In the last post we examined how my district is exploring the use of consistent reading strategies throughout elementary and middle school (grades K-8): monitoring comprehension, activating and connecting to background knowledge, questioning, visualizing, inferring, determining importance in text, and summarizing and synthesizing information…And, we took a look at how we could leverage the Notice & Note signposts (both fiction and non-fiction) to have students get more out of these strategies in grades 4-8.
Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels, in Comprehension and Collaboration, succinctly explain the significance of reading comprehension strategies, “Explicitly teaching comprehension strategies remains one of the key principles of reading achievement, and the flexible use of comprehension strategies allows readers to hurdle the background knowledge gap when reading challenging text.”
Introducing Reading Comprehension Strategies
As a fourth grade teacher, I introduced the reading comprehension strategies to my students, one at a time, sometimes through the use of a co-created anchor chart. Generally, we spent 1-2 weeks learning and practicing each strategy (often times while instinctively combining its use with previously learned strategies) before moving onto the next. The exception to the rule was monitoring comprehension, on which we spent 3-4 weeks, because (1) it serves as the basis for all other strategies, and (2) it was always learned first and students needed more time getting used to the idea of breaking down texts in a way that was for the most part foreign to them.
After initially introducing a strategy, I chose a text to which the strategy applied and read it aloud to my students while making my thinking visible, especially in regards to how I utilized the strategy to better understand the text. Then, I always called on a handful of my students to do the same (and I was known to grab former students to also model the way). As a class, we discussed and assessed our abilities with the use of these rubrics from Mosaic of Thought.
After working together as a class, students enjoyed implementing the strategy on their own through Storycasting (once again, while instinctively combining its use with previously learned strategies). Here are the directions, verbatim, for our three types of Storycasts:
- Sticky Storycast: Choose a reading along with a metacognitive strategy(ies). During the reading process, place a sticky note wherever the strategy(ies) applies. Use a larger sticky note for note taking. After reading, review each sticky note and ask yourself why you placed it there.
- Written Storycast: Choose a reading along with a metacognitive strategy(ies). Apply the strategy(ies) to the reading process, before, during, and after. Periodically pause, maybe after each page, to write down the voice in your mind. Write the page numbers that correspond with your notes.
- E-Storycast: Choose a reading along with a metacognitive strategy(ies). Apply the strategy(ies) to the reading process, before, during, and after. Record the voice in your mind. Name the Storycast: “Name of reading, pages.”
Click here for the printable Storycast handout.
Students also implemented strategies in groups of two:
- I Read, You Read:
- Both partners complete storycast at same time, alternating pages or paragraphs.
- Partners share and discuss work
- I Read, You Repeat:
- Partner #1 completes a page or paragraph. Partner #2 completes the same page or paragraph. Continue until the reading is complete.
- Partners share and discuss work
- I Read, You Follow:
- Partner #1 completes entire reading. Partner #2 follows along and provides feedback during and after the reading process.
- Repeat with roles reversed
Click here for the printable Storycast Sharing handout.
A Potential Problem
As a fourth grade teacher, for a few years I made the mistake of treating these strategies as the end-game. If you were to have walked into my classroom and asked my students what they were learning, the chances are they would have named one of the strategies; this is a problem…As I’ve previously stated, the goal should be for students to leverage the strategies (and signposts) flexibly and almost subconsciously to develop deeper understandings of what they read. After all, when was the last time you picked up a book and said, “This time I’m going to visualize!”
In Rigorous Reading, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey share, “The problem in the past has been that the development of comprehension strategies has been seen as an outcome in and of itself. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, comprehension strategies are viewed as a path toward understanding and accessing complex texts.”
And, Kylene Beers and Robert Probst hold similar thoughts regarding the signposts, “We hope the signposts and their anchor questions will empower readers to struggle successfully and productively with texts on their own, without relying upon the teacher – and, ultimately, without needing or relying upon these six signposts and questions.”
In the End
So, the goal should be to build each student’s “comprehension toolkit” by hitting each strategy hard and fast, for about 1-2 weeks, and then moving on to the next one until all are learned, enabling students to use them flexibly and almost subconsciously…And, if consistent strategies (and signposts) are established across grade levels, teachers could instead potentially spend 1-2 weeks, or less, reviewing everything and therefore have more time to spend on close reading and various forms of non-strategic reading.
In the end, Storycasting provides students with a fun and unique way to call upon explicit reading comprehension strategies while having their learning documented in one way or another. And, once all strategies are formally taught, there is tremendous value in students using Storycasting to apply everything they’ve learned to talk to the text, monitor their comprehension, and dive deeper into what they’re reading.
What do you think about Storycasting?