book, debts are owed to writers who influenced my thinking. P. David Pearson, Nell Duke, and Gerald Duffy are among those whose work I returned to again and again for guidance. Several friends and accomplished educators read and commented on the many drafts of my manuscript and their advice made each version better. The assistance and inspiration of my close friends, Joe Yukish and Lynn Erickson, helped me focus on the light at the end of this undertaking. The detailed feedback from exemplary teachers, Terri Thorndike, Michelle Dawson, Julie Luby, Bev Poulin, Laura Mead, Joanne Riback, Sarah Cable, and Neil Cummins was especially valuable. After sending off a draft, I could hardly wait to read their constructive suggestions, corrections, and comments in the margins cheering me on!

    To my husband, Sam, I express my deepest gratitude. His patience with my messy office and willingness to take on more household chores enabled me to persist in this work well into the night.

    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin Press gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • Amy Broemmel
    • Assistant Professor
    • University of Tennessee
    • Knoxville, TN
    • David B. Cohen
    • English & Reading Teacher, Academic Advisor
    • Palo Alto High School
    • Palo Alto, CA
    • Ellen E. Coulson
    • U.S. History Teacher
    • Sig Rogich Middle School
    • Las Vegas, NV
    • Carol Gallegos
    • Literacy Coach
    • Hanford Elementary School District
    • Hanford, CA
    • Marta Gardner
    • Elementary Literacy Content Expert
    • Los Angeles Unified School District
    • Los Angeles, CA
    • Jude A. Huntz
    • English and Writing Instructor
    • The Barstow School
    • Kansas City, MO
    • Gayla LeMay
    • History Teacher
    • Radloff Middle School
    • Duluth, GA
    • Robert D. Losee
    • Teacher
    • Alpine Elementary School
    • Columbus Public Schools
    • Columbus, OH
    • Natalie S. McAvoy
    • Reading Specialist
    • Elkhorn Area Schools
    • Elkhorn, WI
    • Victoria N. Seeger
    • Literacy Coach
    • Seaman Unified School District #345
    • Topeka, KS
    About the Authors

    Lois A. Lanning is currently the Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Pomperaug Regional School District 15, Connecticut. In addition to being an assistant superintendent, other roles in her career include classroom teacher, K–12 reading consultant, special education teacher, elementary principal, district curriculum director, and adjunct professor. These positions span urban, suburban, and small town school systems, giving her a wide view of literacy practices.

    Lois has extensive background in district-level curriculum work and staff development training. She stays actively involved in the trends and issues in reading instruction through professional organizations, by presenting at state and national conferences, and by working with other school districts and state departments. She is the author of several articles published in professional journals and of other reading resources for teachers. First and foremost, her passion is helping all students become lifelong readers.

  • Glossary: Defining Terms: Are we Speaking the Same Language?

    Words that carry specialized meanings in one community can be interpreted differently by another, particularly where individuals in the second community have little access to the dialogues in the first. …

    —Heather C. Hill (2001)

    This is a book of ideas for teaching reading comprehension. It is primarily directed toward teaching struggling readers, although the concepts and suggestions presented may benefit all students who are learning to read for deep understanding. It is important that you, the reader, and I, as writer, have common definitions of specific terms used throughout this book. By fixing our language—establishing the limits of some essential terms in this publication—I hope to deepen readers’ understanding of the ideas presented.

    In reviewing professional literature and research, and in listening to various experts in the field, it quickly becomes apparent how easy it is to be confused with terminology. Frequently, you will find terms such as strategies, skills, and processes used interchangeably in reading comprehension literature. Depending on which author is being read, the list of most effective reading strategies grows longer or shorter. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish whether a recommended strategy is intended to describe a teacher's means of instruction or to describe a reader's reading behavior. Even though different authors may use the same term, there can be shades of difference in the meaning they attach to it.

    Your understanding of the terms used throughout this book will significantly deepen your understanding of the ideas presented. Therefore, this Glossary is important, and I hope you have turned to it early in your reading.

    In any discussion of the reading process, “fuzziness” persists no matter who attempts to separate and precisely define terms. Pearson and Johnson (1978) acknowledge unclear and overlapping terminology is actually due to the strong interface between reading processes. So, while reading this Glossary, please remember that although I attempt to classify terms to communicate a distinction among the ideas under discussion, the list is really an arbitrary convenience—the terms and definitions are not totally distinct and absolute, because the strategies and skills share many common characteristics. With this said, let's now look at some of the key terms used in this text. The terms are not alphabetized but rather listed in the order explained in this book.

    Reading Strategies: Sinatra, Brown, and Reynolds (2002) define strategies as goal-directed, cognitive operations over and above the processes that are a natural consequence of carrying out a task. In other words, strategies take more conscious thought and are utilized to address a specific reading goal. Strategies are complex because many reading skills are situated within a reading strategy. In order to effectively employ a strategy, the reader must have control over a variety of the skills that support the strategy, be fluent and flexible in the utilization of these skills, and appropriately integrate the other relevant skills and strategies. A strategy may be thought of as a systematic plan readers consciously adapt and monitor to improve their learning performance (Harris & Hodges, 1995). Strategies are active comprehension processes that a reader chooses in order to comprehend well (Irwin, 1989).

    If we want students to comprehend with greater depth, we as educators need to set priorities amid the myriad of reading competencies listed in state standards, local curriculum, basal readers, and professional journals. As mentioned previously, various authors are beginning to attempt to identify the “big” strategies independent readers use to comprehend text (Allington, 2001; Duke & Pearson, 2002; Keene & Zimmermann, 1997; Pearson, Roehler, Dole, & Duffy, 1992). This book recognizes four comprehension strategies that are worth spending time teaching and that are essential for understanding text. These strategies are

    • summarizing
    • creating meaningful connections
    • self-regulating
    • inferring

    Details of each these Four Powerful Strategies are included in Chapter 3–6, along with sample lessons showing teachers in action. Each of the four strategies and the skills that support them are defined in this Glossary.

