During the past two weeks, I have been reminded that my teaching as a librarian involves reading comprehension in many more ways than I often consider. As Duke & Pearson have noted, many struggle to see that “comprehension is more than just listening to the words you decode to see if they make sense” (2002, p. 214). Unchecked, this misconception has sometimes led me to think about reading comprehension as something that the undergraduate students I teach have already mastered, rather than a key part of the work that I continue to do with them. Our exploration of reading comprehension in EDC 532 has already started to inform my teaching this semester and I want to reflect on those shifts.
STRATEGIC AND ENGAGED READERS
In order to actively engage with a text and construct meaning, readers need a combination of cognitive capacities, motivation, and knowledge (RAND, 2002). Educators can help students to leverage this combination through both explicit instruction in reading strategies and facilitation of hands-on practice (Buehl, 2014; RAND, 2002; Duke & Pearson, 2002). In terms of supporting reader engagement and strategy development, there are three principles that have stood out to me and influenced my lesson planning over the last two weeks.
Clarify purpose and goals for reading activities. Strategic, engaged readers have a clear purpose or goal in mind for their reading (Buehl, 2014; RAND 2002; Duke & Pearson, 2002). Whether that purpose is internally or externally defined, it influences reading comprehension (Buehl, 2014; RAND 2002; Duke & Pearson, 2002). For readers who may not be naturally interested in the text at hand, focusing on a specific purpose and connecting that purpose to personal experiences can foster their motivation to read (Springer et al., 2017).
Select texts with interests and prior knowledge in mind. Strategic, engaged readers also make connections to their prior knowledge, personal interests, and experiences; they integrate their reading and make adjustments to their understanding to reflect these new connections (Duke & Pearson, 2002; Buehl, 2014; Springer et al., 2017). By selecting texts with student interests and prior knowledge in mind, teachers can help to foster student motivation to read, while also making sure that overly-difficult texts won’t distract from their learning (Springer et al., 2017; Duke & Pearson, 2002).
Engage with motivation and sociocultural context. Although the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) currently only assesses cognitive dimensions of reading, we know that sociocultural context and motivation have a huge influence on reading comprehension. Attitudes about reading in classroom and home contexts influence how students approach reading (Buehl, 2014). Individual student motivation and interest in reading has been shown to improve comprehension, as has being part of a learning community that cultivates interest and engagement (Springer et al. 2017; Duke & Pearson, 2002).
These three takeaways connect across many of our readings in EDC 532 thus far, and directly influence my teaching practice.
Clarifying purpose: While I have often tried to be transparent with students about my goals for classroom activities, the integral nature of reading and purpose sheds new light for me. Later this week, I will be asking students to read a short section of a research article. The primary purpose of this activity is to analyze how researchers integrate outside sources into their writing, providing students with a model for their own citation practices. I want to be really clear about this purpose because it directly influences how the students will engage with the text; rather than seeking domain knowledge, I want students to engage with genre conventions. In other words, clarifying our purpose will help students to “read selectively” (Buehl, 2014; Duke & Pearson, 2002, p. 205-206).
Selecting texts: Sometimes I spend a lot of time selecting example texts to use in class and I am feeling newly validated in spending this time. When I selected texts to use during a workshop on evaluating information earlier this semester, I tried to find texts that would strike the right balance of features: connected to topics related to student interests and knowledge, not too technically challenging, not politically charged to the point of distraction, while also including claims that require some outside research. With an evaluative purpose in mind, I didn’t want to select texts that made other, unnecessary demands on comprehension (Duke & Pearson, 2002). Selecting texts is also one of the major ways in which I engage with reader motivation and sociocultural context. In this particular course, I was looking to balance student motivation to debunk faulty claims with any other contextual experiences they may bring to that process.
I’m wondering if it makes sense to think about reading comprehension itself as an inquiry process. I often think about reading as feeding into or supporting student inquiry. But proficient readers ask many different kinds of questions while reading and through these questions, they may identify gaps in their own knowledge, seek definitions for unfamiliar ideas, question the purpose and effectiveness of the author, make connections to their own interests, or reevaluate their goals for reading (Duke & Pearson, 2002; Buehl, 2014; Springer et al. 2017). This process of wondering and asking is embedded within reading, not just an outside frame for why the reading is happening.
Thinking about the relationship between reading and inquiry, I’m also wondering how cognitive biases like confirmation bias intersect with what we know about reading comprehension. Duke and Pearson (2002) note that making predictions while reading an expository text can look different if the reader’s existing knowledge “is riddled with misconceptions” or “prejudices” (p. 214). I’m imagining that this means that if a text contradicts a strongly held belief, a reader may start to discount the text when their predictions prove to be inaccurate. And similarly, a reader may be less likely to critically evaluate a text that confirms their existing beliefs. Can our understanding of prediction-making in reading comprehension inform the way we address misinformation and disinformation? I’m especially looking forward to exploring critical takes on literacy that may overlap with this line of questioning.