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lewelma

Developing advanced reading skills

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I decided to keep all these long posts together.  Hope it helps someone.  It definitely helped me to organize my thoughts and write them all down.....

 

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I have been working on study skills with my older son.  He is a good reader of textbooks, attacking them with enthusiasm and focus.  But I have noticed three things when discussing his chemistry: 1) He is not always crisp in his language when discussing scientific issues, 2) although he generally knows the topic, he is not really clear in his head about the organization of the ideas presented, 3) he does not remember most of the very specific details - like chemical equations.  This is something I need to rectify.
 
I have just finished reading Study is Hard Work by Armstrong and What Smart Students Know by Robinson.  I have also spent quite a bit of time thinking about my own skills, the failures of my high school students (when I was teaching science), and my own ds's approach to studying. I wanted to apply the general ideas of these study-skills books to science specifically, and I wanted to clarify in my head how all the different study-skills pieces that you hear about fit into a whole.  After about a month of thinking, I have come to quite a few conclusions which I am going to share.
 
I am big on identifying goals before finding solutions.  So my main question has been *why* take notes?  Really, why?  It is only useful if actually used to better learn the material, and that is definitely *not* what many students do (ask me how I know!).  I have seen it over and over, sometimes note taking is done like an automaton, or even worse notes can be used to avoid memorizing/learning material on the spot, and then the notes are never revisited. The goal of note taking is to help a student learn the material better, but note taking, in and of itself, does not *make* a student learn the material better.  Some additional effort or skill must be employed. 
 
*******
 
So what is studying?  It is a four fold process:
1) Understanding concepts (input from textbooks, lectures, etc)
2) Imposing structure (summarizing, outlining, etc)
3) Memorizing (big picture, details, words, equations, scientific phrases)
4) Producing (writing test answers, essays, verbal discussion)
 
Reading a textbook only accomplishes #1, outlining only #2 (and not always effectively), and you still need to teach #3 and #4. And there is a fifth step – review, which reinforces in the previous 4.
 
So lets go through all 5:
 
Step 1) Understanding Concepts
 
A student needs to be able to read a science textbook and understand the material.  If you do not understand, you first need to actually identify this lack and then need to find answers.  These answers can come from another person, another book, the internet, lecture material, whatever.  But the understanding must be there before steps 2-4 are effectively achieved (although adding structure can often clarify material, so 1 and 2 can overlap for some people in some topics).  You need to teach your student to check their understanding. At the end of a paragraph or section, you need to stop reading and make sure that you understand.  And if you do not comprehend the material, you MUST make an effort to understand.  Many students just keep reading.
 
One of the best ways to insure that a student actually knows if he has understood is to do the S and Q of SQ3R before he reads (Survey and Question). 1) Survey the section -- this means getting the big picture of what you are going to read about in the next 45 minutes.  Look at the headers and the diagrams etc, then 2) make up some questions that you want answered after you read the material.  Then, and only then, do you read (the first R of SQ3R).  After finishing the section, ask yourself the questions and make sure you know the answers.  This method can be taught very explicitly, and is easily implemented by students.  It is much clearer than just 'make sure you understand it before moving on.'
 
In sciences that contain math, like physics and chemistry, working the problems and doing the math is a part of understanding the material, so problem solving really falls in this step. Depending on the science you are studying you can spend more time in step 1 (like with physics) or more time in step 3 (like in biology). So you need to adapt to what you are learning.
 
Step 2) Imposing Structure
 
All textbooks have structure, but some are better than others. The structure is usually in the sub-headers which hopefully make up a clear first-level outline. Your goal in this step is to identify the organization and internalize it. The key here is to INTERNALIZE it.  Really get it.  This is the first half of the 2nd R of SQ3R – recite. Reciting is both step 2 and 3 – you must impose structure and then recite it to commit it to memory. It is often better to impose structure *after* you have read the section because then you are more likely to see the big picture and identify what is important and what is not. If you take notes as you read for the first time you will almost always write down too much. (although there are some students who need do this to improve their reading skills. And then these students would need to rewrite their notes to impose better, shorter structure).
 
So after you have read and understood the material, how exactly do you rank the topics and details explicitly. You need to see the big picture easily enough that you can summarize, but then also know where all the little details fit into the big picture. There are many ways to do this step, and which one you choose really depends on the student.
 
a) written outline (I, A, 1, a) this is effective for students that like to write
 
b.) note cards – with a broad question on one side and answer on the other.These note cards are for imposing structure. You can also use note cards for memory aids like vocab, but please be clear on the difference. One of the benefits of note cards, is often material found later in the section that applies to a card can be squeezed in so it all fits together.
 
c) Cornell notes – Not as formally structured as above, but then you go back and add more structure to your notes by writing down questions and summaries
 
d) Mind maps – visual organization.  You can even use color!
 
e) Writing in the textbook – actually creating a formal outline with I, A, 1, a, or less formal with just 1,2,3. You can also move material around -so if you like a diagram, you can copy the text description into the diagram so you have a single location for study
 
f) Highlighting – this generally does NOT work because it does not impose a hierarchical structure, but rather just notes the important material. Avoid this unless you have a really good system.
 
You should pick what you think will work best for your student, but then obviously change to a different approach if your first pick doesn't work. So how do you know if it works? Well, you need to ask questions and give answers. First you need to know which questions to ask. Do you? If you don't, then you have not really internalized the structure and you need to go back and find the question. My older has found it effective to put a Q next to whatever phrase can be easily turned into a question which then has the 5 points (or whatever) under it. Name 5 things that.... Explain this process.... etc. If you have internalized the structure, you should be able to get about 60% of the answers to your questions from memory, and then go back and remind yourself of some of the details you did not recall. So in this checking process, you are also starting step 3 – memory.
 
The last thing you need to do in step 2 is keep a global study sheet – this is 1 piece of very large paper divided into however many chapters there are in your textbook that you will be covering during the year. Then after finishing a chapter, you need to add in very small print the most important information in each chapter. Not random details that you can't remember (that is for the memory work below) but rather the big picture outline. And at that time you need to think about how the current chapter fits into the whole of the course. And review it.
 
Step 3) Memorizing the material
 
Yes, this must be done. Once again there are many ways to do it, many of which use the structure that you have created above. You can:
 
1) cover material and verbally quiz yourself
2) rewrite your notes in a shorter form or with a slightly different structure
3) use quizlet or some other online quizzing system
4) find a partner and quiz each other
 
Whatever works for you. But you should be very clear from your imposed structure in step 2 what you should know. And if you don't know it, or it doesn't make sense then you need to go back and reread and reorganize. This is often an iterative process.
 
Step 4) Production
 
All classes require you to produce something. This step is a mix of communication skills and test-taking skills
 
a) Communication skills. All sciences have their own special vocabulary and phrases that you must learn to be able to succinctly express yourself. You need to make sure that you identify these words and phrases in step 2 and memorize them in step 3. Step 4 is about actually using them. You need to practice talking about the scientific processes you are learning using the appropriate terminology. And you need to practice writing about the material you are learning and comparing your answers to 'model answers' to check that you are using the words and phrases correctly. This step cannot be skipped, or your student will end up being incredibly frustrated because he knows the material but cannot explain it – a truly horrible fate!
 
This is also the step where you check that you can graph appropriately, or write all the equations with the proper notation, or where you verify that you are writing the math out in the way that is expected of you (meaning how much work should you show?)

 

Finally, in this step you synthesize all the concepts and facts you have understood and memorized.  You need to get some good questions (apply, analyze, synthesize, evaluate) and practice expressing yourself -- not just thinking about the question, but actually verbally or in writing giving an answer.
 
b.) Test taking skills. In the production step you need to make sure that you can actually write the answers in the time required, that you know how to read the questions, and that you answer the question fully. Practice tests are best, especially because they identify your weak areas where steps 1,2 or 3 must be revisited. Different tests require different types of preparation.
 
Step 5)  Review
 
You need to create a review schedule. It is best to review your outline/notes the day after you made them and verify that you know what questions to ask, that you can recite the material (or are beginning to), that you see the big picture, and that you still understand the material. Then, you need to have a weekly review where you go over the material from the week before -this can be done daily for a few minutes or weekly for a 20 minute chunk. Or whatever. But you really need to explicitly discuss the review schedule with your student. Cramming the night before does not lead to mastery, only to achievement on tests (sometimes).
 
***********
Ok, if you have gotten this far you are doing well!
 
So how do you *teach* the material above? Personally, I believe that you must model the above steps and teach them explicitly, although I know that some kids can find their own way. The approach I am currently using (as in I completed the first week yesterday, and am planning the second week now) is as follows:
 
Week 1 (1 hour per day)
 
Monday: Discuss steps 1-5 – really discuss. Think about what type of note taking and memorizing would be effective for your student. Be realistic. Discuss the pieces of the book – glossary, review questions, chapter summary etc and how they can be effectively used (or not, not everything is useful for every student). SQ3R is a helpful guide as long as you realize that the 2nd R includes both Imposing Structure and Reciting to check. So S Survey, Q question, R read, R impose structure and recite, R review. Go over this with your student, or whatever other method you plan to teach.
 
Tuesday: 1) Survey chapter together. Show ds what I look at and how I start to memorize by reciting back the list of topics. Start thinking about how they relate to each other and to previous chapters in the book. Predict what I expect to read, form questions, etc. 2) More closely survey first section of the chapter. Show him how to survey and form questions. Read the section side by side, stopping to check understanding. Model what types of questions I ask myself. Express my thinking process out loud so he can hear all the steps I go through. This can really take some thought on your own part if you have never tried to explicitly do this.
 
Wednesday: Read first section again to refresh, and then start the creation of structure. Insure the student really understands that this is not just about outlining – rather it is about imposing structure -- identifying the important information, seeing how this material fits into the big picture, finding questions to ask myself, finding where the text overlaps and choosing what area I want to use, understanding how the diagrams and text reinforces each other, etc. Demonstrate how to create the structure by verbally asking myself questions and making choices. My son has decided to outline in the text, so I show him how I would use outlining marks, (stars, numbers, arrows, adding text details to diagrams). This is the day that *I* do the work and he watches and asks questions. I make sure to look for specific phrases that seem to be really important to being able to communicate the material. You need to use these in your notes or underline them in your book. Also, make sure you use the phrase while you are reciting the material at the end of each study session.
 
Thursday: 1) Review previous section. Show him how to use the questions he has made to quiz himself. Show him how to go back over any material that was not well structured on the previous day. Stress that it is an iterative process. 2) Start section 2, have each of us survey and create questions silently, and then compare and discuss what works and doesn't. Read silently side by side. Have *him* impose structure while I watch and help, asking lots of questions and guiding where needed. Have him check his structure by quizzing himself with the questions. Show him how to memorize on the spot anything he can easily, and then how to make note cards for the numerous equations that must be memorized.
 
Friday: Do the entire 5-step process (well most of it). Step 5) Watch while he reviews previous section without my guidance. Step 1) Then, ask him to survey and prepare questions for the new section, and I leave the room for 3 minutes. Come back in and see how he has done. Read silently side by side. Step 2) Watch him impose structure without my help. Only give suggestions if needed. Step 3) Watch him prepare memory aids where needed and show him how to drill.
 
(Please bear in mind that this approach will be different for a more mathematical science – there will be much more time on problem working.)
 
********
 
Next week, we are going to work on communication skills, the global study sheet, the weekly review, and test taking skills. I will write up this process also after we go through it next week.
 
 
Wow this has gotten long. Hope it is helpful!
 
Ruth in NZ

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Thank you for giving me food for thought.  Your insights make me question myself more, and I appreciate all that I learn from you.  Thank you!

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Thanks for this.  Once I write something down, it all becomes clear!  I do my thinking through writing.

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Thanks for the kind words.  Writing helps me clarify my own thinking.  So all these long posts are so very good for me!

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I have been writing on another thread about how to help students build up their skills in reading nonfiction, which is somewhat different from textbooks, but these ideas seem to fit in here quite nicely as the are about developing advanced reading skills!

 

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Nonfiction:

 

IMHO, the main thing to do is check if your student is still comprehending each year as the level of difficulty increases.  Continue to check on comprehension using summaries, outlines, and discussion for each subject every 6 months or so. If the comprehension is poor for the next level, then you need to work on it every week until the material can be understood. In addition, make sure that you up the level of the material every year so that by the time they hit 9th grade, they are at a 9th grade level for *both* fiction and nonfiction.  And then every year after that, you up the level so that college is not a huge jump.

 

I also think that modeling is very important.  Pick a difficult essay (federalist papers or Emerson or something) and work through the ideas *with* your student.  Discuss what you are thinking after every sentence and then after every paragraph.  Model *how* good readers connect ideas, refer back to early paragraphs, predict what is coming up, etc.  Sometimes students assume that good readers read linearly through the argument and that is just not true.  You need to model.  Then have your students talk you through their own thought processes as they read a difficult passage. 

 

Finally, I do think that you need to teach some way for the student to categorize arguments.  The common topics: definition, cause/effect, circumstance, testimony, comparison; or formal logic; or both!  And after this material is learned, you need to *apply* it to ever increasingly difficult nonfiction.  You do this through a 3 step process: 1)  describing what *you* see - modeling, 2) having them describe what they see while you listen and comment, and 3) then each independently processing the arguments and comparing thoughts after 30 minutes. 

 

For many students, step by step is the key!

 

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This entire thread has been extremely beneficial to me in helping my 13yo daughter.  I was at my wits end with what to do after switching curriculum and her still not being able to read non-fiction science and social studies with understanding.  I sat with her and demonstrated notetaking paragraph by paragraph....first she was interested in how I knew what to take notes on, so we talked about that.  Also, she began asking questions and interacting with the text! 

 

Now, I had tried "reading together" in the previous curriculum, but it didn't help.  And...the material was admittedly hard even for me.  But reading and discussing was just causing her to tune out and get frustrated.

 

However, notetaking together helped so much more, and we're both excited that she'll also be learning the valuable skill of notetaking!  Somehow just by changing the focus to extracting the important information made a world of difference!  I need to read and re-read this thread often!  There's a gold mine in here!

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Simply wonderful and extremely helpful information!!

Thank you so much for sharing all your thoughts and wisdom here!!

You have given me so much invaluable food for though!!

Bless You!!

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Great ideas. Thank you for posting all your thoughts. :)

 

I gather during the timeframe you teach this you suspend or postpone answering the typical weekly assignments? I like how this teaches to learn what is in the textbook. However time becomes my stumbling block when I try to have dc follow such a path to learn from the text when they still have all their work to get done. Now for classes I do at home I can alter assignments to fit but for outside classes we gave up that option. Especially with something like TOG (or maybe Omnibus, MFW, etc) there are charts to fill out and questions to answer ....all to help the student analyze the information and prepare for discussions. Any suggestions for balancing this?

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Great ideas. Thank you for posting all your thoughts. :)

 

I gather during the timeframe you teach this you suspend or postpone answering the typical weekly assignments? I like how this teaches to learn what is in the textbook. However time becomes my stumbling block when I try to have dc follow such a path to learn from the text when they still have all their work to get done. Now for classes I do at home I can alter assignments to fit but for outside classes we gave up that option. Especially with something like TOG (or maybe Omnibus, MFW, etc) there are charts to fill out and questions to answer ....all to help the student analyze the information and prepare for discussions. Any suggestions for balancing this?

 

I don't actually give 'weekly assignments' until high school, and I teach advanced reading skills mostly in upper elementary and middle school, so for my homeschool there is not a conflict.

 

Given your situation, I would suggest that you teach reading skills in the classes you do at home, and then help your children understand how filling in charts or answering questions for outside classes actually helps them to understand the content rather than just being busy work. Answering high-level, well-constructed, short-answer questions is actually very difficult, and you could spend some time helping your students do this well.  I find that modelling is very important, so I often 1) model answering the questions by talking out loud about my thought processes before writing down the answer, 2) work *with* my student to understand the question and then come up with an appropriate, complete, but brief answer, and 3) have my student answer the question independently but with a running commentary of his thought processes while I sit and listen. 

 

Some kids just get it, others don't.  In my experience with my own students and with my tutoree kids, I can tell who is who.

 

Not sure I have answered your questions. Happy to try again if I missed the mark.

 

Ruth in NZ

 

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I don't actually give 'weekly assignments' until high school, and I teach advanced reading skills mostly in upper elementary and middle school, so for my homeschool there is not a conflict.

 

Given your situation, I would suggest that you teach reading skills in the classes you do at home, and then help your children understand how filling in charts or answering questions for outside classes actually helps them to understand the content rather than just being busy work. Answering high-level, well-constructed, short-answer questions is actually very difficult, and you could spend some time helping your students do this well.  I find that modelling is very important, so I often 1) model answering the questions by talking out loud about my thought processes before writing down the answer, 2) work *with* my student to understand the question and then come up with an appropriate, complete, but brief answer, and 3) have my student answer the question independently but with a running commentary of his thought processes while I sit and listen. 

 

Some kids just get it, others don't.  In my experience with my own students and with my tutoree kids, I can tell who is who.

 

Not sure I have answered your questions. Happy to try again if I missed the mark.

 

Ruth in NZ

 

 

oops, realized that I posted after only reading the 2nd page!  So now I finally read page 1 and 2.... 

This all makes sooo much sense.  I really wonder why there are so many curricula out there that don't step the students through some process of note taking, that is to learn any of the content subjects (science, history, literature, ...)  I know there are plenty of sites and books specifically on taking notes; but most of the options for these content subjects used here lean towards having the students read and answer questions or read and narrate or summarize.  The only other place I've read a similar method is the WTM book.  I tried those ideas with my older two dc but it just wasn't a good fit for dd (not much was though).  

 

Anyway... I'm currently focusing on ds (9th grade) and dd (4th grade) with other dd getting up to preK level.  This is timely for dd (4th grader) but right now I am still working on getting her to read more comfortably.  So I'm reading aloud with her, taking turns, with Magicians Nephew and we are going to review phonics with our spelling... I switched her to How to Teach Spelling 2.  If I can get our computers working she can also do Reading Detective, but for now this waits.  I may try to incorporate your ideas when we start Noeo Science Chemistry... I'll have to recheck to see if this will work.  My first focus will be to get her to like to read.  ug. both girls dislike reading, both boys love it... 

 

Its a bit late for my 9th grader to start these lessons but then again he is bright and is doing fine so far.  However I still might go over the process with him to see what he says.  He really doesn't have the time to do all this in addition to the workload he already has at this point.  He is able to find the answers on his own, usually... sometimes needs some help with the 'inference' type questions or the deeper thinking ones.  I wonder if a quick outline of the reading will help him to find the answers he needs faster?... I do see that he doesn't seem to know how to study after the work has been done.  Need to work on that as well.

 

One question though, after taking your kids through these lessons on 'reading to learn' and they move into high school level work, do you still have them follow this process in addition to the typical high school level workload of read, answer questions, charts, maps, learn vocab, maybe write a paper, etc.?  Or at this point do you have them move away from some of the steps?  

Thanks again for all that you share!

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Let me first say that the goal IMHO is to be able to hand your child a textbook with a syllabus (that contains assignments and test dates) and have your child be able to memorize, synthesize, and analyze the material and do well.  This is a straight forward college prep skill that should be learned in highschool.  If your child is already there, then the job is done. Some kids just get it; many don't.

 

Assignments (like your referenced charts, maps, vocab, papers) are supposed to help a student memorize, synthesize, and analyze; and if they don't, then they are poorly designed assignments.  However, assignments alone don't typically do the job; the student still needs to put forth personal effort to make the material her own and to do well on a final exam. That is where this thread comes in. It is not *extra* work.  If a student cannot memorize, synthesize, and analyze the content for any subject she has an interest in learning, then she probably needs direct teaching in advanced reading and studying skills.  This direct teaching is done *during* a class that a student is taking.  It is a way of explicitly exploring different methods with a student, allowing her to try each out and pick one or more that works best for her.  If a student can't actually do well on a test because she can't use a textbook to learn the material, then teaching her effective techniques is simply teaching her transferable skills.  It does take time, but if a student can't do it on her own, I just can't quite figure out what the other option is.  I guess just mediocre test scores?

 

Once a kid is confident of his ability to handle any textbook and associated syllabus, then the job is done and no more handholding is needed.

 

Does that answer your question?

 

Ruth in NZ

 

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Yes. Lol this makes sense. Every once in a while I run into great things I want to specifically teach my kids but then realize that they don't need it cause somehow that already got through. Reading skills as you highlighted are one...formal logic for this ds was another.

 

Now to get my next one reading more.

 

Thanks again for posting, helping, and basically just caring for all of us!!

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Wow!!!!!!!!!!  So so glad this thread was "bumped"

 

Thank you so so so much Ruth for sharing your knowledge and experience.  Thank you!!!

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