    Reading Skills: Skills are the smaller operations or actions that are embedded in strategies and, when appropriately applied, they “allow” the strategies to deepen comprehension. That is to say, if a reader has control over the skills that underpin a strategy, more energy is available for utilizing the strategies necessary for deeper comprehension.

    Reading skills refers to the parts of acts (strategies) that are primarily intellectual (Harris & Hodges, 1995). This text identifies numerous skills that fortify the Four Powerful Comprehension Strategies. For example the strategy inferring is supported by such skills as using background knowledge, questioning, determining theme, determining author's purpose, making predictions, and drawing conclusions. A strategic reader uses many of these skills in concert as he or she makes sense of text. For example, in reading Chapter 9 of Lord of the Flies,

    “A View to a Death,” I might begin by using the skill questioning as I ask myself, “Is a character going to die? What clues will the author give me as to who it might be or how it might happen? How will a death change the relationships of the characters?”

    Do you see how the skill of questioning (and others) helps me focus on and plan for the strategy inferring, which I need to use in order to understand my reading of this chapter?

    Instructional Activities/Techniques: The means that teachers use to ensure students become capable, confident comprehenders of text. Many authors refer to the terms “instructional strategies” and “instructional activities” interchangeably. As defined above, strategies represent goal-directed cognitive operations. I want to make a clear distinction between the term “reading strategies” (what the reader is doing) and the term “instructional strategies” (what the teacher is doing or facilitating during strategy instruction). Thus, teachers use various instructional activities or techniques to leverage their strategy instruction. Some familiar instructional activities teachers use include completing graphic organizers, marking the text with post-it notes, whole group discussion, think-pair-share, and so on. These activities are all commonly used as a means of support for clarifying the teaching point of a lesson, for enabling the teacher to check student understanding, and for helping students be mindful of their literacy processes.

    Gradual Release Lesson Design: The teacher's role in teaching students to effectively apply reading strategies is to maximize the likelihood that students will transfer their learning to new contexts independently. The five-step lesson procedure or lesson design advocated in this book is designed to scaffold the effective teaching of strategies in order to maximize transfer of students’ learning. These steps are well researched (Duke & Pearson, 2002) and are used as a template for each small group reading lesson (see Figure G.1). The steps are:

    Figure G.1 Teaching for Strategies

    SOURCE: This figure was adapted from the figure published in Contemporary Educational Psychology, Volume 8, Issue 3, P. David Pearson and Margaret C. Gallagher, “The Instruction of Reading Comprehension,” Page 337, Academic Press (1983).

    • An explicit description of the strategy and how, when, where, and why to use it
    • Teacher and/or student modeling of the strategy in action
    • Collaborative use of the strategy in action
    • Guided practice using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility
    • Independent use of the strategy

    Through these teaching procedures, the transfer of learning to other situations will be enhanced to a much greater degree—especially for struggling readers (Wood, 1998). Using all the steps of this lesson design balances explicit instruction with opportunities for students to read, write, and discuss texts, and it connects and integrates these different learning opportunities. Chapter 2 is devoted to explaining the lesson procedure in greater detail. The steps of the lesson are used consistently yet flexibly so they follow the reader's responses. The amount of time spent on each step will begin to shift as more or less scaffolding is necessary.

    Finally, as with any good instruction, comprehension instruction needs to be accompanied by ongoing assessment. Teachers should carefully monitor students’ use of comprehension strategies and skills in each phase of the lesson and adjust the lesson according to student responses.

    Transfer: The transfer of students’ learning is universally accepted as the ultimate aim of teaching (McKeough, Lupart, & Marini, 1995). Broadly defined, transfer refers to the degree to which prior learning affects new learning or performance. A rich repertoire of teaching practices is necessary to facilitate transfer. That is, instruction needs to include extensive modeling, explaining, scaffolding, and coaching with students taking increasing responsibility for the independent use of strategies over time (El-Dinary, 2002). The manner in which new learning occurs affects subsequent transfer. Information that is presented in the context of solving problems, for example, is more likely to be spontaneously used than information presented in the form of simple facts. Transfer requires a sufficient degree of original learning and an understanding of the strategy—the features of the strategy, why it is important, and how and when it can be best utilized. Without this differentiated knowledge of performance requirements, students may apply their knowledge in the wrong settings or may not be able to assess their performance (Bransford & Swartz, 1999).

    To strengthen transfer, comprehension strategies and skills need to be presented in multiple instructional contexts and through “what if” problem solving. Additionally, instruction needs to require children to invent solutions that can be generalized to a broad class of problems rather than simply to attempt to solve a single problem (Bransford & Swartz, 1999).

    Text: The term text is used to describe any language event—oral, written, or visual—in any format.

    Defining the Four Powerful Comprehension Strategies and Supporting Skills

    The following definitions of the “Big Four” Strategies and supporting skills are drawn from a wide span of resources, conversations, and experiences. The goal of defining these terms is to create a common vocabulary between reader and writer and to make explicit the reciprocity these strategies and skills have with one another. You will find there is overlap across some of the terms. For example, you will notice some of the skills listed under one strategy are at work in the other strategies. This is all due to the highly interactive nature of the comprehension process. This is why the benefits of learning even one strategy transcend across others and result in improved comprehension for struggling readers.

    As you continue to think deeply about the most effective comprehension strategies and skills, you may find skills to add or delete or reword. The list below has been revised many times and continues to be a work in progress as more colleagues provide feedback and discussion about how important language is in communicating comprehension to students.

