When we introduce a new thinking strategy to students, it’s important do it in a non-reading way. Using concrete visuals, movies, songs, or experiences to show students how to use the strategy allows them the chance to build schema for it before applying it to reading and other content areas.
First Things First: Thinkers Make a Habit of Activating Schema
When I introduced monitoring comprehension this week, we began by discussing what the word monitor means. We talked about other places we’ve heard it, and several kids recalled playground monitors who “watch out for good and bad behavior.” A few students with younger siblings talked about baby monitors and said that their parents use them to make sure the baby is safe and isn’t upset.
Then we applied what we knew about the word “monitor” to the phrase monitor comprehension. Kids quickly formed the idea that monitoring comprehension means making sure you understand what you’re reading.
I explained, “We can think of monitoring our comprehension as the protector of our understanding. If we don’t protect our understanding, the other strategies can’t even do their jobs.”
“So, it’s kind of like if you don’t even know what’s happening in the story, then you can’t really visualize it or think about who the characters really are,” one student called out.
Kids nod and a collective aha comes over their faces, so I ask, “Be honest. How many of you are aware when you don’t understand something, but you just keep going with it anyway because you don’t feel like stopping or maybe you figure it doesn’t really matter?”
Lots of nods and expressions of recognition.
“I get that. I even did it when I was in school, but I was so wrong. It really did matter. I could have liked reading a lot sooner if I’d made myself stop and think. I would have liked my classes a lot better too because I’d have understood what the heck was going on. The thing is, you’re already monitoring your comprehension and using fix-up strategies when you watch movies and play video games, and you don’t even realize it.”
I wanted to show students what they were already able to do, so I asked them to watch a 60-second commercial and notice the exact moment their brains thought, “Wait. What’s going on here?” Then they needed to pay close attention to what they did to make sense of what was happening.
Are you game? Try it yourself: Watch this US Bank commercial on YouTube, noting exactly when your brain is confused and what you do to fix it.:
After the kids watched, they immediately shared the moment their understanding broke down:
“The woman sat, but there wasn’t anything there!”
“It was an invisible chair!”
“Then she lit a candle.”
“And jumped over a counter.”
I brought us back together, “So, you guys understood what was happening, even though you were confused at first. What did you do to help yourselves understand?”
“She was sitting just like people sit in chairs,” someone gets up to show us.
“And you could totally tell it was a candle!” another student adds.
I ask, “And you’ve seen that a lot, right? Those things are part of your schema.”
Kids smile and agree, so I go on, “You fixed your confusion so quickly by using schema that if I hadn’t pointed it out, you might not even have noticed! And once you fixed your first confusion, you were able to fix all of the confusing parts by keeping your schema activated!” It is then that I realize I’m practically jumping out of my skin with excitement because THEY GOT IT. I almost tone it down a notch, but there’s no need to because they seem really happy. We’re a roomful of people who are gleeful about monitoring comprehension. It’s my dream come true. Just ask my husband. I’ve tried this with our children.
A child breaks the silence and asks if it’s really that easy to monitor your comprehension in a book.
I answer honestly, “Not all of the time. But the thing is, you guys know how to do it, so now we just have to start practicing with our books. For now, take a minute to think about some of the ways you already know to fix your confusion. What do you do? Or what do you remember your parents or teachers teaching you to do when you were confused about what you were reading? Kids right on their exit slips and leave class feeling satisfied… full of the idea that they can do this… which makes me so very happy for what they can accomplish.
Tomorrow, we’ll look into how we know when we’re confused and some fix-up strategies we can use to repair comprehension. Right now, their wheels are turning. Mine are too.