Helping students to make connections between what they know and what they are reading improves their comprehension. Teachers can model making such connections, and prompt students to make links with their own knowledge and experience, when they are introducing and discussing texts for reading and in writing and oral-language activities. When activating students’ prior knowledge for a particular purpose, teachers can help the students to hypothesise, infer, and build their own interpretations as they read.
The points listed under the headings “What readers do” and “How teachers can support learners” are examples rather than comprehensive lists of what readers do and what teachers might say to support them.
Hypotheses are expectations or predictions that the reader forms about the text. They are formed before and during the reading. Proficient readers test and revise their hypotheses as they encounter and act upon new information in the text. Depending on the learning goal, a hypothesis may relate to any aspect of the text, for example, its structure, theme, and characterisation, its possible content, or how it engages the reader.
The teacher can usefully model forming a hypothesis when introducing a text. Testing and revising the hypothesis can be modelled later on, during the reading and discussion. This process encourages students to think critically about their own hypotheses, to seek and give feedback about hypotheses, and to revise them in the light of new information. Students often form a hypothesis as a result of asking their own questions about the text.
In this book, the term predicting is used for one of the processing strategies, and the term forming and testing hypotheses is used for one of the comprehension strategies. Predicting in this sense is usually at the word, sentence, or paragraph level, while hypothesizing involves deeper thinking about aspects of the whole text, such as a scientific concept or the development of a character.
Fluent readers spontaneously and continuously pose questions for themselves and attempt to answer these questions (for example, by forming hypotheses) as they interact with the text. They “talk to themselves” about what they are reading, and they do this automatically. They pose questions for themselves about the unfolding content of the text, about the meaning of parts of the text (including particular words and phrases), or about the significance of specific language features.
Questioning helps to reinforce the habit of reading for a purpose. The teacher can raise students’ awareness of the importance of formulating appropriate questions for themselves by, for example, modelling this strategy during shared reading and asking the students to formulate their own questions that relate to a shared learning goal. Asking questions helps readers to engage with the ideas in the text and with the writer and gives focus to the reading task. After students have read a text, it is useful to help them evaluate the effectiveness of the questions they posed for themselves, to identify the benefits they gained by asking questions as they read, and to give them feedback for further learning.
When readers visualise, they connect the ideas in the text with their prior knowledge and experience to create images in their minds. This often means thinking about their senses and using their imagination to see, hear, feel, taste, or smell parts of the text in their minds.
Creating an image can make a text come alive for the reader. The ability to visualise what is being explained or what is happening draws readers into the text. Studies have indicated that creating an image in the memory helps the reader to retain what is read and use it later on.
Readers experiencing difficulties often need help with creating mental images and may not realise how this can help their comprehension. Teachers can support students in visualising by asking questions such as “What image do you see in your head?”, by explicitly drawing attention to descriptive language or a sequence of ideas, and by sharing their own images. Visualising can be supported by creating graphic representations or mind maps of a text.
Inferring means using content in a text, together with existing knowledge, to come to a personal conclusion about something that is not stated explicitly in the text. When the writer provides clues but not all the information, we read “between the lines” to form hypotheses, revise these, understand underlying themes, make critical judgments, and draw conclusions.
The teacher can help students to make inferences by raising their awareness that reading involves more than just literal meaning and by modelling inferential thinking during shared reading or during discussions in guided reading. Or the teacher may pause, when reading a text with students, to draw out clues from the text and prompt the students to make connections between different parts of the text in order to reach a conclusion that makes sense. It’s important to ask students to give evidence from the text that supports their inferences.
It is important for readers to recognise that behind every text is a writer, and that the writer has a purpose or reason for writing and a particular point of view. For example, the purpose of the writer may be to:
By supporting students in identifying and reflecting on an author’s purpose and point of view, teachers can help their students to recognise that writers bring their own experiences and insights to their writing. Such activities contribute richly to students’ awareness of the functions of texts and of how authors position readers. They also help students to build the habit of responding thoughtfully to what they read. Students then carry their awareness and thoughtfulness into their writing and use it to help them plan and articulate their own purpose and point of view when writing a text.
Identifying the main idea means determining what is central to a text – what the writer most values or wants to emphasise. In a narrative, this might be the theme or themes, which will probably relate to people and how they live their lives. In a transactional text, it might be the key information or the particular idea about the topic that the writer wants readers to understand. In some transactional text forms, such as reports or letters to the editor, the main idea is often made explicit at the beginning. In fiction, the main idea is more often implied, in a variety of ways, throughout the text. A text may have more than one main idea or theme, but this comprehension strategy involves identifying the idea or ideas that are most important throughout the text, not ideas of lesser importance and not those that feature only in one section of the text.
Identifying the main idea does not mean identifying the topic or content of a text. For example, a story might be about a character breaking his leg, but the main idea (theme) of the text might be about the way the character overcomes adversity or discovers the value of friendship. Often it is relatively easy for a reader to state what a text is about, but it may be more difficult to decide what the main idea is. The reader needs to interpret the writer’s thinking by making connections to their prior knowledge, hypothesising, inferring, and synthesising several aspects of the text in order to identify the main idea.
Summarising helps the reader to see how information or events are related and to understand the content and structure of a text. The reader identifies the important information or events in a text or part of a text and remembers, retells, or records them in a shortened form, which enables the reader to make connections within the text. A summary brings together the essential content of a text succinctly as a clear overview or outline. For example, a written or oral summary may describe the beginning, middle, and end of a narrative or the main facts from an information text or a specific paragraph.
In order to summarise a text effectively, the reader needs to have a clear idea of its structure and to be able to differentiate between important points and supporting details. To do this, the reader identifies key words, facts, events, or ideas and notes which parts of the text contain the details that go with each of them. When summarising, the reader puts the important points into their own words, using language as economically as possible and avoiding repetition. A summary may support in-depth work with the text.
With certain texts, summarising may not be a useful strategy to support students’ understanding. Some poems or sets of instructions, for example, do not include key points with supporting detail.
When readers take apart a text they have read, examine it from their own viewpoint, and put it back together again, they make it their own. When they compare different texts, drawing out similarities and differences and deciding on the reasons for these, they create a new web of knowledge. As they analyse and synthesise, readers identify ideas, information, or features in a text, reflect on these in relation to their existing knowledge and cultural values (or to ideas from other texts), and form conclusions, interpreting the text’s meaning by drawing ideas together. Analysing and synthesising is a creative process that can enable readers to take ownership of the texts they read and the ideas and information in them.
Analysing and synthesising is a valuable strategy to use when bringing a more critical perspective to a text, for example, during a second reading or subsequent, closer readings.
Thoughtful readers respond to the texts they read in a personal, informed way. They generalise from the ideas and information in a text and make judgments about them in the light of their prior knowledge and experience (including their experiences of other texts), their cultural values, and their purpose for reading. They examine and evaluate the ideas and information in the text and may consequently go on to confirm, extend, or change their personal views. They may disagree with the message of a text or explain why they find an argument unconvincing (for example, if they feel that the writer has used unsound evidence in an attempt to influence or “position” their thinking).
As students develop information literacy, they learn to recognise relevant and valid information, interpret it, and evaluate it in terms of its usefulness and reliability (see page 38). Thoughtful readers also evaluate the writer’s style, including their choice of language and other text features.
Published on: 22 Mar 2016