    Summarizing: Summarizing is an analytical process. This strategy involves representing, in a few sentences and in your own words, the most important ideas of a longer passage or selection. It is a mixture of reducing a long text to a short text by selecting relevant information. The final steps in any critical reading are distilling and summarizing information. A good summary shows how well the text is understood.

    Skills that support the strategy summarizing are discussed below.

    • Identifying important information (main idea): This skill requires one to distinguish the core concepts in a selection (that will be included in the summary) from the supporting or minor information (that will not be included in the summary). Deleting unnecessary and redundant information to reduce material to the main ideas requires close reading. The important information becomes apparent as the reader filters out the supporting details and the ideas that may be repeated information.
    • Distinguishing between a topic and a main idea: A topic is the general subject dealt with in a text or discussion. A main idea is the important thought (implied or expressed) that the author is conveying about the topic. For example, in an article on alternative fuel (topic), the author may be making a case that the focus on alternative fuel sources is harming other important industries (main idea). The ability to distinguish between the topic and the main idea is a foundational skill in effectively summarizing.
    • Generalizing important information and ideas (concepts): A generalization is a broad statement that describes the relationship of two or more concepts (or main ideas). Generalizations reflect deeper, conceptual understanding, and they hold true across other situations. Generalizing important information and ideas requires a reader to grasp the gist of a text's message without becoming preoccupied with the facts, examples, and details that the author includes as evidence to support a position or idea. A generalization is formed by thinking across the ideas presented, and determining what they have in common.

      A generalization is a specific kind of conclusion. All generalizations are conclusions, but not all conclusions are generalizations; there is a distinct difference. For example, after reading a book about butter - flies, one conclusion a reader may draw is, “Butterflies are very fragile creatures.”

      Although the author never directly states butterflies are fragile, the reader draws this conclusion by using information in the story along with what she already knows. She supports her conclusion by citing the descriptions of the changes a butterfly goes through and by discussing how vulnerable the butterfly is to weather and foe in each stage.

      After reading the same book, a reader may form some generalizations such as, “Changes in a life cycle can be observed and measured.” This statement describes the relationship of several ideas (concepts) that were discussed in the book (changes, life cycle, observation, and measurement), reflects the reader's understanding of these ideas, and also holds true across other situations (the life cycle of other animals, plants, etc.).

      This skill (identifying and generalizing important information) aids summarizing because it requires a reader to analyze and differentiate relevant and irrelevant information. It also requires that the reader [listener] be aware of the devices that authors use as signals when stressing the importance of ideas (e.g., introductory statements, topic sentences, summary sentences, italics, underlining, repetition, etc.).

    • Determining and sequencing events and ideas: Constructing summaries requires readers to track, order, and restate events described in the material being read. An event is an occurrence, especially one that is particularly significant, interesting, exciting, or unusual.

      Authors may use clue words such as first, then, finally, last, while, during, and after to help alert readers to a new event. A change in a character's action or an introduction of a character may also signal the next occurrence. In summarizing, the important incidents (events) in text are presented in the same sequence as in the original text.

    • Identifying genre: Genres are categories or classifications of text formed by sets of conventions. Some selections may cross into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions. As a reader learns to recognize genre, organizational patterns of the genre become more recognizable. For example, after identifying text genre (such as fantasy, science fiction, realistic or historical fiction, informational text, etc.), the reader can begin to expect certain vocabulary, punctuation, writing style, text features (headings, subheadings), and literary devices (rhyme, bias, foreshadowing) appropriate to the genre. This awareness guides summarizing and supports comprehension.
    • Identifying type of text structure: How is the information organized? Authors make decisions about how to present information to readers depending on the type of text. Some structures are more representative of specific genres (fiction and nonfiction) and may use specific features (bold headings) to support the text structure. Common text structures include:

      • Chronological/Sequence: (Time/Order) Chronological articles and books unveil events in a sequence from beginning to end. Words that signal chronological structures include: first, then, next, finally, and specific dates and times. Biographies are often written using a chronological text structure.
      • Cause/Effect: Informational texts often describe cause and effect relationships. The text describes events and identifies or implies causal factors.
      • Problem/Solution: The text introduces, creates, and describes a problem and presents solutions.
      • Compare/Contrast: Authors use comparisons to describe ideas to readers. Similes, metaphors, and analogies are frequently used in compare/ contrast organizational structures.
      • Descriptive: Sensory details help readers visualize and connect to information.
      • Classical: This text structure conforms to specific genre but usually begins with a harmonious introduction, followed by a problem or conflict that disturbs the harmony; a hero may emerge in the quest to regain harmony, and finally the happy ending.

    Identifying text structure helps a reader read more efficiently and helps organize ideas for synthesizing and summarizing. Students should learn how to preview text prior to reading to gain a sense of the type of text and its structure(s). Summarizing is easier when one has a clear sense of structure for organizing the material. A summary should follow the same structure as that in the original text.

    Note: All of the Four Powerful Comprehension Strategies benefit from an understanding of text structures.

