Prevailing Technology

This week I was saddened to attend the funeral of a dear lady who had lived her life in full. It came to me how much the use of technology had helped the grieving family during this difficult time. Her family are not particularly ICT savy but there was plenty technology in use during the service. The chapel at Marsden House was wired with an audio loop for the hard of hearing. The family had put together a slide show that played on a ceiling mounted data projector. The service was being relayed live to family members overseas that could not attend and a grandson had emailed an oral tribute and song of remembrance to be played to the gathering. The whole thing was being recorded to DVD. Each of these enhancements were much valued by Joy’s family and friends. They weren’t particularly special or made a fuss of- they were just tools that people used to fulfil a need.

Teaching Reading Comprehension with Dr Alison Davis

Teaching Reading Comprehension - Product Details @ Learning Network NZ
Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day with Dr Alison Davis who wrote ‘Teaching Reading Comprehension‘. This was the first non online or in-house PD I have attended this year and it was an excellent day with lots of new ideas about the deeper features of teaching reading comprehension and I wanted to share my take on it to further cement the ideas in my own head before implementing them in my classroom. Along with the theoretical there were lots of practical ideas as well. Alison knows her stuff and it is always good to talk with the people who really know what they are talking about rather than hear the message filtered through someone else’s eyes as you are doing here!

The focus of the day was on practical metacognition, looking at the pieces of the jigsaw that it means to be a fluent and accurate reader.

We, as teachers,  can make a difference- we can help children make accelerated progress to improve reading fluency beyond  what a child will do by maturation. There is a need for explicit teaching. Alison started by posing the question, ‘How much focussed reading time do we spend in deep reading instruction- how many minutes a week would it add up to. I have five instructional reading groups in my class and they get 20 or so minutes with me twice a week. Times that by 40 weeks. I had to do the sums a couple of times- I thought I had made a mistake. Allowing for other events that get in the way of instruction Alison has figured that children get a frankly rather pathetic- 12-18 hours of focussed reading instruction a YEAR!!! So how can we made that eighteen hours the most effective as it can be. We need to make the learning time BEFORE and AFTER the focussed reading instruction as good as it can possibly be looking carefully at what the kids are doing when they are not involved in the direct explicit instruction. The Reciprocal Reading approach came from the metacognition theorists- it hooks into what good readers do automatically and explicitly teaches it.

Knowing when you are learning, knowing when you’re not learning, what to do about it, knowing why you are learning and doing the learning. What strategies (tools) might you use when you are reading?? Like gardening- you have to know there are tools that you could use and then use them- the right tool for the task. Researcher  Michael Pressley found  that there are 40 odd strategies that good readers do to read fluently. Reading is an active activity- not a passive one.

Before the instruction it is crucial to activate Prior Knowledge.

Formative assessment WALTs…  We know we have achieved this when… Because… Success criteria- show me… Self and peer assessment as long as there is criteria to assess that your assessing peer can SEE.
Eg We are learning to visualise what we read because good readers see images as they read. We know we are successful when we tell our buddy what we ‘see’ when we are reading and give a word from the story that gives you a clue to the image that the text invokes.

Eg Leading to what did you hear when you were reading– what do you hear when the text says ‘said’? How much that word ‘said’ changes the tone of what is happening in the story? Exchange that word ‘said’ with whispered, stated, offered, replied, and the rest.

Importance of prior knowledge– how important that is- give it more of a place in the reading process- before the lesson with the teacher- giving children an activity the activates prior knowledge. When we talk about prior knowledge of

  • content- do they know about what is happening in the story
  • text selection – eg electricity first lesson might totally on the vocabulary children need to know to access the text
  • structure- main characters, characters, setting plot are things that happen in fiction but it won’t be there if you are going to read a non-fiction text. How an explanation differs from a narrative as a genre.
  • personal knowledge- the personal and cultural prior knowledge that children bring to the text

Construct generic graphic organisers to give some structure to this. Here comes the plug- buy the ebooks based on our NZ School Journals by yours truly here!

Example One- before reading a book about fishing have children complete the graphic organiser below to activate prior learning about fishing.

