Inquiry: What pedagogy is contributing to the student challenge.
In my last blog post, I looked at the overall trends in my data to get a better understanding of my student challenge. Overall I recognised that my students have low confidence/motivation, struggle to comprehend the key ideas in a text and need strategies to make sense of unfamiliar words.
After identifying the student challenge, I went on a bit of a mission to scour through research literature to understand the pedagogy that might cause it.
Metacognitive Reading Strategies Can Improve Self-Regulation. Susan Nash-Ditzel (2014)
As I recognised that these students have some similar challenges to my 2020 target group, I began looking at literature that related to this, specifically about students not identifying when they don't understand something. Nash-Ditzel (2014) looked at students whose teachers had taught reading strategies such as questioning, but did not teach the students to be metacognitive - to recognise when they needed to apply them.
This case study followed college students (with average results in a foundation programme) who participated in a reading course aimed to support self-regulation. They learnt strategies such as considering prior knowledge/ background information about the text, questioning, identifying main ideas and inferencing. They were taught to monitor their own reading over the course of a year.
I quite liked reading the literature review in this article, as it discussed previous studies on the topic. However, what really spoke to me was the students responses to the researcher. One of them said: "Well, I understand [the text], and I think I’m becoming a better reader because I take my time when I read, instead of just like breezing through it. I take my time to try to understand word for word what’s going on."
This is my students! I know from their independent work in lockdown (and watching their cursors move in their google docs) that they rush through texts and pick out the main ideas. This is exactly what the problem was for these students! Due to this, they also often misunderstood aspects of the text and could try to fill in the blanks with prior knowledge - another trait of my learners. This reading definitely encourages me to delve deeper into self-regulation and reading.
The Role of Metacognition in Teaching Reading Comprehension to Primary Students. Joanna P
Williams and J. Grant Atkins (2009)
I then continued to delve into the importance of teaching metacognition. I had already identified lots of strategies to explicitly teach this skill from case studies, but I wanted a greater awareness of why it is so important and mistakes that teachers are making. This text discussed the fact that teachers often introduce reading comprehension strategies in isolation - practice using them for a week, but don't explicitly teach metacognition. The authors synthesise a range of studies that suggest that teachers carefully notice the challenges that students face in reading and support them to select a strategy that will aid their understanding, as opposed to giving the students a text and asking them to deploy the 'strategy of the week' in isolation. As noted in the text, this is often what teaching comprehensions strategies looks like and I can see the effect of this for my students.
Learner-Centered Innovation: Spark Curiosity, Ignite Passion and Unleash Genius. Dr. Katie Martin, 2018.
Much later in my reading journey, I started to ponder what reading lessons commonly look like. I had talked before with Dr Rebecca Jesson about over scaffolding children, particularly in writing. We discussed giving students lots of prompts and writing frames, thus doing the work for them. I realised that this could be the case with reading too.
Dr Martin posits that many adults do not trust children to be successful without them. While this is put bluntly, she discusses the notion of over scaffolding students and not enabling them to experience success independently.
One mistake that I realise I have previously made in reading is this: A group come to me for a reading lesson. We predict what the text will be about, read a chunk and then discuss what we have read. I will have planned a few questions that prompt the students to look more deeply into this chunk, to unpack new vocabulary or utilise the 'strategy of the week'. They then go away and read the rest of the book independently and complete an activity while I repeat the same with another group.
Except they don't. Some might actually go and read the remainder of the text and some will have the metacognition and strategies required to gain a deeper understanding. While others might rely on my carefully constructed prompts and our group discussion to fill in the blanks as they skim and scan to find the relevant information to the comprehension questions.
This became painfully obvious when I changed this model at the start of the year. I gave my entire class a short text that was at the level of my lowest reader and got them to read independently. I told them at the end of the reading time I would pick people at random to summarise the text or answer comprehension questions. Some members of my target group pretended to read. Some of my higher readers pretended to read. I asked one of them why they weren't really reading and they replied "I'm waiting for you to read it with us".
I hadn't considered that over scaffolding was something that could occur when working with a small group. I now hypothesise that is is one of the main reasons why reciprocal reading interventions have worked in the past. In fact the four students that I have kept from last year were some of the most successful at this activity. In reciprocal reading, the students are forced to be accountable in group discussion - careful teacher questions have a place, but most of the unpacking and questioning is the responsibility of the learners.