Friday, November 20, 2015

Comprehending: Isolated Strategy Use or a System of Strategic Actions?

By Wendy Sheets
Intermediate & Middle Level Literacy Collaborative Trainer

Is it our goal to prepare students to name strategies or is the goal to create independent readers who strategically process text?

If our rationale for engaging students in using a network of strategic actions (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006) is creating independent readers with effective reading processes, then let's think about what we do as independent readers. Consider this. When you read a text, do you stop and say to yourself, "Now I need to stop and make an inference" before proceeding to infer? Of course not! Yet, this practice is being taught in many classrooms. As an independent reader, I construct meaning before, during, and after reading. I think about the text before starting to read. As I consider the author, the title, and the topic, I glance through the text noticing the structure, and I begin to develop some expectations for the text.  I think about the text as I'm reading, bringing all of my background experiences to the transaction, to make meaning. Everything I've ever read or experienced combines with everything presented by the author. As I integrate what I'm reading with what I already know, a transaction takes place. And if I have the benefit of building conversation with other people, my thinking is further clarified and lifted by their thinking. This might take place during my reading or afterward. As a reader, I construct meaning during that reader-text transaction, and when I engage in conversation with others, we further construct meaning together.

If you were to listen in on our conversation, you would most likely be able to identify and label the kind of thinking we were doing as readers. You might notice we were inferring what the author implied but didn't explicitly state. Perhaps we made connections with our personal lives, other texts, or events in the world in order to better understand the story. We may have made predictions as we considered what might happen next, and as we integrated new learning with our current understandings, we may have been synthesizing. As our conversation moved to "about the text" thinking, you may have heard us analyzing the decisions the author made to construct the text - perhaps regarding the structure, text features, the way a character was portrayed, or the decision to present the information the way he did. We may critique those decisions, deciding whether they were effective in conveying meaning. We might ponder the writer’s credibility, considering bias as well. We may distance ourselves from the text, pushing back against the textual ideology to probe cultural assumptions and the competing voices within it. “If we view a text as a historical and social construction, we may resist, at times, the pull of the story” (Lewis, 2001).