Allison Davis
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

Example Two- This graphic was from a story one of my reading groups had used earlier this week- I had already made this one. I must be doing something right!

Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

Example Three- Children record the vocabulary they think they are likely to meet in the story and tick them off as they do meet them AND they can also tick off synonyms for those words.

Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

Example Four- Give each child a different picture/vocab from the book and get kids think about what they are going to meet in the story- thinking critically about what they are going to read.

Anything that brings kids to stickability so that it becomes automaticity.

Struggling readers use all the cognitive capacity into decoding so that less brain power is available to thinking about what they are reading. They reach a cognitive overload- there is just so much new stuff going on that child reaches overload.

For things to stick it has give kids something to hook their new learning into and it gives you some information on what holes and gaps that they bring to prior learning. I liken this a bit to putting the full stops in when writing. It has to be so STUCK that you don’t even really need to think about it- you just do it.

The Thinking Aloud Strategy- making the strategies accessible to others by verbalising, telling others the processes, thoughts and ideas that you used to make meaning from texts. Describe what you did with your prior learning, make learning process visible to yourself and others- like we do in maths.

Knowing what ‘good’ comprehenders do-

  • The ability to decode- phonemic awareness and knowledge, phonics and word attack skills
  • Basic sight words- and strategies to work these out- read and SPELL in isolation and in context to automaticity- overtly taught- really high priority- a lot of them are not phonemic- so you have to get them BY SIGHT- they are high frequency in their own right but also because they are inside other words as well.
  • Wide vocabulary- oral as well. The words need to be in there to start with!
  • Fluency and strategies to be fluent- out loud, absolute need for prior knowledge- REPEATED READING. Kids need this so less of their brain is taken up with the decoding/struggling and more can be left over for comprehending.
  • Accuracy and strategies for accuracy
  • Comprehension and strategies for comprehension- main idea, summarising…

But each of these bullet points is itself huge.

So when the kids are not with you kids should be…..

Repeatedly reading
Word recognition- what to do when I come I don’t know
Basic sight words
Developing vocabulary
Focussing on accuracy
Maintenance of past taught- like visualisation

WORD RECOGNITION– Pg43 targeted observation of what to do when you don’t know- word strategies- making connections with spelling learning. A note here- I have always been a big fan of whole language learning and this focus on phonemes and the like has me close to the edge of my cognitive overload! I remember when my teachers tried to teach me long and short vowels I just could not hear the difference even though I was OK reader. It wasn’t until I tried to teach it that it sort of started to make sense to me.

Phonemic Awareness  a phoneme is the smallest sound you can hear in a word- eg d, dad, d-a-d. Whereas phonemic awareness is phonics when you see them written down. The 26 letters of the alphabet produce 43-46 sounds- long and short vowels are actually important eg cut/cute AND when you add a suffix that starts with i you loose the e- that sort of thing.

  • Teach the most common rules- hard and soft sounds like hard c/ soft c. Understanding that there are exceptions but not that many with the more important ones.
  • Segmenting and blending d-o-g
  • Multi-syllabic words – list-en-ing
  • Morphological – the knowledge of the rules like compound words, suffixes, root words ( I say ‘base word’ cos my kids snigger when I say ‘root’.)
  • All of the ways that you can write that long ā sound- slay, straight, made, neighbor, prey, rein, rain, great,
  • Make word lists that involve seeing the pattern that the one sound can be represented in different ways, play games based around recognising the patterns.
  • Explicit teaching includes demonstration, explanation, information (what, why, when) scaffolded practice- guided to independent use, planned transfer access curricula, student demonstration, explanation and self reflection. Equipping kids with a range of tools they can use when they come to a word they don’t know.
  • Onset and rime– there is a list of the most common rimes- Ake, ain, ake, all, ane, an, ank, ap, ask, at, ate, aw, ay, eat, ell, est, ice, ide etc…. I thought Alison had spelt rhyme wrong at this point- just to show my ignorance!
  • Peeling away to shorter more understandable words eg un-surpris-ing-ly
  • How would you help a child decode ‘hospital’ page 47 or ‘benefit’; beneafit, benifit, beneyfit- are the spelling mistakes kids making phonetically acceptable. Spelling Under Scrutiny is something else I have been exploring this year also.

