Have you ever been reading something and suddenly realized that you had no idea what you had just read? This happened to me recently when I was reading a novel. I realized that I had read a whole page and could not recall what I had just read!
I thought to myself, okay, I know I have lost the meaning and the gist of what I have read. We in education we call this “self monitoring”, which is monitoring our own reading to know how well we are accessing print messages and understanding what we are reading.
The experience made me think about what I do to gain meaning back – and what happens to our students when they lose meaning.
First, I realized that I couldn’t retell or put in my own words what I had just read. Instead, I drew on my knowledge of the characters in the text and the plot that was developing before I lost meaning. In doing this I was making connections to what I already knew – the text structure, the main ideas and the developing story line.
Next, I asked myself several questions – wondering what might have happened to the characters– before going back to re-read the section of text again. And, yes, I read it slowly – reducing the speed at which I was reading and making sure that I was paying attention to the main ideas and supporting details.
In essence, I drew on my knowledge of a range of comprehension strategies to assist me. I did not rely on just one strategy – rather a range of strategies that included questioning, re-reading, varying my speed, paraphrasing and identifying the main points. And it worked! I was back on track.
Unfortunately many of our students – of all ages – often lose meaning as they read. The problem for many of them is that they don’t always know when they have lost meaning or, further, what to do about it when they no longer understand what they are reading. This is where comprehension strategy instruction is so important – providing authentic and carefully planned opportunities for students to learn to access a range of comprehension strategies that will assist them when they need help.