Using Comprehension Strategies in Second Grade

By carefully demonstrating reading strategies in a workshop-oriented classroom, Laura Menzella gives students the tools they need to make magic with meaning. See Judie Haynes’ Circle Time column, "Teaching Comprehension through Conventions of Nonfiction Text," Essential Teacher, June 2007, pp. 6-7.

As part of the celebration of the 100th day of school, my second-grade students wrote an ending to this sentence: "I tell my teacher 100 times . . . ." Not surprisingly to me, the majority responded with "I tell my teacher 100 times I want more reading workshop."

My students’ passion about reading is evident to anyone who walks into the classroom. Often, as I gather them for sharing circle at the end of the reading workshop period, they moan and groan because they want to keep reading. During reading, my students are engaged and committed. I can sense their eagerness and their motivation to read. They understand what they are reading and can navigate their way through tricky text because they have the skills, strategies, and time to do so. They can talk about what they are reading and share strong examples of how strategies have helped them as readers.

The Heart of My Teaching

The reading workshop period is a predictable structure in the classroom that allows the children to have a large block of time for independent reading. It is a framework for nurturing proficient, strategic readers.

During reading workshop, the twenty-two students in my class nestle themselves into their reading spots after having gathered for a minilesson in our morning meeting area. They spread out on the classroom floor, baskets of self-chosen books beside them, and pencils and sticky notes in hand to jot down their thoughts during reading.

The students read from a range of texts at their individual reading levels. To differentiate and accommodate the various readers in my classroom, I make sure the texts encompass levels from transitional, to early fluent, to fluent. Some students confer with me as I work to provide them with the skills and strategies they need to grow as readers. I meet with each child, take notes, and continue learning about each child as a reader. This conference, in fact, is the heart of my teaching.

After forty-five to fifty minutes of uninterrupted reading, students gather in a circle to reinforce and extend the minilesson. The classroom is abuzz with chatter and excitement as they gather. The share meeting links and implants the instruction, reinforcing this notion: "I taught you this; now go to your book and apply it, but come back to share how you’ve applied it."

I ask questions such as these: "Who tried what we talked about today?" "How did it go for you?" "What did you learn about yourself as a reader?" A few students then demonstrate what they did while reading, or I describe good work that I noticed and want to highlight.

From Teacher Modeling to Student Talk

The goal of teaching reading strategies is to make students aware of their thinking during reading and to interact with, experience, and construct meaning in the stories they read. Ultimately, I hope students will do exactly what adults do while reading: use their schema to make connections to what they already know and to new information in the text; visualize; infer; ask questions before, during, and after reading; determine important ideas; and synthesize. I teach these strategies very gradually.

Generally, I explore and work with a strategy for four to six weeks. The process begins with a great deal of teacher modeling as I read aloud slowly every day to introduce the strategy. Through thinking aloud, I show the students how I use the targeted strategy to help me with my reading. During a minilesson, I demonstrate how I use strategies to make sense of the text as well as help the students build a common language for talking about books.

I then invite my students to join me in practicing the strategy as I read aloud to the whole class from very carefully chosen literature. Through guided practice, we try out the strategy together and chart our experience with it. Charting helps the students hold onto their thinking and make it public. I chart nearly everything we discuss and hang the results up around the room, leading my students to call me the Chart Queen.

Another important piece of teaching reading strategies is incorporating a great deal of student talk so that students share their thinking eye to eye with a partner. Then, when they are ready, I send them off to try out the strategy during independent reading time. We reconvene during sharing time to talk about how reading went and how the targeted strategy helped them as readers and, ultimately, enhanced their comprehension.

Modeling a Personal Connection to the Text

The first strategy I model is making personal connections to the books we read. I begin early in the school year by reading aloud texts such as The Pain and the Great One (Blume 1988), My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother (Polacco 1998), and Oliver Button Is a Sissy (dePaola 1979). As I read, I think aloud whenever I read a part of the text that relates to my life and, thus, deepens my understanding of the story. I model the kind of talk that helps explain my thinking, such as "When I read that the girl thinks her parents love her brother more than her, it reminds me of when I was a young girl and I felt the same way, so I can understand how this character is feeling."

I repeat this modeling and talking for several days in a row until I feel the students are ready to try the strategy. I choose a book that will lend itself to many connections among the students, such as Amazing Grace (Hoffman and Binch 1998), Shrinking Violet (Best and Potter 2001), or A Weekend with Wendell (Henkes 1995). As I read aloud, I deliberately stop at several points during the reading and invite the children to share and explain a connection, encouraging them to use the language that I have previously used. At first, I accept all the connections that my students share. Eventually, the students learn to discriminate between connections that enhance comprehension and those that do not.

After several days of showing students how to use this strategy, I send them off to try it with their own books. As they read, they note when they have made a connection and use a sticky note to mark the page. During my conferring, I make note of children who have used the strategy well. Later, during our share meeting, these children tell the class how their connections helped them understand what they read. Others share connections as well. We work on this strategy for several weeks until it becomes automatic. By then, the strategy has been modeled and practiced so many times that the students are well versed in explaining their thoughts.

The students can now make their thinking visible to others, as I once showed them. Almost daily, a student shares something that makes my jaw drop. Seeing this happen day after day amazes me. Often I wonder how the students have become so proficient in using the strategy. Then I remember how carefully I planned for and demonstrated each strategy so that each child could understand and apply it. By teaching these strategies in a workshop-oriented classroom, I have given my students the tools they need to make their own magic with meaning.

References

Best, C., and G. Potter. 2001. Shrinking Violet. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Blume, J. 1988. The pain and the great one. New York: Macmillan Children's Books.

dePaola, T. 1979. Oliver Button is a sissy. Orlando, FL: Voyager Books.

Henkes, K. 1995. A weekend with Wendell. New York: HarperTrophy.

Hoffman, M., and C. Binch. 1998. Amazing Grace. London: Magi.

Polacco, P. 1998. My rotten redheaded older brother. New York: Aladdin.

Laura Menzella (lmenzella@njaccess.net), who has fourteen years of experience teaching grades K-6, currently teaches second grade in the United States.