Things to do when you know that you don’t know a word

  • Sounding out
  • Vowel alert-
  • Tricky part alert
  • Rhyming
  • Peeling off the extras
  • Look for little words inside
  • Look for the syllables
  • Read on/ read through

A new section on TKI to help teachers with this learning… Click on the graphic to take you there…

Home - Sounds and Words
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

Vocabulary Acquisition

Looking up in a dictionary won’t advance stickability. Many new words are learned indirectly. ALL kids need to be read to, older kids just as much as little kids. Ask a bookstore near you with staff who know kids books or the National Library.

Even ‘little words’ have big meanings. For example do a dictionary search for the little word ‘run’ use Dictionary on the Apple and if you are on line. They give 179 meanings for run- run up, run down, run in, run out…….

Before reading- subject specific vocab- don’t be afraid to teach the vocabulary particularly if its subject specific. New vocab needs to be taught in context AND morphology in tandem to enhance vocabulary learning. Pg 106

  • SPOTLIGHTING- Teacher writes a list of the vocab that might be challenging. Spotlight the words- seek and destroy. If there are red words we need to teach the meaning and its root word.
  • RED if you have no idea- we need to learn these words
  • ORANGE I have a bit of an idea- talk about them
  • GREEN–  I am sure I know that word- look at the green words- is it a word with more that one meaning. What is the meaning of that word in this text.

Loosing me a bit here after lunch and being a Friday afternoon and all……. Just found a free wifi access, checking mail, why won’t Twitter allow me to post…. Drifting……. Drifting……. Re-focus……

  • FOCUS on the base word eg if you don’t know ‘sustainability’ but you do know sustain then you are much better placed to keep the meaning of what you are reading.
  • Tier Words- Tier One Words– most frequently used- sight vocabulary- the must haves. Tier Two Words– frequently used- what are the words that are most important for children to know about Tier Three– subject specific- not often occurring in instruction to learn on as ‘on need to know’ basis.


Again some graphic organisers

Organiser One– synonym web- the word in the middle and synonyms spider out from it.

Organiser Two– The Cline- put the words into steps- rate the word on a scale-

Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

Organiser Three– Word Families- build the family eg happy, unhappy, happily, unhappily happiest, happiness, happier. Then talk about the  grammar of these words- which of these is a noun, adjective etc

Sketch the word. How would you sketch a word like sustainability but as you do you explain why you drew that, write your own definition, write the clues for it when used in a crossword puzzle, cloze procedure and the discussion that surrounds the marking of tense, syntactically or grammatically correct.

Focus on a word- in your teaching group…

  • Someone finds the base word
  • Someone finds a definition
  • Someone finds a synonym
  • Someone finds a example
  • Someone finds a antonym

Categorising Page 92 eg  focus on the word ‘irresistible’ find a place that is irresistible, a person who is irresistible, an event that is irresistible- cements the meaning of the word into your schema (things that you know)- stickability.


Teaching Children to use these strategies for understanding reading, to learn a number of different strategies either intentionally or unintentionally, used before, during and after, direct and intentional teaching is effective in promoting reading comprehension.

  • Summarising
  • Construction of mental images, visualising
  • Question generation and question answering during reading
  • Activation of prior knowledge
  • Prediction of up coming content
  • Inference
  • Clarification
  • Analysis and synthesis
  • Evaluation
  • Self monitoring
  • Ability to correct faulty comprehension

And at that stage we finished up the day. I found the challenging and informative and could well have spent longer delving more deeply but it was time well spent with some easy to construct and useful ideas for taking back to my classroom and sharing with teachers. Thanks Alison

Putting this post together was a bit of a mission but blogging it helps me ‘stick’ the learning in my own head if nothing else.

Greg Carroll added a really useful link to his post on a similar theme that I post here in case you don’t have a mind to read the comments directly.