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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

How much is too much strategy instruction?

May 3, 2012

Teachers teach reading strategies to help with comprehension. The most common strategies teachers use are likely those found by the National Reading Panel to have enough scientific evidence to conclude that their use can improve comprehension: comprehension monitoring, graphic organizers, question answering, question generation, summarization, cooperative learning, story structure, and multiple strategy instruction.

In a recent blog post by Prof. Daniel Willingham, a UVA Professor and Cognitive Scientist at the University of Virginia, Willingham wonders whether teachers are spending too much time teaching strategies. Willingham fears the "collateral damage" of too much strategy instruction is bored kids who never get the opportunity to sink into a book (my words, not his).

Willingham reviewed the research on comprehension strategies. Research generally supports teaching children strategies. Evidence suggests that strategies are learned quickly, and can provide a short-term boost to comprehension.

But in considering how often the instruction takes away from a child's reading, Willingham asks, "How can you get lost in a narrative world if you think you're supposed to be posing questions to yourself all the time? How can a child get really absorbed in a book about ants or meteorology if she thinks that reading means pausing every now and then to anticipate what will happen next, or to question the author's purpose?"

This issue doesn't feel that different to me than problems with prereading. When thinking about effective instruction, it may be that the questions to ask are about time. How many minutes are available for instruction? How many of those minutes are used for strategy instruction (or prereading)? Is that the best use of those minutes? I'd love to hear what you think.

Comments

I agree. Last year, when I was a 7th grade Reading teacher, I decided that the only way a kid can fall in love with reading is to READ!! So we spent 20 minutes of every 45 minute class period doing just that!! It was AMAZING how well my students responded to this opportunity. They fell in love with great stories and we used those to start discussions about literary elements and themes and all sorts of other interesting ideas. This sam group of kids performed 17% better on their TAKS test than they had they previous year...and we never said the T word once!!

Strategy instruction is useful for the students that need it. I find myself using strategy instruction for the students with accuracy issues and less so with my more fluent readers. I do find that students find too much strategy instruction as an intrusion on their reading time. I teach Grade 2.

I have found that it's best to have a brief book introduction before letting kids begin to read. I find it effective to have a quick check-in after the kids have read for a few minutes. This offers an opportunity to make clarifications. Then set the purpose for reading; otherwise, the kids are waiting and waiting and start to glaze over. They start to detach from all the teacher talk.

I believe that teaching comprehension strategies in the lower elementary grades creates great readers. it is important that children understand what they are reading. We were all taught how to read and think about what we'd read one way or another. It is now 2nd nature to us but it was a learned skill at one time.

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