    • Categorizing and classifying using text information and background knowledge: This skill requires one to sort and organize information (especially in longer selections). Categorizing is grouping the facts and ideas from the selection; classifying is then taking note of the similar and/or distinct attributes of the ideas or examples presented. This skill helps readers see how ideas are related and helps distinguish the essential from the nonessential resulting in a more cohesive summary.
    • Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing is restating or explaining ideas in your own words while retaining the meaning and ideas in the original selection. It is a legitimate way (when accompanied by accurate documentation) to borrow from a source. It is a valuable skill because the mental process required for successful paraphrasing helps a reader grasp the full meaning of the original text. Paraphrasing also helps young readers check their own comprehension. In summarizing, the tendency of young and struggling readers is to restate the original text. Therefore, paraphrasing is a necessary skill in learning about the strategy summarizing.
    • Questioning: Questions that support the strategy summarizing include: After scanning the text, which text structure did the author use to organize the information? How does this paragraph relate to the text information read so far? How did the author organize the text to be “reader-friendly?” Which text features helped me collect information from the article? What are the essential points the author is making? How might I use the events described in the text to create a timeline of events? How can the information from this selection be presented visually? Which graphic organizer would I use to present the information in this selection?
    • Synthesizing concepts and events: Synthesizing is putting parts (ideas) together into a unified whole. A well-developed summary includes statements of new insights acquired as a result of synthesizing the ideas presented in a piece. Readers first determine the key ideas and then incorporate this new information into their existing knowledge base. Integrating information in this manner creates an insightful understanding of the text and extends a literal summary to an inferential level of meaning.

    Creating Meaningful Connections: The significance of the strategy creating meaningful connections lies within the transaction between reader and text—text language may suggest a connection that is entertainment for one person but may be unexpectedly emotional for another. It is important to remember that in teaching this strategy, students learn to create meaningful connections—connections that deepen their understanding of what is being read. In contrast, surface level connections do not result in significantly increasing comprehension.

    Skills that support the strategy creating meaningful connections are discussed below.

    • Imaging: This skill is the process of forming sensory images (visual, tactile, auditory, etc.) while reading or listening. Gambrell and Koskinen (2002) describe imaging as a form of active processing that helps students acquire a more meaningful representation of text. An image may be based on experience or imagination. It is evoked by a reader (or listener) connecting or reacting to the author's descriptive details.
    • Being aware of text language: Authors use sensory language and other writers’ craft techniques to help readers visualize ideas and make connections. Authors recognize that people store a vast bank of impressions in their sensory memory from their life experiences as well as their knowledge of other text and the world. Noticing the way an author deliberately or subtly uses word play, descriptions, metaphors, references, and so on to rouse a reader's heart, mind, and memory supports the strategy creating meaningful connections.
    • Activating prior knowledge/experience: Schema is the background knowledge/information and experience readers activate and bring to the text. Schema theory explains how these prior experiences, knowledge, emotions, and understandings affect what and how people learn. Proficient readers actively use their background knowledge and experience to construct images and make connections with text. Doing so helps them make sense of what they are reading. Struggling readers often do not consider whether the text makes sense based on their own background knowledge, or whether their knowledge can be used to help them understand confusing or challenging material. Additionally, struggling readers often just do not have the life experiences that others have that enable them to create connections. We therefore need to know our students and make relevant text selections for them.

      Accessing prior knowledge and experiences is a good starting place when teaching reading strategies because students have experiences, knowledge, opinions, and emotions that they can draw upon. Harvey and Goudvis (2000) discuss all of the above but also caution that merely making connections is not the goal. Connections that do not contribute to a better understanding of text can actually be a distraction. Readers need to analyze how their connections are contributing to their comprehension of text.

    • Previewing: Linda Dorn and Carla Soffos (2005) tell us some of the skills of previewing text are accomplished in a short amount of time. A reader looks over (1) the back cover and inside flap, (2) excerpts of reviews and information on awards the book may have won, (3) the first page or lead paragraph, and (4) the table of contents. Previewing skills cause the reader to think about what he or she knows about the author, the topic, or the genre prior to approaching the reading task. Reading the title, flipping through the pages to check out the features of the book such as the general layout, the length, the illustrations, graphics, headings, and perhaps the writing style all help the reader to begin formulating predictions about the text.

      Previewing is central to how well a reader will interact with the text as previewing develops the reader's purpose for reading and activates the mind for creating connections. Readers who lack the ability to preview texts for meaningful connections are likely to have impaired comprehension (Dorn & Soffos, 2005). Teaching previewing skills also helps students become more competent in self-selecting text that is appropriate to their reading level; this is another important behavior of an independent reader.

    • Making text connections: Keene and Zimmermann (1997) tell us readers comprehend better when they activate different kinds of connections (listed below). Connections are derived from one's background information/experiences but most important, good readers expand upon their connections and can describe how they used the connection to deepen their understanding of text.
      • Text-to-self are highly personal connections that a reader makes between a piece of reading material and one's own life experiences. For example, “I know how the character must feel because I miss my dad too.”
      • Text-to-text connections remind readers of other materials that they have previously read. This may include selections by the same author, stories from the same genre, or perhaps articles on the same topic. Thinking about how the new text connects to other familiar works, ideas, or information supports critical reading and deeper understanding. For example, “This text structure in this new book is the same as the one used in the author's previous book that I read last year. Recognizing this helped me know what to expect.”
      • Text-to-world connections are the larger, vicarious connections that a reader brings to a reading situation. The things we learn through the Internet, movies, magazines, television, and newspapers create a sense of how the world works that takes us beyond our personal experiences. For example, “I heard a television commentator discuss the topic in this article and I am thinking about how that information compares to what I am reading.”
    • Questioning: The skill of questioning to support the creating meaningful connections strategy requires readers to question how text information fits with their background information and experiences. Doing so extends comprehension beyond the surface level, helps readers broaden their knowledge, and keeps readers engaged with text. Question examples include:

      Text-to-self: What does this remind me of in my life? Has something like this ever happened to me? How is this similar/different from my experiences?

      Text-to-text: What parts remind me of another book I've read? How is this information the same or different from other things I have read? Have I read about something like this before? Where in this book did the author give other hints about the character's motives?

      Text-to-world: What does this remind me of in the real world? How is this similar to or different from things that happen in the real world?

