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Taking Aim at Comprehension: Teaching Children to Infer

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  1. Taking Aim at Comprehension:Teaching Children to Infer Michael C. McKenna University of Virginia Sharon Walpole University of Delaware

  2. What does it mean to comprehend? Let’s begin by considering some key definitions of comprehension and looking for common elements.

  3. What is Reading Comprehension? “building bridges from the new to the known” Pearson & Johnson (1978)

  4. What is Reading Comprehension? “the construction of the meaning of a written text through a reciprocal interchange of ideas between the reader and the message in a particular text” Harris & Hodges (1995)

  5. What is Reading Comprehension? “thinking guided by print” Perfetti (1995)

  6. What is Reading Comprehension? “the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language. It consists of three elements: the reader, the text, and the activity or purpose for reading” Rand Reading Study Group (2002)

  7. Take Five • Does the comprehension instruction you see in your classrooms reflect a deep understanding of what reading comprehension is?

  8. Today’s Goals • Review the Georgia Performance Standards for reading comprehension across grades K-3 • Consider the problem of distinguishing strategies from skills and how the distinction relates to the GPS. • Learn more about inferences in reading • Examine research-based approaches for building inferential skills • Select from among these approaches and apply them to a chosen text

  9. Back at School • Work with teachers at one grade level as they plan to apply one or more of these approaches to trade books and/or core selections. • Follow up with individual teachers to see how it went.

  10. Building Success in Reading First 3 2 1 K

  11. Taking Aim at Comprehension Third grade is the end of a child’s Reading First experience, and comprehension is the end goal of reading instruction. So what should a third-grade comprehender be able to do? Let’s be specific. The Georgia Performance Standards for third grade detail the abilities needed for good comprehension – abilities reflected in the CRCT. Let’s take a few moments to consider them. The chart allows you to trace third-grade abilities to their counterparts in grades K-2. This is the “big picture” of how Georgia’s children are expected to develop as comprehenders. Keep in mind that the abilities are always relative to grade-level text. This is why the same ability can be repeated verbatim.

  12. Task 1 Is the mapping across the four grade levels clear? Can you think of important comprehension abilities that are not represented? Are there comprehension abilities that you consider relatively unimportant? Why? Which abilities, at any of the grade levels, are not well represented in your core program? Remember that these abilities were used to revise the CRCT in grades 1-3!

  13. The elements of the Georgia Performance Standards are described differently by core programs. The same element may be classified as a skill by one program and as a strategy by another. Skill or Strategy?

  14. What’s the difference between a comprehension skill and a comprehension strategy? A skill is applied automatically, but a strategy is a thinking process that is used consciously and intentionally to achieve some goal.

  15. That seems pretty clear. Why all the confusion? There are two reasons. First, Scott Paris and his colleagues point out that a skill for proficient readers may be a strategy for developing readers. For example, a beginner may need to consciously infer a sequence of events, while you and I tend to do it automatically.

  16. In fact, as Dan Willingham points out, some of the “strategies” we teach children are rarely used by proficient, older readers. An example is constructing a timeline or story map to help us understand a narrative.

  17. The second reason is that different writers on the subject have listed what they believe to be important strategies, but their lists are different. For instance, Dan Willingham offers one list, and Janice Almasi suggests a slightly different one.

  18. But isn’t there a commonly agreed upon list of comprehension strategies? No. There are numerous lists but none that everyone accepts. The lists contain common items, such as summarizing, but there is no agreed upon list. It’s no wonder that in the Literacy Dictionary, Harris and Hodges state, “There is little consensus in the research literature on what constitutes a comprehension strategy.”

  19. But didn’t the National Reading Panel identify research-based comprehension strategies? No. The NRP was concerned about instructional strategies that research has shown to be effective. The word strategy has two meanings that are sometimes confused.

  20. So, does the difference between a skill and a strategy really matter? It’s best to think in terms of elements. These are the components of the Georgia Performance Standards. Whether a commercial program calls an element a skill or a strategy is not very important.

  21. Which of the GPS elements are most important? They’re all important, but three are the basis of many other elements. These three are also required for most of the “strategies” listed by experts – no matter whose list they’re on! So it’s important that K-3 teachers focus on those three elements.

  22. Which three GPS elements are the building blocks of the others? They all concern the ability to infer. Let’s take a look.

  23. GPS Elements that are the cornerstones inferential comprehension.

  24. How do these elements support others?

  25. c. Generates questions to improve comprehension f. Makes judgments and inferences about setting, characters, and events and supports them with evidence from the text i. Makes connections between texts and/or personal experiences c. Generates questions to improve comprehension g. Summarizes text content p. Recognizes the author’s purpose b. Makes predictions from text content c. Generates questions to improve comprehension g. Summarizes text content Identifies and infers cause-and-effect relationships and draws conclusions Recalls explicit facts and infers implicit facts Identifies and infers main idea and supporting details.

  26. What is an inference? • An inference is a logical conclusion reached by combining two or more facts. • Some inferences are certain, others are matters of conjecture. Let’s consider two examples.

  27. Example One Text Los Angeles is in California. California is west of the Mississippi River. Certain Inference Los Angeles is west of the Mississippi.

  28. Example Two Text The temperature on Pluto is hundreds of degrees below zero. Pluto has no atmosphere, and very little sunlight reaches it. Probable Inference There is no life on Pluto.

