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Reading Comprehension Strategies
Graphica lends itself well to the development of a number of comprehension strategies that can be used by elementary-aged children. While some comprehension strategies are necessary to fully understand a piece of graphica (See also -Viewing strategies), there are also many strategies that can be taught and then transferred to the reading of traditional texts. The above excerpts will be used to explain the comprehension strategies and how they support comprehension of traditional text. The first set of 2 pages are from Magic Pickle (Morse, 2005) and the second set of 2 pages are from Tiny Titans, vol. 10, Jan. 09 (DC Comics, 2009)
Most of the strategies discussed below are intended as strategies for the reader - thus they are reading strategies NOT teaching strategies. Note, however, that those reading strategies DO require direct instruction from a teacher in order for most children to become proficient at using them. Each strategy section, therefore, does include suggestions for how a teacher might provide instruction in order to help children to develop proficiency. Note that I do NOT suggest that children will develop mastery. Mastery implies that the child could use the strategy no matter WHAT text he/she was confronted with. Since the English language contains well over one million words and books that range from Shakespeare to Legal and Medical textbooks, this is really not a practical goal. Those of us in Education read Educational materials with ease but few of us would want to tackle a medical textbook or a legal textbook at the Doctoral level! Our goal for children is, more realistically, for a third-grader to read materials written for third-graders fluently and with comprehension, using comprehension strategies at that level. We don't expect a third-grader to be able to read a college textbook with fluency and comprehension!
Think-alouds: Well, I DID say above that MOST of the strategies are reading strategies! This strategy, however, is a teaching strategy. Think-alouds are such a powerful strategy for teaching comprehension skills that I felt a section on comprehension would be incomplete without some discussion of the think-aloud strategy. One problem with teaching (and assessing) reading comprehension is that we can't SHOW the child what we are doing when we comprehend. Oh, doctors CAN do an MRI that shows where brain activity takes place during the reading process, but even that does not help the reader to know what to do to get his/her brain to cooperate! We can't open our brain and give a demonstration! Think-alouds are the teacher's attempt to explain to the children the thinking process involved in comprehending text. The think-aloud strategy can be used in many ways for many different skills but it is particularly useful for teaching or making explicit the use of comprehension strategies. Think-alouds are also a good teaching strategy for interactive multi-modal text. A teacher may still model a think-aloud using informative communicative technology (ICT) and new literacies.
To teach a strategy through a think-aloud, choose a piece of text that DOES require the use of at least one comprehension strategy. Then put the text on a document reader or overhead so that the children can follow along. As you, the teacher, read aloud, stop to explain just what you are thinking about as you begin to make sense of or "comprehend" the text. Next, use another piece of text but this time, have the children do the "thinking-aloud". Stop where you would need to think about the text and ask them what they are thinking. This requires much practice but the interactive nature of the practice is the most important part. Once they seem to have the general idea, you can put them in small groups to work with each other. Their "think-alouds" can either be written down or recorded with a microphone. Text used for think-alouds can be either graphica or traditional texts. The important point about the text is that it should be at the children's instructional level and length should be suitable for the age/grade level. No matter what grade level, you should begin with short text a paragraph or two. The more text children have to deal with at one time, the more difficult comprehension becomes. Once children are proficient at using a skill at the paragraph level, more lengthy texts can be used to expand their understanding of the strategy and their ability to use it with more lengthy text.
Predicting: This is a comprehension strategy that works well with visual material. In recognition of that, we often preview a picture book with youngsters by doing a "picture walk," i.e. going through the book, picture by picture, asking children to tell what they think is happening in each picture & then making a prediction as to what the story will be about. Another common practice is to show children only the cover or title page of the book & then let them make predictions about what the story will be about. These activities help to set the purpose for the reading and thus help the children to focus on the important ideas in the text. A picture walk or preview of the title page can also be done with graphica. However, since the real value of graphica lies in the importance of the pictures to the story line, our "picture walk" should be much more detailed.