    • Synthesizing various types of connections and text: This skill calls for putting together and making sense of information from texts and one's own connections with text (text-to-self, text-to-text, text-to-world) to create new meaning. In using this skill one must have the ability to recall background information, infer relationships among sources, and draw a conclusion based on sound reasoning. The end result may be a new perspective, focus, idea, or an awareness of misconceptions, any of which strengthen comprehension. Synthesizing knits together and makes sense of the meaningful connections good readers make.

    Self-Regulating: This strategy requires an active awareness and knowledge of one's mental processes (metacognition) and knowing what to do in order to accomplish the goal of comprehension. Self-regulating is a reader's recognition of the successes and failures in creating meaning from text, and adjusting one's reading processes accordingly. The two basic processes occurring simultaneously (monitoring your progress as you learn and making changes and adapting your strategies if you perceive you are not doing well) make the strategy of self-regulating a critical underpinning of reading comprehension. As readers become proficient with using self-regulating skills, they gain confidence and become more independent as learners.

    Skills that support the strategy self-regulating are discussed below.

    • Knowing self as a learner, knowing the reading task, and knowing the reading strategies/skills: If there is a conscious awareness of what we know about ourselves as learners, we are on our way to learning how to self-regulate. This requires knowing our strengths and weaknesses so that a proactive plan can be developed that will support our success. The plan may include articulating a reading goal to help keep us focused and on the right path, surrounding ourselves with the resources we feel we may need to complete the task, finding the right space, and estimating the time we may need. These actions are all elements of knowing ourselves as learners.

      Knowing the reading task is another important aspect of this skill. Too often, a struggling reader jumps into reading without thinking about what the task is really about. To reduce anxiety and enable the focus to be on comprehension, readers can clarify the expectations of the task, identify how performance will be evaluated, and think through the support materials that may be needed.

      Finally, a reader needs to know what the strategy self-regulating entails. An oral or mental rehearsal of the reading strategies and skills that will help keep track of comprehension increases the probability that they will be applied. Having the awareness that meaning has broken down and then knowing how to effectively use reading strategies and skills to get back on track is crucial. Readers learn to monitor their own learning and meaning through reflection and feedback (from self and others). Keeping a log of one's progress is a way to encourage self-reflection and motivation to improve.

    • Knowing the purpose for reading: Ron Fry (1994) suggests that there are six fundamental purposes for reading:
      • To grasp a certain message
      • To find important details
      • To answer a specific question
      • To evaluate what you are reading
      • To apply what you are reading
      • To be entertained

    Knowing the purpose for reading determines the goals a reader seeks to accomplish while reading. The skill of knowing the purpose for reading directs which monitoring skills need to be used and the reading rate. It is an important aspect of self-regulating.

    • Looking back, rereading, and reading ahead: Most struggling readers believe that something must be wrong with them if they must read a textbook chapter or article more than once or look back over text features they previously skimmed. Good readers, especially when reading less familiar topics, recognize when reading material once is not enough. Looking back at charts, graphs, illustrations, captions, names, punctuation patterns, and other information helps readers organize, clarify, and recall information.

      Rereading builds fluency and is a skill used frequently in self-regulating. Rereading and looking ahead are also effective skills used to help sort out unknown words and other confusions. However, this is not to imply that tenacious rereading will automatically result in improved self-regulating. Rereading needs to be for a specific purpose (to sort out where meaning broke down or to gain a deeper understanding). This may mean rereading a sentence or looking back at a previous page for clarification. A general sense of understanding might be gained in the first reading; second round reading may raise an awareness and appreciation of previously unnoticed details, text language, punctuation, or text features.

      If an unknown word is causing confusion, the definition may emerge by reading ahead. When meaning is interrupted, good readers do not perceive themselves as failures; instead, they reanalyze the task to achieve better understanding. The strategy self-regulating consistently incorporates the skills looking back, rereading, and reading ahead. • Predicting, confirming, clarifying, and revising: Making predictions means describing what you think will be revealed next in the selection based on clues from the title, illustrations, and text details. Predictions before reading are based on previewing or skimming text and asking questions. Examining text details during reading provides clues to make predictions. Readers confirm, clarify, or revise their predictions during and after reading based on knowledge of text structure, characters, previous knowledge of the author or genre, and other sources of information. By verifying and refining predictions, a reader is checking the validity of his or her thinking based on information collected from a text. Predicting sets expectations for reading, which makes reading more meaningful and easier to remember.

    • Problem solving words, phrases, or paragraphs: Problem solving skills may take many forms. Using the meaning of prefixes, suffixes, and word roots may help unlock an unknown word. Proficient readers also use information from text (context) to decipher unfamiliar words. Context refers to the words that come before and/or after an unfamiliar word or phrase.

      Textbooks may restate an unfamiliar word using common synonyms or examples. These techniques help readers make associations (if a direct definition is not provided) to challenging vocabulary. Sometimes an author's descriptive details enable a reader to get the gist of the text.

      Readers need to know a variety of problem solving skills in order to self-regulate their comprehension. When problems cannot be resolved independently, seeking assistance from other resources is needed.

