Comprehension

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geraldinecarter
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Comprehension

Post by geraldinecarter » Fri Aug 03, 2012 8:51 am

This, from Dick on Yahoo BRI yesterday talking about the Olympic Opening Ceremony, took my fancy:
There were a lot of things about the Ceremony that didn't make much sense to me so I really "didn't like it that much." But after reading several reviews and corresponding with a couple of Brits, it was clearly my "comprehension" that was at fault--I didn't recognize the celebrities or understand the a lot of the historical symbolism. But no instruction in "Comprehension," "Listening," or "Critical Thinking" would have done anything for me. I just lacked the background information.

I "extracted all the meaning" from the presentation I could, but comprehension was a function of what I brought to the TV, not a function of the comprehension.

Some of the Technical Lexicon in the events also throws me: "dig" in volleyball and "tuck" and "pike" in diving. Hadn't bothered with them in the past but finally googled to find out what they mean, so my "comprehension" has improved a bit.

JIM CURRAN
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Re: Comprehension

Post by JIM CURRAN » Fri Aug 03, 2012 3:42 pm

Thanks Geraldine and Dick is spot on when he says: “But no instruction in "Comprehension," "Listening," or "Critical Thinking" would have done anything for me. I just lacked the background information.”
I can read the Financial Times cover to cover but there’s a lot of it that makes little or no sense to me. Like Dick I lack the background knowledge or domain specific knowledge to make sense of what I have just decoded. Academics like E.D Hirsch and Daniel Willingham have been making this point for a long time.

http://www.danielwillingham.com/1/post/ ... nsion.html

elsiep
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Re: Comprehension

Post by elsiep » Sat Aug 04, 2012 5:02 am

So if children aren't taught the mechanics of reading, nor are they given a good grounding in basic information, what do they actually 'do' in schools?

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: Comprehension

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:56 am

'Fun games and activities'?

geraldinecarter
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Re: Comprehension

Post by geraldinecarter » Sat Aug 04, 2012 10:00 am

Good question, Elsie. There are a hundred answers...

become the class and playground bully
sit quietly and take up as little space as possible
dream and muddle your way through the school day and create hell when you get home
spend as much time standing outside the head's office as a punishment - less of a punishment than being in class
disguise difficulties as much as possible - writiing is a mere scribble with some discernible 'letters' -
doped to the eye-balls so you remains controllable in class
become a school refuser
have heaps of money chucked at 'interventions' which sometimes help for a short period
bec
ollow shockingly inappropriate interventions which at least allow you to escape from the class
wear your badge of 'dysexia' with pride -' i'm gifted'
bravura - 'I'm rubbish'

total, total, defeat - it's horrible to witness


in the U.S. it's dealt with by being sent to 'L.D. hell'

is the DfE now officially sanctioning this nightmare?

volunteer
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Re: Comprehension

Post by volunteer » Sat Aug 04, 2012 3:46 pm

I'm not sure what they do in schools. Hopefully it's better than you are thinking.

The thing that always does strike me though (but I went to an independent school from 7 so the comparison is maybe unfair) is the lack of textbooks in every subject at a lot of schools I have seen (including secondaries). We had subject specific textbooks from age 7 onwards. I don't think being sent to the school library when the whole class doing a topic on beetles and sharing one copy of the only readable book that has something about beetles is comparable; neither is looking up a million different websites which might have stuff about beetles on them.

I'm a complete Luddite and when it comes to the way ICT is used in a lot of primaries I think that the same money spent on textbooks and teachers would be a significant improvement.

