Are You Teaching or Testing Comprehension?

irene_fountas_photoby Irene Fountas, Author and Founder/Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

All too often, successful comprehension has been regarded as a student’s ability to answer a teacher’s questions (which is one way of assessing comprehension), but it does not enhance the reader’s self-regulating power for processing a new text with deep understanding. Think about how your teaching moves may be focused on testing when you continually pose questions, or how you can shift to teaching or helping students learn how to comprehend texts for themselves.

Teaching for comprehending means supporting your students’ ability to construct the meaning of the text in a way that expands their reading ability. You can help them learn what to notice in a text and what is important to think about, how to solve problems when meaning is not clear, and provide scaffolds to develop their in-the-head systems for working through the meaning of the text. These abilities are generative, so students will be able to transfer what they learn how to do as readers before, during, or after reading to a variety of increasingly challenging texts in every genre.

Introduce the text to readers

When you introduce a challenging text to your students, be sure to help them notice how the writer constructed the meaning, organized the text, used language and made decisions about the print features. Help them know how the book works and get them started thinking about the writers’ purpose and message and the characteristics of the genre.

Prompt the readers for constructive activity

As students read orally, interact very briefly at points of difficulty to demonstrate, prompt for, or reinforce effective problem-solving actions that they can try out and make their own. Your facilitative language is a call for the reader to engage in problem-solving that expands their reading strengths.

Teach students how to read closely

Take the readers back into the text after reading to notice the writer’s craft more closely. Select a phrase, sentence or paragraph, or focus on helping them notice how the writer organized the whole text. Revisiting the text calls the reader’s attention to particular features.

Engage students in talk about texts

Talk represents thinking. When students talk about a text, they are processing the vocabulary, language and content aloud. This enables them to articulate their understandings, reactions and wonderings. When they learn to be articulate in their talk, they can then show their ability to communicate their thinking about texts in their writing.

Engage students in writing about texts

Writing about reading is a tool for sharing and thinking about a text. When students articulate their thoughts in writing, they confirm their understandings, reflect on the meaning and explore new understandings.

Testing is a controlled task for measuring what students can do without teacher help. Teaching is the opportunity to make a difference in the self-regulating capacity of the learner. Reflect on your teaching moves and engage in a discussion with your colleagues to shift from testing to teaching. When students focus on meaning-making with every text they read, they will be able to show their competencies on the test.

For more information about the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative’s events and trainings, visit http://www.lesley.edu/crr

4 thoughts on “Are You Teaching or Testing Comprehension?

  1. Thank you , Irene. This is an answer to my prayers! I am sharing it with everyone I know who is in any involved with teaching reading to young children both in the USA and Rwanda!

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  2. I am a Literacy Collaborative trained literacy leader in a large urban school district. We have been using the Benchmark Assessment Systems since they first came out. One problem we are seeing is teachers not assessing the comprehension conversation accurately and the results do not match other data we have gathered on the students, or what we actually see in the classroom. Rather than prompting the student during a conversation, teachers are using the prompts as a question/answer session. This is causing the teachers to score the students higher than the students can actually work during instruction. Can you address this issue? All I can find printed is the need to prompt the students, but not specifically to avoid a question and answer session with the prompts provided.

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    • This is a serious concern. Teachers need professional development to learn how to elicit student thinking without leading or interrogating. Use phrases like, “Say more about that” or “What else can be helpful?”

      We have found that teachers need to learn what is strong behavioral evidence in the scoring as many are overrating the evidence in the conversation. This results in scores that are false highs and instruction is not accurately pitched.

      Hope this helps!

      Irene

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