  29. An inference is a statement about the unknown made on the basis of the known. This means that all predictions are inferences! S. I. Hayakawa

  30. What is inferential comprehension? • Inferential comprehension means grasping facts that are not explicitly stated. • A reader does this in two ways: • by linking a fact in the text with a fact in prior knowledge • by linking two facts in the text Let’s see how this works.

  31. Linking a fact in the text with a fact in prior knowledge Prior Knowledge Text Every cat is either male or female. 2 + 4 = 6 Molly’s cat just had six kittens. She named the girls Flossie and Florie.

  32. Linking a fact in the text with a fact in prior knowledge Prior Knowledge Text Every cat is either male or female. 2 + 4 = 6 Molly’s cat just had six kittens. She named the girls Flossie and Florie. Hmm, the other four kittens must be boys. Inference

  33. Linking two facts in the text Prior Knowledge Text Knowledge of concepts is activated, but a key inference comes from combining text facts. Atlanta is the largest city in Georgia. Augusta is the second largest.

  34. Linking two facts in the text Prior Knowledge Text Knowledge of concepts is activated, but a key inference comes from combining text facts. Atlanta is the largest city in Georgia. Augusta is the second largest. Hmm, I’ve never heard of Augusta, but it must be in Georgia.

  35. Why is inferential comprehension so important? Take five to discuss this at your table.

  36. Why is inferential comprehension so important? • When students infer as they read, • they link facts presented explicitly in the text, • they link facts in the text with prior knowledge, • they process the content actively, which helps them understand and remember it better.

  37. Key GPS Inferential Elements • Inferring facts • Inferring main ideas • Inferring cause-and-effect relationships

  38. Before During After Based on the comprehension framework from the Reading First Teacher Academies, it is important to think carefully about the best time to implement an instructional technique: before, during, or after reading. Many of the techniques we will discuss today are best used during reading, while teachers work with students to guide their comprehension. Some techniques can be implemented before or after reading, and a few can be used at multiple points during a lesson. As we discuss each technique, think about the best time to use it.

  39. Key GPS Inferential Elements • Inferring facts • Inferring main ideas • Inferring cause-and-effect relationships

  40. What does this element involve? • The reader logically connects two facts to arrive at a third fact that is not stated. • Both of the original facts may be in the text. OR • One fact may be in the text and the other in the reader’s prior knowledge. How can teachers foster this ability?

  41. The best place to start is by modeling the process of inferring a fact. You can do this through a think-aloud.

  42. Teacher Think-Aloud: One Fact in Text A teacher should model how a stated fact can be linked to prior knowledge. Choose a single sentence from a core selection, a trade book, or a read-aloud. The sentence must clearly state a fact that will support an inference based on knowledge children are likely to possess. Think through how you yourself went about linking the facts. Plan your think-aloud. Make sure you involve students when you deliver it.

  43. Hurricane season along the East Coast of the United States begins in June and continues until the end of November. The peak hurricane months are August and September. The East Coast averages about five hurricanes a year. Over other parts of the world, hurricanes happen year-round. Since Georgia children live on the East Coast, this passage has real significance for them! Of course, the author had no way of knowing where they live, but the teacher can underscore this fact and use it to make an inference.

  44. Hurricane season along the East Coast of the United States begins in June and continues until the end of November. The peak hurricane months are August and September. The East Coast averages about five hurricanes a year. Over other parts of the world, hurricanes happen year-round. Teacher: [After reading the first sentence aloud] Look at our map. Here is the East Coast. You can see that Georgia is on the East Coast. The author says that hurricanes might come between June and November. We need to be careful then! Let’s look at our calendar. I can see that in the spring we’ll be safe from hurricanes. The teacher makes sure that an important fact not mentioned in the text is understood. Then a stated fact is used to make the inference.

  45. Teacher Think-Aloud: Two Facts in Text A good reader is constantly linking the information in each new sentence to sentences previously read. This process is called bridging, or making “backward” inferences. A teacher can demonstrate the process by thinking aloud. Here are some typical situations where bridging is appropriate: A pronoun refers back to an antecedent in a previous sentence.

  46. Toad woke up. “Drat!” he said. “This house is a mess. I have so much work to do.” Frog looked through the window. “Toad, you are right,” said Frog. “It is a mess.” Toad pulled the covers over his head.

  47. Toad woke up. “Drat!” he said. “This house is a mess. I have so much work to do.” Frog looked through the window. “Toad, you are right,” said Frog. “It is a mess.” Toad pulled the covers over his head. The teacher points to the word it and says, “Now when Frog says, “It is a mess,” the word it goes back to the word … [here the the finger slowly moves up the page] … house.”

  48. Toad woke up. “Drat!” he said. “This house is a mess. I have so much work to do.” Frog looked through the window. “Toad, you are right,” said Frog. “It is a mess.” Toad pulled the covers over his head. The teacher points to the word it and says, “Now when Frog says, “It is a mess,” the word it goes back to the word … [here the the finger slowly moves up the page] … house.”

  49. Teacher Think-Aloud: Two Facts in Text A good reader is constantly linking the information in each new sentence to sentences previously read. This process is called bridging, or making “backward” inferences. A teacher can demonstrate the process by thinking aloud. Here are some typical situations where bridging is appropriate: A pronoun refers back to an antecedent in a previous sentence. A noun is used to refer to another noun. (Technically, this type of reference is called anaphora.)

  50. Red ants are very busy bugs! The spend each day finding food and bringing it back home. They also build tunnels and guard their eggs. These insects are great workers.