Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reading Behaviors

So much of reading goes beyond simply teaching skills, sounds, and words. Teaching reading is really about teaching a child to think. And since the results of thoughts are behaviors, we’re really teaching kids how to behave towards text.

The past few weeks I’ve been perusing the latest results of our school’s reading assessment, the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment). I’ve been looking at each child’s assessment and, particularly for those who’ve fallen behind, tried to get inside their heads to see what’s holding them back. If I think I have a suggestion that might work with a child I leave a sticky note on the folder with ideas the teacher might try in guided reading groups.

With students who are having trouble decoding the words I’ve noticed a few trends. For the most part, the kids who have not made progress are the ones who are not self-correcting their errors. They’re not monitoring their own reading, and the result is either kids who read words that make no sense and yet they keep reading (reading trellis for turtle) or they read words that do make sense but that don’t match the text (reading chick for hen). The former kids aren’t asking themselves, “Does that make sense?” and the latter kids need to ask themselves, “Does that look right?”

Of course, if they’re not asking those questions, then we need to be the one to do the asking. We should be like a broken record, constantly reminding them that reading has to make sense AND it has to match the text. The hope is that with enough reminding, they may begin to hear our voice inside their head as they read and begin asking themselves the questions.

It reminds me of the behavior modifications I used to use with one of my impulsive second graders years ago. His name was Cody (a pseudonym) and he was as distractible, hyper and impulsive as they come. But he had a heart of gold and whenever he got in trouble he was crushed. I could tell that he’d begin the day with the best of intentions, and then suddenly it was as if he just found himself playing with soap in the bathroom or having a pencil “fight” with his best friend. When I scolded him he’d hang his head and apologize profusely, hoping I wouldn’t call his parents.

My plan for him was to interrupt his shenanigans as early as possible and ask, “Cody, is this a good decision?” and help him decide on his own to change his behavior. I said it often enough that by mid-year he began stopping himself, sometimes after the bad behavior had started, with “the question” ringing in his head. He’d cut is eyes over at me, grin, and go back to what he was supposed to be doing. It didn’t happen every time, maybe even most times, but once he started self-regulating his own behavior, I knew he was on the right track.

We want the same thing for our readers as well. We want to prompt them with self-monitoring cues so often that they begin internalizing our voice and hearing it even when we’re not there. Does that look right? Does that make sense? These questions should constantly repeat themselves inside our students’ heads as they read.

These stuck kids aren’t always kids who need more phonics, or more sight words. Many times, they simply need to be taught how to think about text.

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