What is Monitoring Comprehension?
Why do we teach children to monitor their comprehension?
How do we teach monitoring comprehension?
The Sample Lesson: Monitor Your Thinking
What Is Monitoring Comprehension?
The dictionary defines “monitor” as “to watch, observe, listen to, or check something for a specific purpose over a period of time; to keep track of.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/monitor. Being aware of how we’re doing – in a sport, in our health, in relationships with other people – helps us to build on successes, or to spot trouble and do something about it. Whether we’re five or fifty, when we monitor, we gain control and independence.
Monitoring our comprehension means noticing our thinking as we read. We notice our confusions. We use our background knowledge and recognize when something is new, what questions we have as we read, and what inferences we are making. We sift through what we think is important to pay attention to and notice how it all comes together into big ideas. Although monitoring is considered one of the six research-based comprehension strategies, in a sense it’s really the umbrella over all of them.
Teaching children to monitor their comprehension means teaching them to notice the thinking they do as they read. First, we have to teach them that proficient readers actually do think while they read! For young children, this can be a revelation, especially if they are used to seeing reading as a game of getting the letters and sounds to match up to words – a game or a tremendous struggle, depending on their success at decoding. Children often believe that the goal is to get all the words right and do it as quickly as possible, and meaning easily gets lost in the process. Fluency of course is important to comprehension; if you read too slowly you can’t keep enough information in your brain from the beginning of a sentence or paragraph to the end to make meaning at all. But we need to be sure we teach children that the real point of reading is to learn, to get ideas, to feel something, to enjoy. To accomplish those goals, we have to slow down – as Steph Harvey and Anne Goudvis say, “Stop, Think, and React.” That is what we mean by monitoring.
We’ve placed monitoring first among the comprehension strategy sections in this module for several purposes:
- Noticing our thinking is the first step towards understanding what we read, so it is essential to any other strategy.
- While research shows that proficient readers use specific strategies to read well, the most important point is just to think. We set the stage for a more authentic, reader-driven use of strategies when we introduce children to noticing what is going on in their own thinking before we begin to label different kinds of thinking.
- Thinking when we read is a huge key to engagement. The child who monitors does not shrug her shoulders and move on when text gets complicated, or sit frozen waiting for help, or abandon reading to start annoying others. Nor does she just read the words to be the first one finished and wonder what to do next. Children who stop, think, and react are much more fully involved with their reading.
- Every child can be successful with monitoring his or her thinking. There isn’t one right answer their teacher wants, and the diversity of thinking among the children is greatly valued. Children thrive when they realize there are many paths to success.
We begin teaching children to monitor their comprehension through Interactive Read-Alouds. We read wonderful picture books that explore themes related to children’s lives, use rich vocabulary, and have delightful illustrations. We model our own thinking as we read, and then gradually release the responsibility for thinking to the children. We give them many opportunities to turn and talk with partners to work through their developing ideas, and to draw or write their thinking.
We recommend using this practice over and over and over– with fiction, nonfiction, poetry. It will accomplish so many goals at once. We can build children’s vocabulary far beyond what they will encounter in books they can read independently, expose them to all sorts of text structures and features, to characteristics of many different types of fiction and nonfiction, to literary devices and common themes. And we build a community through sharing these mentor texts – all the while teaching children to think, to monitor what is going on in their brains.
The sample lesson provided in this segment is called “Monitor Your Thinking.” It is based on the first monitoring lesson in the Primary Comprehension Toolkit (Harvey and Goudvis), “Think About the Text.” Through this lesson, Darlington teacher Irby DuBose teaches her kindergarten students that the most important thing to do while reading is to think and react. When she asks, “Are you really reading if you’re not thinking?” they respond with a resounding, “No!”
The lesson exposes children to some of the most important types of thinking that readers use to understand – making connections, asking questions, making inferences – to encourage them to try these out themselves. We also included “having feelings” – which might be considered both making connections and making inferences – to help young children recognize that their emotional reactions are as important as their cognitive ones. We want children to know that whatever they are thinking is valid and important. We are all different and different strategies will help us at different times. By introducing multiple strategies at once, and opening the door to whatever thinking or feeling is authentically going on in our minds, we set the stage for children to use strategies flexibly, how and when they need them, rather than in a formulaic and artificial way. Later we can circle back and explore each strategy more in depth.
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