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Comprehension Strategies for Secondary Readers

Content-Area Reading -- Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum

Richard T. Vacca and JoAnne L. Vacca

Abstract of Chapter 11: Struggling Readers

Secondary struggling readers lack the strategies skilled readers use to learn new information from text. Skilled readers develop hypotheses by making predictions as they read. They develop mental images of what the text describes. They link new information with prior knowledge and construct analogies. They actively monitor their comprehension and utilize strategies to clarify a confusing point. Skilled readers can also demonstrate to another person the strategies they use while reading.

Metacognition is “our ability to think about and control our own learning”.  One of our tasks as teachers is to model the metacognition we use to learn. Think-Alouds are one way for teachers to model their own metacognitive and comprehension processes.

There are five basic steps when using Think-Alouds (Davey 1983).

  • Select a passage that contains difficult text: ambiguities, contradictions, or unknown words.
  • While reading the text aloud, the teacher asks himself / herself questions about the trouble spots, then uses other strategies to find the answer (look up a word, form a hypothesis about the meaning of a phrase)
  • Have students work with partners to practice think-alouds by reading short, carefully-chosen passages.
  • Have students practice independently and use a checklist for self-evaluation. Students ask themselves: Did I make predictions? Did I form pictures as I read? Did I find problems? Did I use fix-ups?
  • The final step is to provide occasional demonstrations to students of how, why, and when to use think-alouds.

You can also support struggling readers at home by following the steps above and partnering with your child.  Newspapers or magazine articles are great tools. Remember, when working on non-fiction material students can read slightly more difficult text if it involves a topic of their choosing.  If students are interested they will be more likely to dig deeper and stay connected to the text for a longer period of time.