Some children have difficulty making accurate predictions, i.e. understanding that the predictions come from the information found in the pictures and not just from the child's background knowledge AND that the background knowledge they should reference should be related to the pictures/text. The amount of information that is carried in the graphica pictures can help such a child by providing more visual information to choose from. The first step wou ld be to identify as much information from the picture as possible and then organize the information into the "big idea" (topic sentence) & supporting details. Once the information is organized, then the child should be able to "add to" the information, thus creating a prediction. For example, in Tiny Titans, we see a garbage-eating monster. The 2 little girls think his eating is disgusting and gross (last panel, 1st page). The first panel on the second page shows the girls discussing finding a different place for their tea party. As we do the picture walk of the first page & discuss WHY the girls find him disgusting, we are also preparing the children for the first picture on the second page. Referring back to the information on the previous page should help children to make an inference about why they are moving the tea party and a prediction about what kind of place they might want to go to have that tea party. Batgirl suggests that they go to Metropolis. Now, kids familiar with Batman (and most are) will know that Metropolis is a big city. So we need to help the children to make a prediction about WHERE in Metropolis the girls will go.
Connecting: There are 3 types of connections that we hope children will make when they are reading: text to self, text to text, and text to world. Text to self connections relate the text to the children's personal experiences, text to text connections relate the text to other texts and text to world connections relate the text to the world at large (perhaps what the child has heard about or seen on TV or in a movie).
Text to self: These connections are particularly apt for the second set of pages above. Most little girls like to hold pretend tea parties and can relate to the idea. Finding a place to hold a party is also a concept most children can relate to. While I doubt many have encountered someone eating garbage, the problem of sharing the backyard with a dog who likes to eat your dolls (or garbage!) or a brother who will tease would be familiar to many children. This story is less likely to provide text to self connections for young boys although they might relate the green monster to their own attempts to tease a sister or a younger child.
Text to text. This is particularly valuable when we can compare a graphic text to a traditional text. It would certainly be possible to find a picture book about 2 friends having a tea party or picnic. The pages from Magic Pickle might relate to a number of super heroes' stories. There are also a number of books written in a variety of formats. Babysitter's Club; Claudia and Mean Janine by Ann Martin (1955) has been done as a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier. The Tale of Despereaux is available in graphica and picture book formats as well as in the original chapter book form. (Both stories are mentioned elsewhere in this WIKI as well as being listed in the references)
Text to world. Children who watch cartoons on television as well as those who are familiar with superhero comics will be able to relate to the laboratory above on the second Magic Pickle page. The Magic Pickle story line involves the little girl at home in her bedroom, at the bus stop waiting to go to school, and at school. While only the bedroom is shown above, these scenes are easy for children to relate to their own lives. In one panel she opens her lunch box to find that she doesn't like what she has for lunch. What child has not experienced that at one time or another! Because graphica is so visual, such panels provide children with another mental image to take into their reading of traditional texts.
Visualizing: Since graphica is by nature a visual art, this is a comprehension strategy that is "made to order"! The value of graphica in developing children's ability to visualize, i.e. develop mental imagery skills is that graphica requires the reader to pay close attention to the details in each panel. As we work with children to pour over each panel & find as much information in the pictures as possible, we are also developing their ability to look at and remember details. Children are, by nature, global learners. They typically see the "big picture" but not the fine details. When we see those fine details visually and develop that skill of looking for details, we are also developing habits and critical thinking skills. This can be followed up with activities with traditional text where we use text to text connections to build children's understanding that a paragraph must also be mentally seen as a panel from a graphic text. See also writing strategies.
Identifying Big Ideas: This comprehension strategy works well with graphica since most graphica is designed so that a quick overview of a panel or set of panels will provide the reader with the important information. Finding all the details is much harder! However, identifying the Big Idea, i.e. topic or topic sentence, in traditional text poses a more difficult problem for many children. Practicing first with graphica and then using text to text connections to transfer that practice to both finding topic sentences and writing topic sentences can provide a vital link for the child who just doesn't seem to be able to distinguish between important details and the overall big idea.
Summarizing: Teaching children to create well-developed summaries takes time and patience. The more practice they have the better they get at creating summaries! We begin teaching summarization in First Grade by having children find the Big Idea. Gradually, we begin to add important supporting details and gradually we use more complicated text. By Fourth Grade we expect that children will be able to summarize a section of their Science or Social Studies text as well as being able to summarize tradebooks or chapters from tradebooks that they are reading. Since graphica can be summarized (in the simplest fashion) by merely writing down the big idea in each panel, it provides a beginning. Once we have worked on finding the Big Ideas and supporting details, it is an easy transition to putting that information together in writing or an oral presentation or a poster. Having worked with graphica, it then becomes easy to create a poster to summarize traditional text. Teacher think-alouds support the move from pictures to the mental imagery required in traditional texts. Once the child has become used to searching for the supporting details, it is merely a matter of using written English to put the information down on paper.
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