Ask the right questions.
"It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” ~ Eugene Ionesco
Students spend the first four years of school learning to read. They should spend the rest of their lives reading to learn. But they can’t learn from texts if they lack the skills needed for deep and meaningful comprehension. Our education system dedicates those critical first years of school to developing phonological awareness skills so students can recognize the words in texts. We must provide the same kind of skill-building focus on comprehension so students truly understand what they’re reading.
The texts we read help us make informed decisions about ourselves, our communities, and the world around us. But to make informed decisions, we must possess the ability to discern facts from opinions. Facts are information that can be proven. Opinions express an author’s own beliefs, values, and emotions, and therefore cannot be proven true or false.
It’s as important to understand an author’s purpose for writing a text as it is to understand the text’s main idea. Knowing an author’s intent allows us to approach a text with the appropriate mindset. We must be able to recognize when an author is trying to persuade us to change what we think or believe, or how we behave. We must be able to identify words or phrases that demonstrate an author’s slant or bias. And, of course, we must be able to determine when an author is simply trying to entertain us.
How do we help students develop these skills? We ask them questions about the texts they read. Literal recall questions about explicit details of a text often test memory, not comprehension. A student might remember information presented in a text, but that does not mean the student understood the meaning of that information. So the questions we ask must guide students toward precise and thoughtful comprehension.
One of the most important aspects of my job as Chief Content Officer for Reading Plus is to help students develop the critical skills needed to understand the texts read for school, work, and pleasure. The content creation team designs comprehension questions that make sure students get the “gist” of texts, but we also make sure students can integrate, analyze, and interpret the ideas presented in texts.
My team knows that proficient readers actively make predictions, make connections, and evaluate the validity of arguments as they read. These readers link the new ideas they encounter in texts to their life experiences and background knowledge, creating bridges between what they already know and what they are learning. Reading Plus makes sure to ask questions that help all students acquire the comprehension skills of proficient readers.
Comprehension is the foundation of literacy. We must help students to learn, practice, and strengthen the critical comprehension skills they’ll need to be lifelong learners. How can we do it? Ask the right questions.
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