Teachers do not teach comprehension they test it.

Last week I attended a presentation by Di Snowballwho has recently returned from working in schools in the States for over 16 years. Di has been contracted to work in some regions in Victoria to hlep “struggling” schools, I gather, however during this presentation to a group of principals she made a number of what seemed controversial statements at the time:

  • reading comprehension is a problem across the world
  • Teachers did not teach students how to comprehend; rather, they tested comprehension
  • 20 reciprocal teaching sessions improve reading test scores by 1 and 1/2 years.
  • there’s a high correlation between reading at school time and reading at home
  • students who have too much test preparation can become complaincent
  • permanent reading groups displayed in classrooms [usually on well displayed posters by well meaning teachers] indicate the teacher doesn’t really know the children and their changing reading needs [they need to be flexible groupings].
  • males are seen not to be readers [how many belong to book clubs?] so it shouldn’t be a surprise that many boys struggle to read

Thats just a few of the comments I noted down. Di is a well respected educator who has published many books and worked in countries around the world and so silence greeted many of these statements.

For me the teacher comment about testing rather than teaching rang true for how many teachers would be able to list the 6 major comprehension strategies. We, at Elsternwick, have worked on these strategies in starts and stops over the past 3 years using the work of David Pearson but can I say its happening in all classrooms?  Well the anchor charts would suggest most but not all. What about the graduate teachers coming out and working in schools – how might we support them if they have never heard of this work?

One of the things Douglas Reeves says is that people value what is supervised on a regular basis. Is this the challenge about supervising the instruction [supervising I think in this sense is saying whats expected, asking if there are any hurdles teachers need support to jump over and achieve this work with students.

The gender statement although not new was presented with a challenge for males including principals spending time in classrooms reading texts each day. Imagine teaching geography in year 10 and not understand how to teach students the skills of summarising a reading text [one of the 6 key strategies].

In primary schools the challenge in Victorian schools is to build up the amount of time in reading lessons actually reading although it might be more focused than just silent reading. This represents a change in the Early Years approach away from the small activity based centres approach that now with the fullness of time seems to have been a misunderstanding. The “small group” time in the whole – small whole model represented small group but not quite activity base some teachers interpreted it as.

But the biggie for me was the powerful effects of reciprocal teaching. The clips I attached to a prior entry on reciprocal teaching now make them must views for all teachers..

So what does this mean for me – personally – make explicit for teachers what is expected in planing and instruction of the comprehension strategies – ask the question about support and supervise.