    • Cross-checking multiple sources of information: This self-regulating skill requires bringing together at lease three sources of text information simultaneously. (e.g., A reader must ask: “Does this make sense with what is happening in the text, and with my background knowledge? Am I reading words that represent correct syntax and book language? Does what I am reading match the letter-sounds on the page?”) Decoding by checking meaning against letter-sounds and syntax is an early reading skill but also applies to older readers who encounter new and challenging vocabulary. Other information sources (illustrations, charts, background knowledge, etc.) can also be used to confirm meaning.
    • Adjusting reading rate: The skill of knowing when and how to skim and scan for specific information and when to read more slowly is closely tied to the purpose for reading. Intimate, slower reading is often necessary when a subject is unfamiliar. If one's reading rate is too measured, however, fluency and comprehension can be negatively affected. The skill of learning to adjust one's reading rate according to the purpose and the complexity of the material is essential to the strategy self-regulating. Consciously forcing oneself to read faster can improve reading rate, but reading quickly should never be at the expense of reading comprehension. Concentrating on the purpose for reading (e.g., locating main ideas and details, and really focusing on finding them quickly) is the best way to improve both reading rate and comprehension.
    • Questioning: Questions (asked of oneself) that support self-regulating include: What is going on in this text? Why am I reading this? Are there words I don't understand? Is there information that doesn't agree with what I know? How has the author tried to help me understand the vocabulary? Based on the title, what information do I expect to read in this selection? Based on the information I have read so far, what do I predict will come next? What do I need to help me understand this type of text?
    • Synthesizing text with background information: This skill is an ongoing part of the strategy self-regulating. Meaning is being constructed and adjusted constantly as a reader analyzes text information against the background information he or she brings to the text. An interpretation, a theory, and an understanding of “the big picture” begin to emerge from all the separate pieces of information.

    Inferring: This strategy involves seeing and considering ideas that are not literally on the printed page. Inferring can be a complex strategy for struggling readers. To figure out meaning that may be intended or implied rather than directly stated by an author, a reader must combine a number of pieces of information from text. It requires thinking about what may be only suggested or hinted at in a selection. Sometimes the most important message in a piece of text is on an inferential level.

    If you infer that something has happened, you do not see, hear, feel, smell, or taste the actual event, but using the information and your background knowledge, you make sense of the event. We make inferences every day—most of the time without thinking about it. Helping struggling readers bring this realization to text will help them learn the skills of inferring.

    Skills that support the strategy inferring are discussed below.

    • Using background knowledge: The importance of the background knowledge a reader brings to text became recognized in what is known as schema theory. Reading is now understood to be an active process of constructing meaning by connecting one's own knowledge and prior experiences with the information found in text. If readers have minimal or no background knowledge about the topic being read, they will miss authors’ inferences, find the reading challenging, and be unable to use the other essential skills of this strategy. For this reason, prior to using a text, it is imperative to determine whether or not students have the key background knowledge they will need.
    • Determining author's purpose: Determining an author's purpose is identifying the reason or reasons an author wrote a selection. Readers must ask, “Why do you think the author wrote the article?” Authors may have more than one purpose for writing. Often a reader has to infer an author's intent. Inferring the author's intention for writing (or speaking) helps a reader figure out other subtle messages that might be in the text. For example, if the purpose is to persuade, the reader needs to carefully scrutinize the evidence and reasons behind the author's argument and determine if they are valid. The strategy inferring is strengthened by the skill of determining author's purpose because it can help unlock other subtle messages in the text.
    • Being aware of text language: This skill was previously discussed in the strategy creating meaningful connections. The literary techniques that an author uses often help a reader visualize ideas and make connections, but they also require a reader to infer the meaning behind the words. For example, a reader needs to think about the meaning the author might be trying to show the reader through descriptions of a character's facial or body expressions, the actions a character takes, or the things a character says. Subtle word play, figurative language, symbolism, and so on require the reader to go beyond the literal and, with the support of connections, deepen and extend the meaning that is being suggested.
    • Recognizing author's biases/views: Sometimes authors directly communicate their viewpoints; however, their words can also indirectly communicate emotion, bias, attitude, and perspective. Analyzing the examples and evidence cited in text may reveal the writer's bias or value system. The context in which the words are used may deliberately encourage subjective interpretations. Learning to identify the ways an author may manipulate data or expose strong feelings for or against a character, group, or issue supports the ability to infer. Thoughtful readers learn to decipher what is implied or suggested just as well as what is explicitly stated and to separate fact from opinion.
    • Making predictions: Making predictions is also a skill of inferring. A skillful reader's mind is constantly zooming ahead predicting what may happen next. The subtle clues the author offers trigger predictions about meaning, outcomes, actions of characters, events of a plot, and resolutions of problems. In informational text, features such as bold headings, illustrations, or side notes can be used to predict information that is significant. At the word and sentence level, predictions help in figuring out the word, phrase, or clause (antecedent) to which a pronoun refers and to problem solving unknown words. Reading on either confirms or changes the predictions. Predictions are created by integrating the knowledge of the reader with the tacit signals and messages found in text.
    • Determining theme: The skill of determining theme means a reader must identify the central (and possibly minor) lesson or moral about life, human nature, or the world, that was developed in the selection. A theme emerges after finishing the text, reflecting on the most valuable idea found in the reading, and stating it in a complete sentence. Determining an implied theme requires a reader to think beyond the book as a self-contained experience and reflect deeply on the larger, universal message conveyed. Ideas are discovered through analyzing the characters, their actions, their relationships, issues and conflicts, and outcomes. Searching for evidence of how the message applies in today's world helps themes take on more meaning. For example, after reading To Kill a Mockingbird in eighth grade, student discussion generated the following themes such as “Sometimes the people you least expect to step forward will,” “People should not be judged by how they look,” and “Courage is not always easily noticed.”

      Literary devices often provide clues to determining theme. Analyzing the literal and figurative meaning of a character's (or author's) choice of words can help determine the tone and underlying theme the passage addresses. Metaphors and symbols might be used to capture the reader's attention. Also, analyzing the point(s) of conflict may show how the author used tension to reinforce and build themes in the text. Finally, readers often consider the title of a text, along with its introduction and conclusion when determining theme. Determining theme is an intricate skill of the strategy inferring.

