Tag Archives: Reading Comprehension

Reading: Using all the clues?

In Catching Readers Before They Fall, Pat Johnson and Katie Keier explain on page 52 that “when proficient readers solve words, they do not depend solely on phonetics.” Instead, they use a combination of information sources:

“Meaning: Knowledge that includes any background knowledge, information gained from pictures in the text, or ideas gathered from the context of the sentence or story. Readers think about what makes sense.

Structure: Knowledge that comes from being familiar with spoken language, English structure, and how it sounds. Readers choose words that sound right.

Visual: Any letter/sound correspondence knowledge a person has. Readers check to see if the word looks right.” (53)

The authors go on to say: “When students are just beginning to learn to read, they are often unable to use all three sources of information simultaneously…” These early readers “need teachers who can… Show them how to integrate and balance meaning, structure, and visual information.” (53)

I was struck that this would seem to parallel the idea of strategic reading for comprehension: that proficient readers use a number of strategies, including looking at pictures, colour, font size, font colour, shapes, icons and clip art in order to make meaning.


Can this parallel be drawn: whether it is decoding or comprehending, real reading involves drawing meaning from a number of different sources?

Reading is a complex, multi-faceted process that requires a number of learned skills to operate simultaneously, nimbly and quickly, starting at the word level and working up to comprehension and beyond.

What implications does this have for my teaching?

If I put a text in front of a student, Johnson and Keier would seem to reinforce  the idea that powerful learning happens when a teacher explicitly explains what is happening in a text as well as what strategy to use; models how they would navigate this text; and then gives students time to practice this type of reading to increase proficiency.

In one of her DVDs, Cris Tovani relates a story of when she informed one of her high school teachers that she wasn’t understanding a text, the teacher responded by saying “Well, just read harder” or “Read between the lines.” Being unfamiliar with the text as well as reading strategies, Tovani says she went back and looked between the lines of print and discovered that this white space yielded no meaning. It would appear, however, that it is incumbent upon me, as the teacher, to make learning visible by showing students reading strategies, including how to navigate a text.



Twitter for Teachers: Tweet Chats

Last night, I participated in a Twitter (or tweet chat) hosted by educators in Ohio under the hashtag #OCIRA.

What is a Twitter or tweet chat, you may ask?

According to Forbes.com:

A tweet chat is a live Twitter event, usually moderated and focused around a general topic. To filter all the chatter on Twitter into a single conversation a hashtag is used. A set time is also established so that the moderator, guest or host is available to engage in the conversation.


This #OCIRA Twitter chat was hosted by none other than noted literacy author, Tanny McGregor.

Twitter is a powerful tool for teachers searching for unique and vibrant professional learning. In this case, I was able to interact with other educators, including Tanny herself, in real time on the topic of reading comprehension.

 As McGregor was the moderator, she steered the discussion by way of 7 or so questions, all focusing on reading comprehension and literacy, the subject of her work as a speaker and as a teacher.

Over the course of the hour-long discussion – which flies by, I might add – I had the opportunity to contribute my own ideas and experiences, and then read about the ideas and experiences of other educators.tanny mcgregor twitter chatAnd what a thrilling (yes, thrilling) experience to have other educators from another part of the world acknowledge and even affirm my ideas and experiences. Indeed, how thrilling it was to have Tanny McGregor herself like and retweet some of my posts. Amazing.

Where else could I exchange ideas and learn with an edu-guru such as Tanny McGregor?

For educators, Twitter can be a powerful tool for learning, connecting, and sharing professional ideas and experiences.


If you would like to participate in a tweet chat, searching “tweet chats education” will bring up this list and schedule of tweet chats as well as this web page from Cybrarman.

If you want to explore other ways teachers are using Twitter, then type “Twitter for Teachers” into Google.

Plus: Twitter Cheat Sheet for Educators

Exploring The Orenda — Part 2

From amazon.caExploring The Orenda — continued…

How can I activate and provide background knowledge for myself? What questions do I have before reading?

  1. What is the book about? What is the basic story?
  2. Why is it so “award-winning“?
  3. Have I attempted challenging reads before? Have I overcome any?
  4. What predictions are bubbling to the surface before I attack the text 6start reading?
  5. Re: Predictions: Being that this is not a Middle Grades book or a Young Adult book, what challenging narrative devices can I predict that author will employ?

What are professional reviewers saying about this book?

gam-squareI found this review from the Globe and Mail from September, 2013 by Charles Foran:

Joseph Boyden mines Canada’s bloody past for surprising spirituality

From this Globe and Mail review, I can expect:

  • alternating narratives: more than one story intertwined
  • the multiple stories focus upon characters named Bird, Snow Falls and Crow
  • these characters each narrate different events and, therefore, offer differing versions of those events
  • the story involving the Huron and the Iroquois
  • the reviewer likens the story to the real-life martyrdom of Jean de File:Brébuef-jesuits04jesuuoft.jpgBrebeuf
  • the reviewer calls this story “epic” and “worthy of Herodotus”
  • The title, The Orenda, means “native life”
  • the setting of this story is out in the bush

I also read a review from The National Post:

The reviewer, Donna Bailey Nurse, explored ideas such as:

  • The Orenda explores what forces led to the decimation of Canada’s First Nations cultures.
  • A question that arises from the book: are First Nations peoples, by allowing missionaries into their villages, partly to blame for the devastation of their own culture?