When I started teaching science at secondary level in the early years of GCSEs I was struck by the weird textbooks they had. They didn't tell you anything.

kestrel
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Re: Comprehension

Post by kestrel » Mon Aug 06, 2012 1:51 am

Volunteer, that lack of textbooks is why all the middle class parents I know spend a fortune on the appropriate GCSE Revision Guides. The good ones are essentially well-written textbooks that cover all the topics for the exam of the relevant exam board. Ditto for A-levels. Less advantaged pupils of course can't afford these or donh't know they exist. The students sitting these exams understand the value of textbooks even if the government doesn't. (My eldest daughter is 21, so I have been through the process fairly recently). :???:

dougie
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Re: Comprehension

Post by dougie » Mon Aug 06, 2012 6:34 pm

Textbooks!!
You obviously have no recent experience of Ofsted in primary! No chance of 'good' let alone 'outstanding' if you are using a textbook. One head I know automatically gives satisfactory or below when doing a classroom observation if a textbook or worksheet is being used. It's all about being 'interactive' folks!
Dougie

JAC
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Re: Comprehension

Post by JAC » Mon Aug 06, 2012 11:18 pm

Textbooks indeed - it is a significant cost to families of several hundreds dollars in Australia, even more so once the child gets to secondary school. 'Booklists' are sent out to students during term 4. You can now pre-order but once, it meant joining enormous queues at the bookshop. The choices of text book are made by subject teachers, and change on a regular basis. No guarantee your second child can make use of a book previously used by an older sibling. This is the reason I have so many atlases - each year a different on, all in pristine condition, one with a cellophane wrapping intact. Some teachers made good use of the chosen text book, others none at all.
The school bookshop that had the monopoly went into liquidation last month.

volunteer
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Re: Comprehension

Post by volunteer » Tue Aug 07, 2012 11:08 am

Every country has its own foibles. I remember being very impressed years ago when a French aunt of mine, living in America, decided to follow the French National Curriculum at the same time as sending them to school in America.

During the summer hols they would visit France and go to a large secondhand bookshop in Paris where they could buy all the set textbooks for the school year. This system worked and at the age of 15 my cousins transferred back into the French Lycee system and went on to top French universities.

I presume it really is true that in France the National Curriculum does mean that the Minister of Education does know what is being taught to each year group and when, and there are also "official textbooks" so the chopping and changing and "publishers' bonanza" you are describing does not take place as there is a good secondhand trade. I am talking years go though - things may have changed.

If Ofsted inspectors are against textbooks without really looking at whether they are being used productively or not, they should be shot. What does Gove think about that? I can't really see it being his way of thinking (fear of textbooks that is, not shooting inspectors).

dougie
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Re: Comprehension

Post by dougie » Tue Aug 07, 2012 3:17 pm

I can assure you that textbooks are alive and well in France. My neice and nephew are in a French school and I have visited it in the past year. Gove would love it- all children on the same page at the same time. The only problem is that 1/3 rd of the class is bored to tears, another third is working at an appropriate level and the other third hasn't much of a clue (or a hope). My sister can't wait to get back here so that her very bright kids can work at the level of which they are capable. (hopefully at the outstanding state comp that my kids went to). France is an egalitarian, deeply socialist country and the idea of differentiation is anathema to them-equal treatment for all- sink or swim basically. Strangely this idea of 'passing' or 'failing' a year sounds much like what Gove is proposing.

volunteer
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Re: Comprehension

Post by volunteer » Tue Aug 07, 2012 3:26 pm

;-) We'll get some textbooks soon then? I didn't realise French schools were so bad. My only experience was this secondhand one decades ago, and it wasn't a true French experience as the children did both an American and a French education simultaneously. Quite how, I will never know.

So in France, do some children stay down if they "fail a year"? In which case do some of the "bottom third" get it next time round, or do some of them emerge at 16 from the equivalent of UK year 2?

Sorry we seem to have got off the subject of comprehension. I do still think though that there is a surprising lack of reference books in all the UK state schools I have seen in recent years - both primary and secondary. It doesn't seem to me to be made up for by the use of ICT in those schools.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: Comprehension

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Tue Aug 07, 2012 4:50 pm

Textbooks!!
You obviously have no recent experience of Ofsted in primary! No chance of 'good' let alone 'outstanding' if you are using a textbook. One head I know automatically gives satisfactory or below when doing a classroom observation if a textbook or worksheet is being used. It's all about being 'interactive' folks!
Dougie
In some schools, I have met such a strong anti-worksheet culture that I have tackled Ofsted about this - because sometimes Ofsted is blamed. The response was that of course worksheets were fine when they are appropriate.