    • Drawing conclusions: The ability to draw conclusions is another important inferring skill. This skill refers to a reader arriving at a logical decision or opinion based on information presented in a text (implied and explicit) combined with the background knowledge and experiences of the reader. Under the strategy inferring, conclusions differ from generalizing the main ideas in text. Inferred conclusions are drawn from judging the relevant facts or evidence presented and coming to an interpretation that was not directly stated. A reader needs to be able to discuss how the implied text information was used to draw his or her conclusion. For example, after reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, Prodigal Summer, one might draw the conclusion that, “Barbara Kingsolver wants readers to think about how they interact with the environment.” Numerous examples of the consequences that resulted from the various attitudes the characters had about their surroundings and the ways they dealt with the forces of nature could be cited to support this conclusion.
    • Questioning: A skillful reader generates ongoing questions to facilitate inferring. Questions a reader asks might be: What conclusion can I draw based on the ideas presented? How do I know the facts are accurate? What opinions were revealed in the selection? Can (a specific statement) be proven true or false? What background information about the author do I need that might help me understand the writer's point of view (Point of reference)? Would another author have a different point of view? What facts were missing? What words and phrases did the author use to present the information? Why did the author write this selection? Where can I find clues about the character's feelings?
    • Synthesizing text clues and various types of connections: A reader using this skill fills in details and information about what the writer is implying based on their text connections (text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world). In using this skill, one must have the ability to infer relationships among ideas, characters, actions, and so on and draw a conclusion based on reasoning from personal experiences. Supporting the strategy inferring, synthesizing brings information sources (text and reader) together to create meaning as the text is unfolding.

    This Glossary should be a useful reference as you read this book and plan future comprehension lessons. My colleagues and I spent a long time discussing and defining our terms so that, as we worked together, we were speaking the same language. Reading professional literature widely helped us see the variations in different authors’ terminology, while examining our own reading behaviors triggered extensive dialogue as we sorted out terms. Through the process of grappling with terminology, the grain size of the points we wanted to make became smaller and finer, thus our thoughts about teaching comprehension became more precise. We cannot be explicit in our teaching until we sharpen our thinking about what we are trying to accomplish and until we can explain the skills and strategies very clearly to the children in our care.

    Finally, the interconnections among the Four Powerful Comprehension Strategies and their supporting skills become more obvious in defining each one. This interconnectedness is the reason why Duke and Pearson (2002) tell us that even by learning one strategy deeply and well, a student's comprehension can significantly improve. The interaction of the skills that support the different strategies shows the interrelationships among them and helps students better understand how comprehension works.

    Appendix 1: Thinking About how we use Strategies to Comprehend

    Now, hop into the reading chair! The following activity may help you, as a proficient reader, reflect on all that you do to comprehend text.

    Activity 1: Summarizing

    For the first activity, read and then summarize the following paragraph.

    Below is part of a think-aloud of my summarizing. The skills I used for summarizing are in bold print. Compare my think-aloud to the skills you used to summarize the article.

    I first notice that this article is from the Web site Wikipedia. I know that articles and definitions on this Web site are contributed by people around the world. The information is then collaboratively edited by the thousands of site visitors (background knowledge). This article is from an encyclopedia and after reading the title, I surmise that what I am reading is nonfiction (identifying genre) and therefore I expect the text to be filled with factual information. Before I start to read, I ask myself about the credibility of the information (questioning). Since the Web site depends on experts in the general public to police the information for correctness, I am wondering who the authors are (questioning).

    As I begin to read the article, I am trying to grasp how the information is organized (identifying the type of text structure). Reading further, I begin to see the author is trying to persuade readers, by citing several studies and data, that Airborne dietary supplement is not effective.

    Reading the rest of the paragraph, I note that the first sentence is a general statement. Every other sentence provides very specific information that supports the opening statement. I now recognize that the first sentence of the paragraph is the main idea (identifying important information) and the rest is supporting information. This causes me to go back and reread the title of the article. I notice that the title, “Airborne Dietary Supplement: Effectiveness Studies,” does not reveal that there is a lack of scientific support for the effectiveness of Airborne (distinguishing between a topic and main idea).

    I find myself doing more questioning: What are the essential points the author is trying to make? I notice there are links, in blue print, embedded in the paragraph (features of electronic text). The links are to various studies and sources. When I reference them lower on the page, they appear to be legitimate, and I am wondering if these links will take me to the authors who contributed to the article (questioning).

    Finally, as I reread the last part of the article (that ABC News exposed GNG Pharmaceutical Services’ claims about Airborne, which resulted in the retraction of references to the study from Airborne packaging), my summary of this paragraph is that the manufacturers of Airborne made some strong claims from questionable research that caught up with them (paraphrasing and generalizing information).

    Activity 2: Creating Meaningful Connections

    All of the skills that support the strategy creating meaningful connections occur rapid-fire while reading. Yet, when utilizing this strategy, a reader is deeply engaged with the text. A book that enables a reader to create deep and meaningful connections often leaves an emotional impression that lasts a long time; it is a book that is savored.

    As you read the passage below, try to be aware of the skills you are using to help you create meaningful connections with the text. Compare your reading process to the think-aloud that follows.

    The author's unusual use of text language grabs me immediately. I pause and reread parts of the first sentence, “ … featureless sky” and “a color like that made on paper by a wash of lampblack.” I stop and think about the color of soot that lightly lines one of my candle chimneys (imaging) so I can “see” what type of sky the characters are under. I sense that the day is gray, bleak, and cold. At first I wonder if Ralph is blowing from the cold (questioning), but as I read further and learn the horse is pulling a sled of locus rails, I now know his heavy breathing is most likely caused by the weight of the load.

