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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mind Readers: Thinking Out Loud Can Raise Children’s Comprehension Skills

Janie begins to read one of her favorite books, Owl Babies (Candlewick, 1996) by Martin Waddell.
When she reads on the second page, “Owl Mother was GONE,” all eyes turn toward the book. The owls’ faces may not show much in the way of feelings, but a baby bird’s plea of “I want my mommy!” conveys an emotion that toddlers can easily relate to. “Oh, my. I wonder where Owl Mother went,” says Janie. “Why did she fly away? Do you think she’ll come back?”
Like you, we use many techniques to help children understand a story. One of the most powerful methods is thinking out loud while reading. Thinking out loud—in this case, talking about the owls’ emotions, actions, and motives—encourages children to think about the story.
Reading is thinking” is a central principle for Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, the authors of Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement (Stenhouse, 2007), who work mainly with primary and middle school readers and teachers. They’ve created a toolkit to help educators construct active learning environments that are aimed at boosting children’s reading comprehension.
While thinking out loud is a technique frequently used to help students in the elementary grades, reading researchers Lea McGee and Judith Schickendanz have adapted this method for much younger children. Their approach is called repeated interactive read-alouds. How does it work? A storybook is read three times in slightly different ways in order to increase children’s engagement with the text. In the first reading, children are introduced to the story. In the second, they’re encouraged to get to know the characters and their challenges more deeply. And in the final reading, young listeners are invited to pinpoint the characters’ problems and to respond to analytical questions such as, “Who remembers what will happen next?” (To learn more, see “Repeated Interactive Read-Alouds in Preschool and Kindergarten” in the May 2007 issue of The Reading Teacher.) The main idea is to create an active learning environment that promotes interaction with the text and thinking for children of all ages.
Successful readers need to do two things well. They need to learn the code and, most importantly, they need to understand its meaning. Librarians like Janie help children clear those hurdles.