My concern is that this boils down to 'evaluation' of textbooks, worksheets, lesson content and so on - for their fit-for-purposeness - but where is this capacity to evaluate? :???:

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palisadesk
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Re: Comprehension

Post by palisadesk » Tue Aug 07, 2012 6:31 pm

Getting back to the initial post on this topic -- background knowledge is essential to "reading comprehension" in many instances (not all), and Hirsch and others are to be commended in consistently emphasizing this point, as rich curriculum has been overlooked as a significant factor in student achievement. The giants of the U.S. "reform" movement (Rhee, Klein, Gates et alia)all pooh-pooh the importance of curriculum and the need to identify and use effective teaching protocols.

However, Hirsch, Willingham and others are frequently quoted in contexts that make it appear that they believe reading comprehension cannot be taught at all. I'm not sure this is their actual position, but this is often the take-away I see expressed by others. Of course reading comprehension is not a skill -- it is a complex phenomenon, but not a holistic, global one; rather like piloting a jetliner, playing the clarinet or applying medical diagnostics, it is a behavioural repertoire composed of multiple discrete skills and knowledge, some of which can be identified and taught explicitly, much to the advantage of the student. These sub-skills, or component skills, include:
-- background knowledge, as mentioned. This is not always necessary in reading introductory material aimed at a novice to the field or subject in question.
-- vocabulary, both general and specific terms relevant to the material
-- general oral language comprehension, as adverted to in the Simple View of Reading
-- working memory, especially as text becomes more complex or narratives increase in length
-- understanding of figurative language, narrative stricture (story grammar), idioms
-- grasp of pronoun referents, and something called "anaphora" - -that is, when a name or pronoun refers back to something or someone earlier in the text. Research has found that poor comprehenders, even at the university level, often have difficulty linking the pronouns to their appropriate referents and this can totally change the meaning of what they read
-- verbal short-term memory and lexical recall (not exactly the same as working memory)
-- syntactical knowledge, for instance, understanding the passive voice, the use of qualifiers like "moreover" and "consequently," relative clauses, the subjunctive, and much more.
-- understanding "academic English" which differs significantly from oral English. This is a major hurdle for students beginning in middle school and thereafter.

That's only a random list of items that are dealt with in the research on reading comprehension problems that can (and do) face children who may have good decoding skills, adequate vocabulary and background knowledge, and good work ethic.

Now you can easily see that some of these skills, if identified as needing improvement, can be discretely -- even efficiently -- taught. Work should usually begin at the sentence level, as this is where most comprehension breaks down. Many secondary students struggle with the pronoun issues -- they may not be able to "bridge" the meaning over several sentences to connect up a pronoun reference to its antecedent, or they may do so incorrectly. There are exercises we can do to teach them these skills. One thing I found so effective about the DI reading comprehension programs is that they dealt with a number of these discrete subskills, briefly but explicitly, gradually increasing the difficulty over a period of weeks or months. Even the slowest student makes measurable progress, and finds the lessons enjoyable because they are "snappy" and deal with several types of skill. At the higher levels, the DI programs introduce sophisticated exercises in determining contradiction, redundancy, missing or superfluous information, and so on.

Not all students need this of course, but for those who do, identifying which "reading comprehension" subskills are weak (after ensuring they can decode well) can be a huge step towards providing them with the teaching needed for success. We need to beware of the idea that teaching decoding well is the limit of what we can do to develop proficient readers. We can teach many things explicitly and well along with, or in addition to, the Alphabetic Code and its application.

Susan S.

chew8
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Re: Comprehension

Post by chew8 » Tue Aug 07, 2012 7:08 pm

Thanks for that. Susan. Similar thoughts had been going through my mind.

Jenny C.

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