    When I lived in Ohio, we heated our house by a wood furnace. Locus, an extremely hard wood, was one of the most efficient woods to burn. I also remember how dense and heavy this wood is, so I appreciate the author's comparison of the weight of the rails to a load of stones (text-to-self connection).

    As I read the description of the character holding the horse's nose and blowing into his nostrils, my mind is taken back to another book I read years ago, The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans (text-to-text connection). I know a horse whisperer is a person who learns to control horses by gentle body language and voice commands. One of my sisters is a horse trainer, and I remember speaking with her about the book The Horse Whisperer. I learned that in building a relationship with a horse, a bond of mutual respect and trust is formed as a human imitates the natural herd instincts of the horse. This is achieved through an approach and retreat series of body language and movements, and by reading the horse's response. By connecting the scene described in this text with what I learned about communicating with horses (activatingprior knowledge), I am synthesizing my connections with what is happening in this paragraph, and I am comparing and evaluating the information in the narrative. As my mind quickly processes these skills, I create a deeper connection to the emotions of the novel's characters and to the setting where this scene is taking place.

    Activity 3: Self-Regulating

    Can you interpret Shakespeare's sonnet “Unthrifty Loveliness?” If this is a challenge for you to read, you will probably find yourself accessing many of the skills embedded in the strategy self-regulating as you attempt to make the sonnet fit together as a coherent whole. Good readers recognize minor comprehension breakdowns before they escalate into major ones and maintain an ongoing, meaningful interaction with the text. Less effective readers, who become aware they cannot make sense of text, often do not know what to do and are quick to give up or rely on outside help. Self-regulating is a strategy at the heart of the comprehension of any reading.

    See how frequently you, as a proficient reader, access the skills that support the strategy self-regulating as you read.

    My purpose for reading is to try to understand what Shakespeare is saying in this sonnet so I can give an interpretation. I am not very familiar with much of Shakespeare's work, or this particular piece, so I know I will need to have a highlighter and be in a quiet spot without distractions as I try to understand what this sonnet is about (knowing self as a learner).

    I read the first two lines, then slow down (adjusting reading rate), and immediately return to the beginning to start again (rereading). That didn't help me too much, so I try reading through the whole sonnet once to see if the gist becomes clearer with more text (reading ahead). Still confused, I decide to look more closely at key words or phrases (problem solving words or phrases). “Unthrifty loveliness;” I know thrifty means frugal or sparse and so unthrifty must mean the opposite—this person possesses a great deal of loveliness or beauty.” “Why dost thou;” it seems the subject of the poem is being questioned about his or her behavior.

    The second line makes no sense so I move on to the third and fourth lines (reading ahead). “Nature's bequest gives nothing but doth lend.” Now I begin to predict that this line might be saying that nature only lends the loveliness referred to in the first line. My prediction seems to be confirmed in line four where the author is saying that one's loveliness is not only a temporary gift, but besides that, the loan is free!

    Now I am questioning why the author is using so many financial terms such as “unthrifty, bequest, lend.” I laboriously continue reading attempting to clarify, confirm, and revise the ideas that are beginning to emerge and make more sense.

    Activity 4: Inferring

    Good books arouse emotions and curiosity by omitting just enough information so that a reader creates part of the meaning. The art of inferring ignites and excites the reader beyond the words at hand. This strategy and the skills that support it are essential to comprehension.

    A sample passage may help explain how these skills support the strategy inferring. As you read the paragraph below, think about the skills you need to help you infer and how you are using them.

    As I read this short paragraph, I immediately start questioning why the character is in the hospital. The implicit information in the words,“ the only difference between night and day is the number of nurses on duty” makes me question if the patient is in a room without windows. The other possibility, in rereading the title of the book is the patient has an eye injury or maybe no sight (making a prediction).

    The night shift nurses are described as thinner, as moving faster, quirkier, and they talk more. I begin recalling my experience as a hospital patient. I remember how distinctly different the nurses’ personalities were (synthesizing text clues and connections). I remember having a room outside the nurses’ station where there was lots of talking that went on well into the night (using my background knowledge).

    I am beginning to draw a conclusion that the patient is feeling alone and sad. This conclusion seems further confirmed as the patient listens in on a nurse's depressing story about marrying one man she loved, one she didn't, and in the end not finding much difference.

    What are some of the skills you found yourself using as you worked through each activity? Because there is such reciprocity among the strategies, you may find there is overlap among them. The fun of this exercise is that it forces us to be conscious and reflective of our own reading processes. Often when we think about what we—as proficient readers—do to make sense of text, it helps us know how to better support the struggling reader.

    Appendix 2: Lesson Observation Form

    Teaching struggling readers is a challenge. Trusted colleagues, who occasionally take turns observing reading lessons and providing constructive feedback to each other, are extremely valuable and support a genuine professional learning community. This form is designed for note taking while observing a peer teaching a small group reading lesson using the Gradual Release Lesson Design. The bullets are examples of lesson qualities an observer would look for, but they are not intended to serve as a checklist.

    (Note: T = teacher; S = student. The circles indicate who has primary responsibility for the step of the lesson.)

    Suggested ground rules to establish:

    • Start with the understanding that there is no such thing as a perfect lesson because there are too many complex, unpredictable variables.
    • Time must be set aside to discuss the observation within 24 hours.
    • Observational data will remain confidential.
    • The purpose of the feedback is to provide support to accelerate student success.
    • The observer should share specific examples of what was seen and heard. The observer may also raise questions. Comments should never be judgmental.
    • The teacher may ask for focused feedback on a specific step of the lesson, student, or instructional technique.
    • Both teacher and observer should conclude their discussion with suggestions (at least one) for the next lesson(s).
    Lesson Procedures for the Gradual Release of Responsibility


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