Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Buehl & Reading Comprehension

The two Buehl sections we read for this week addressed the various amounts of access to content knowledge and processing abilities that characterize students' reading comprehension proficiency, and strategies for reinforcing comprehension of content area texts for classrooms comprised of similarly or dissimilarly proficient students.

In sections of chapter 3, the author characterizes students by using a three-tiered scale. One axis of the scale represents a student's access to academic texts outside of the classroom, and the other denotes a student's ability to process new academic texts. The scale presents nine prototypical students who could comprise a hypothetical classroom. The author then discusses how the needs of each prototype might differ, and how they might be addressed in the context of a science classroom. He talks about 'matching' texts to students, and providing students with opportunities to make connections between themselves and texts, texts and other texts, and texts and the outside world. Science texts ought to do more, he says, to capitalize upon students' previous experiences and challenge them to make meaningful text-to-self connections based upon their status as 'natural scientists'. I find the author's discussion of the difference between topic and domain knowledge particularly useful, because it provides me with the means of characterizing students' prior knowledge both in terms of their formal science instruction and their personal experiences with natural phenomena.

In chapter 4, the author presents various strategies for improving students' comprehension of disciplinary texts based on the makeup of the classroom, all of which he places under the umbrella of 'frontloading'. He says the classroom can be made up mostly of students who only need a bit of review before grappling with a new science text, mostly of students who have little experience with the topic in question and who therefore require more substantial frontloading, or of students with mixed ability levels and amounts of prior knowledge. He describes many useful structures for eliciting student thinking before reading and for channeling student thinking during reading. These include familiar structures, like the KWL chart and the concept map (love concept maps), and unfamiliar structures, like story impressions and 'jigsawing' particularly complex texts. He finishes with a discussion of equipping and challenging students to inform themselves by independently initiating interactions with new texts.

While this is all very useful for preparing students to grapple with complex texts, I'm preoccupied currently with how some of these structures might be used to help students review knowledge in preparation for summative assessment. Is it possible to interpret this sort of review (i.e., students' understanding of recently learned material) as a text, and to use these frontloading strategies to reinforce their comprehension of content knowledge they're expected to know already?

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