Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thinking About Thinking About Reading

Today I reach into a book from the Literacy Network library, Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis
(© 2000, Stenhouse Publishers). In chapter two the authors describe a tutor named Steph helping a new reader named Alverro with a passage in a beginning level book.

He turned to a picture of a baby giraffe drinking at the water hole and began to read the one sentence of text that constituted the entire page: “When a baby giraffe is born, it is already six feet tall.” Stunning information, to say the least!

Alverro read easily through the first clause then stumbled on the word already. He tried a number of decoding strategies to figure it out, including parsing the word, going back and rereading, and reading ahead. After several tries, he got it. He read already…When Alverro reached the end of the sentence, however, he went right on to the next page without taking even a moment to ponder the remarkable fact about giraffe birth size.

“Whoa! Not so fast,” Steph said. “What did you just read?”

“Already?” he asked….

[H]e couldn’t answer…He had committed himself single-mindedly to decoding the word already and had lost all track of meaning in the process.

“Single-minded commitment”—what a wonderful phrase! For some learners the struggle to read an individual word can resemble Ahab’s white whale—a quest that blots out every other desire. At the end of this anecdote the tutor asks young Alverro to stop, reread and think about the meaning of the sentence. He took a second and related it to his own experience, saying, “Wow, baby giraffes are almost as tall as Michael Jordan on the day they are born!”

How about that?

This tutor-learner pair decided to stop at the bottom of each page to stop and think. Because he was reading children’s books, each page was only a few sentences long.

Strategic reading is a concept that encourages learners to be aware of their own thoughts while they are reading. “Thinking about thinking” being an awkward phrase, the authors use the term metacognition to describe it. Some of the strategies the book describes include:

· QuestioningNo question is dumb—period. Encourage learners to ask questions about the text and how the smaller parts form the larger story.

· Visualizing – Create mental images while reading. Try to see yourself in the characters shoes. Construct the scenes of the story from familiar locales.

· Drawing Inferences – “Read between the lines.” Ask yourself, “What is the author hinting at here?

For new learners, reading text for meaning for the first time in their lives, reading can be a bore, a chore, something to rush through. Remember the value of slowing down. Teachers are learners, too, so this advice applies to tutors as much as to new readers of English. And let summer teach this to us all: it does help to slow down, stop and think. It’s not only about getting to the end of the book. To quote “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,”

Life goes by pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

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