Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Comprehension and Vocabulary

The RAND Reading Study Group (2002) definition of comprehension strikes me. Comprehension is "the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language" (p. 11). That makes my head spin a little, and I'm 27 years old. We're taking away. We're building. We're interacting. We're a part of something. Duke (2003) says we're navigating and critiquing too. We're doing it all at the same time! No wonder these kids struggle with it. God forbid we ever tell them what we really expect them to do. When any of the basic literacy skills is missing, this becomes ten times more challenging.

Background knowledge is one of the trickiest areas of comprehension in my opinion. We're trying to help students make connections to things they already know and have learned (Pardo, 2004). However, they may have been struggling long enough that there are significant holes in their academic knowledge, and we have to rely solely on what they know from their personal lives. Now, it's great to be able to make text-to-self connections, but by the intermediate grades, we have to assume they've learned and remember some things from previous grades. This is a key point in the literacy cycle. Sometimes we have to play catch up.

I like that Pardo (2004) suggests we sometimes give students difficult texts to provide opportunities for them to practice their comprehension strategies. Stahl (2012) would agree if the reading occurs in a shared setting. Having the teacher read the "stretch texts" while modeling his or her thinking allows children both the chance hear a fluent reader and the strategies they will need to use once they are on their own. Teaching students how to select appropriate texts has always looked inauthentic to me. I'm not sure how to describe it, but telling students there are books they shouldn't read just seems wrong. I understand the purpose, but I think I have yet to see it modeled in a way that I would follow.

Stahl and Bravo (2010) bring interesting insight to the idea of what it means to "know" a word. I think it's important to remember that students don't just know or not know. They could be in any number of positions around the understanding of the fact that a word exists or that it means somethings sometimes or even all the possible meanings!

I'm intrigued by the study put forth by Bauman, Ware, and Edwards (2007). I'm impressed by the knowledge students took away, but it was so comprehensive. I know we have to give our all in everything, but sometimes (in compartmentalized classrooms for example) we don't have the chance to have our hands in everything in that way. Can we pick and choose and see similar results?

Another question I have is how to get students to actually use the tools we provide. Imparting the knowledge of how to use the Vocabulary Rule and Word-Part Clues is great, but I get the feeling from some students that it will take a lot to get them to care enough to use them (Bauman, Ware, & Edwards, 2007). I wish we had the insight as children to take good notes on our own literacy journeys. When did decoding become natural for me?

Bauman, Ware, and Edwards (2007) respond with fostering word consciousness. The students with whom I'm working now need more than personal dictionaries and lessons on how much more interesting it is to read writing with varied vocabulary. I think games and challenges might be the best inspiration.

I know I've covered motivation before, but now that I've spent some time in the classroom, it's clear: Motivation is key. I was reading Pardo's (2004) article while working on an unrelated assignment, and I realized how important it is to me that my students do authentic work. I don't want them to do busy work until they get an idea. I want them to care enough to want to learn.

*On a side note, I found a cool site with lots of online wordy resources. Check it out.


Baumann, J. F., Ware, D., & Edwards, E. C. (2007). "Bumping into spicy, tasty words that catch your tongue": A formative experiment on vocabulary instruction. The reading teacher 61(2), 108-122.

Pardo, L. S. (2004). What every teacher needs to know about comprehension. The reading teacher, 58(3), 272-280.

Rivas, K. (2010, May 24). 50 coolest online tools for word notes [Blog]. Retrieved from http://www.onlineuniversities.com/blog/2010/05/50-coolest-online-tools-for-word-nerds/

Stahl, K. A. D. (2012). Complex text or frustration-level text: Using shared reading to bridge the difference. The reading teacher, 66(1), 47-51.

Stahl, K. A. D., & Bravo, M. A. (2010). Contemporary classroom vocabulary assessment for content areas. The reading teacher, 63(7), 566-578.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reading Levels

I am really interested in the idea that we should be providing text books that are on students' independent reading level rather than their instructional level (Allington, 2002). Yes, we want high standards. We want to push our students, but we also want them to be able to read and comprehend their content material! I think a large factor is how much they are reading independently versus with the support of their teachers and classmates.

Wouldn't it be nice if students' word recognition always aligned with their comprehension? Unfortunately, educational decisions are rarely that simple as Halladay (2012) points out. As I've posted previously, I'm still pretty much in favor of not counting students' reading errors if they don't affect comprehension. As long as students get the message, there are so many other things to worry about! Maybe I'm naive.

The assumption that "certain levels of decoding and comprehension difficulty cause frustration" (Halladay, 2012, p. 59) is so complex, but ultimately, I think a lot of it comes down to projecting our own issues on children. I know there is a book sitting on my bookshelf, Making a Killing, The Political Economy of Animal Rights (2007). I would love to read it, but it's definitely at my frustration level (which is hard to admit). I keep it there, thinking someday I will just dig in, but I don't. I've tried, and I get frustrated and quit.

Someday, Mr. Torres...

Children aren't necessarily the same. They can read a book that's "too hard" and still have a good time. Do they comprehend all of it? No! According to Halladay (2012), they may not comprehend half of it, but it doesn't always bother them. I think this means that we as teachers need to be aware of our students' interests and provide a wide spectrum of titles they may want to try. We should be forgiving if they decide a book isn't a good fit after they start it because we do that too. They may just push themselves a little farther than they would have otherwise though, and in my book, that's a very good thing.


Allington, R. L. (2002). You can't learn much from books you can't read. Educational leadership, 60(3), 16-19.

Halladay, J. L. (2012). Revisiting key assumptions of the reading level framework. The reading teacher, 66(1), 53-62