Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Learning and Loving to Read: Teaching Comprehension

My five year old is becoming more and more interested in learning to read. We play with letters and sounds and read her BOB books. She feels so proud when she can read "Mat sat on Sam." The smile on her face as she chuckles at this scene is priceless. Not only is she beginning to read the words in stories, she is gaining the ability to understand and enjoy these stories. Books open up a world of learning and adventure to our kids. Reading the words on the page is important, but thinking and talking about stories is equally important.

Reading Comprehension

Comprehending the words we read is equally as important as decoding them. This knowledge drives the work we do in the class and my work as an instructional coach. In my quest to support readers and teachers, I have found a myriad of tools and strategies to help teach word level reading. But what about the other half of Scarborough's Rope? 

What about language comprehension? Scarborough's Reading Rope lists background knowledge, vocabulary, language structure, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge under the strands of language comprehension. The last few years my school district has done extensive work on strategy instruction to support reading comprehension. I've actually written a couple blog posts on this exact topic. This has been helpful, but the vast amount of strategies we teach students can become confusing and overwhelming for our striving readers. Often times these students have a poor working memory. Having to think about both the content of the text and a myriad of strategies simultaneously can tax their working memory. With this in mind, I began a mission to find better tools to help teach language comprehension.

A Helpful Tool

As part of this pursuit, I listened to The Reading League's webinar, The Language Basis of Reading: Assessment and Instruction for Language Comprehension. If you're interested in the science of reading and teaching struggling readers, I HIGHLY recommend this webinar. It introduced me to the Story Grammar Marker (SGM) tool.

The SGM is a concrete manipulative to help teach abstract language skills. It targets literacy knowledge, language structures, and verbal reasoning. I have not received any formal training on this tool. For now I have read the teacher manual, watched a few of the free Mindwing webinars, and read some blog posts.

The best way to learn something, though, is by trying! So I was brave and tried teaching the SGM in first grade and fifth grade. I'll break down the lessons I taught and what I've learned in my next blog post. If you're interested in trying out the Story Grammar Marker with a student or students in your class, please reach out! Many students will benefit from explicit language comprehension instruction.

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