“Much more controversial is the idea that First Nations, by allowing the missionaries into their villages, are partly to blame for the devastation of their culture.”

  • The Jesuit priest character embodies this threat:

“…it is his faith that poses a deeper threat to the clan’s survival, the way he uses their own language to attack their beliefs.”

  • this book is violent and graphic:

“This is a very violent work, full of the most grotesque descriptions of ritualized torture that I’ve ever encountered… I’ve never read anything like it and, to be honest, some of it I could not get through.”

And so, with this framing of the text in mind, I endeavor to read Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda…

Building Background Knowledge with Oobleck? Part 2

In my last post, I explored how reading Dr. Seuss’ Bartholomew and the Oobleck

From amazon.ca

From amazon.ca

to my two older girls (ages 7 and 9) might help them indirectly build background knowledge, as explained in Fisher and Frey’s article  Building and Activating Background KnowledgeIn that article, the authors state:

“…reading a wide range of texts on a given topic builds background knowledge. When students read texts at their reading level, their understanding of the topic improves.”

So, I wondered what background knowledge is being indirectly built by reading this text.

Some possible topics and messages could be:

  • The world of royal hierarchy: Kings have people who work and live under them
  • The nature of being a ruler vs. being a leader.
  • What power can do to a person / The desire for power can blind a person to what is going on around them: the ‘riches’ they already enjoy as well as the suffering of the people around you.
  • Be careful what you wish for.
  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
  • A hero can be anyone, including the smallest person with the least amount of power.
  • Bravery means standing up for what is right in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
  • Taking responsibility for one’s actions, particularly mistakes.
  • The power of saying “Sorry”.
  • Change is not always for the better.

The question I now have is: will my girls get all of that from hearing this book read to them? How much should I guide them to a particular understanding of this text?

Building Background Knowledge with Oobleck? Part 1

From amazon.ca

I recently read Dr. Seuss’ 1949 prose book Bartholomew and the Oobleck to my 9-year-old and 7-year-old over a few nights as their bedtime story. I saw it at the library and was wondering if it might work for my 7-year-old, if the book was too difficult in terms of vocabulary and fantastical-ness. And she did report that she was confused by the book for the first part because it was a bit “weird”, but ended up loving it.

I choose to read this Dr. Seuss to them because of an article my Learning Coordinator colleague, A. Gilbert, introduced me to this year, written by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. The article is entitled Building and Activating Background Knowledge and towards the end of the article, Fisher and Frey briefly touch upon the difference between building direct and indirect background knowledge. Direct building is when I, as the teacher, deliberately and explicitly build or activate background knowledge prior to reading a text, such as by providing vocabulary or by framing the text.

Indirect background knowledge, however, can be built in a number of ways, explain Fisher and Frey:

“Indirect experiences build background knowledge in more subtle ways. For example, teacher modeling (see our column in the November issue) shows students how teachers think aloud about content. In addition, reading a wide range of texts on a given topic builds background knowledge. When students read texts at their reading level, their understanding of the topic improves.”

They add in one other element:

“In addition to teacher modeling and wide reading, background knowledge can be built as students interact with one another.”

But I want to focus in on the ‘reading widely’ element of building background knowledge and had this question:

Might reading Bartholomew and the Oobleck help my girls indirectly build background knowledge? How? About what?

Child of Dandelions: Framing the Text

Child of Dandelions continued:

Following Kelly Gallagher’s ideas, what can I do to frame the text so as to increase the chances of a successful reading of this text?

What questions do I have?

  1. Where is Uganda?
  2. Who was Idi Amin?
  3. Were there actually east Asian people living there? Were they expelled?

Where is Uganda?

From Creative Commons

From Creative Commons

Who is Idi Amin? Did the expulsion of Indian people from Uganda actually occur?

Short-sighted demagogue who played the race card: Idi Amin

Idi Amin – Creative Commons

expelled the Asians






For my students, to activate and provide some background knowledge, I might ask them:

  1. Can you remember a time when you were asked to leave an event or a place because of who you were (teenager, for example)? (I recall students telling me that they have been asked to leave a store in the mall simply because they are teens.  Beyond that, I must admit that I have never experienced expulsion because of who I am.)
  2. Can you think of a story, movie, song, TV show, video game that also shows someone being expelled?( I have read or consumed many stories of the Jews and the Holocaust, and how they were expelled from their homes — such as Schindler’s List. In Please Ignore Vera Dietz, the protagonist is ‘expelled’ from a circle of friends.)
  3. After reading the article, does this story remind of you another historical event? (The Holocaust)

Another way for me to frame the text is to look for a book trailer for Child of Dandelions:

Plus: there was a movie about Idi Amin with Forest Whitaker called The Last King of Scotland: