Note Taking November: For the Elementary Classroom

For elementary schoolers, note taking as a reading or comprehension strategy is likely unfamiliar, and for a legitimate reasonmany younger learners are just beginning to get comfortable in their reading abilities at this stage. Many children view reading as a mundane task; however, if students begin to look at reading material as a vessel for knowledge, they may change how they read for such information. Reading skills, particularly the ability to extract, analyze, and interpret relevant material, can be improved as students learn proper note-taking practices.

For elementary-age learners, taking notes while reading probably seems like an added burden on an already difficult task. Therefore, when introducing the concept, be sure to frame the instruction with expectations, benefits, and models of how the note taking should look.

  • Explain that note taking while reading is a practice that will take timeelementary schoolers should expect to practice this skill consistently before it becomes second nature.

  • They should also expect their notes to be messy, which is why pencil is a must. Begin the note-taking process by simply recording a stream of thought while reading.

  • Encourage students to mark up words and phrases that are:
    • unfamiliar or confusing,
    • bolded, italicized, or repeated,
    • indicate the author’s purpose,
    • signify an important moment or realization,
    • present an interesting fact or take-away.

      Use these opportunities as a means of teaching context cluesif the term is unfamiliar, ask students if anything around the word or phrase provides insight into the unknown word’s meaning. Encourage them to brainstorm and experiment with possible word meanings until they land on something that makes logical, grammatical sense.

  • Elementary schoolers should also feel comfortable asking “why?” while reading. Encourage them to add question marks to areas of text that they don’t understand or don’t see the relevance.

  • Model the practice of close reading and active note taking with students regularly. For the most part, note taking is an unfamiliar skill for elementary-age kids. When modeling the process, start small. Perhaps you begin by using a text that students have read before. This sense of familiarity will promote risk-taking and allow students to feel more comfortable tackling the text with their thoughts and observations. As you move through the text together, show them how to refer back to earlier notes if they have made connections or discovered an answer to a previous notation or question.

  • Inform students of the benefits of note taking. They will be surprised to know that notes can mean an easier time when rereading or skimming while studying. If students get in the habit of taking copious notes, most of the studying “leg work” will be done ahead of time. Their notes should also act as place markers, meaning that any content that struck them as important or especially tricky should be highlighted to indicate that it is vital to review. Also, let young readers know that note taking is a deliberate practice that ensures focus, comprehension, and other active reading skills on behalf of the reader. If your mind is disengaged or drifting, there is no way that you will be able to maintain substantial notes or annotations.

The Other Stuff: How to Approach High-Level Thinking Questions

It is important that educators exude a sense of passion for the content that we teach. Whether it be math, science, English, etc., our love for our subject areas helps to engage our students and keep them motivated. While much of our instruction focuses around the content, we are also tasked with teaching skills that allow students to access the content that we are teaching. Depending on grade level and ability, students could be all over the map when it comes to these essential, foundational skills. We must first assess the tools that our students bring with them to the classroom and then be prepared to focus part of our instruction around these crucial basics.

“Dissecting the question” is a practice that students will encounter in EVERY content area throughout their education. Whether responding to a writing prompt, answering a word problem, or following chemistry lab procedures, students must be aware of the end goal when confronting a task. Often times across content areas, questions or practices are framed in wordy, complex, or very involved language. This type of wording has the potential to not only confuse students, but also to discourage them right from the beginning before they have even considered the question. To hone in on an answer, students must first learn how to identify exactly what the question is asking.  

Consider the following prompt: Authors use many different literary devices to convey mood in a narrative. Identify and analyze two devices that J.K. Rowling uses to convey mood in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone using evidence from the text to support your claim.

Now, this prompt is a tall order in terms of a student’s need to focus in on the actual question. Model the process of “skimming the fat” from the question so that only the essentials are present. For example, have students cross off any “fluff” or unnecessary information in the question. This goes for math, English, science, history, etc. For our example above, students could cross off the entire first sentence in the prompt—this simply frames the context of the prompt.

Next, help students to translate or better comprehend the academic language that all content-area questions will use. Terms like analyze, assess, compare, estimate, and classify may seems straightforward to us; however, students often find these directives to be confusing. Have students practice highlighting the common academic language terms as they encounter them in questions, prompts, and tasks. Then, spend time as a class discussing what these terms actually mean—i.e., what actions will we take as readers when we identify and analyze something? What does it mean by devices? Perhaps students need a refresher on literary devices. This is where graphic organizers and other note-taking strategies will come in handy for students needing a quick review of a concept.

Next, help students understand that identify simply means to find, name, or choose two devices that the author uses, while analyze means to explore, examine, or question how these devices convey, or show, mood. Students that are still struggling to begin responding to the question may benefit from a sentence frame or sample starter. This strategy is great for English and math, where teachers are likely seeking complete sentences or full thoughts in the answers and responses. Consider providing students with something like this as their starting thesis statement:

(AUTHOR’S NAME) uses (DEVICE AND DEVICE) to convey a (SPECIFIC TYPE OF MOOD) in (TITLE).

Once they have filled in the blanks for the thesis statement, prompt the analysis piece by asking leading questions. These suggestive questions will help students with the initial practice of analyzing, assessing, or making connections between their claim and their reasoning or support for the claim. Again, this practice takes time and repetition—attacking a high-level thinking question like this is not something that can be mastered in one class period. The key is to provide students with strategies to help steer their thinking in the direction of the actual meat of the question. By helping to define, explain, eliminate, and order the process of the question, students are much more equipped to begin answering.

So remember:

  • Eliminate fluff
  • Locate key terms/academic language that indicate what is being asked
  • Define those terms for students
  • Provide graphic organizers or refresher notes when necessary
  • Consider providing sentence frames or examples for students to use as a springboard

How to Perform a Close Reading: High School

In terms of critical thinking and close reading skills, high school students are fairly well-equipped to delve into text analysis. They have built a foundation and found some close reading strategies that work for them.  As we advance from reading comprehension and understanding texts to dissecting and analyzing the content (i.e. close reading), we must alter the strategies to explicitly teach students how to examine the finite details. This practice in critical thinking and analysis does not evolve in one fell swoop—it must be practiced.

The goal is to gain a richer understanding of the text by questioning, dissecting, and relating to it. This practice should help to cultivate an appreciation for literature—not stifle a high schooler’s interest with rote exercises. In order to accomplish this while still scratching the surface of building close reading skills, educators and parents can implement different strategies to subtly introduce the concept to their high schoolers.

  • Use movie stills—from films that students may not be familiar with—to up their analytical thinking skills. Cover the image with post-it notes. Then, while slowly revealing portions of the still, ask your high schoolers to describe what they think is happening in this scene of the movie. The key here is that they closely “read” the scenario without relying on the spoken words. This is a subtle way to prompt readers to look at the context clues in an image. Be ready with questions to take the discussion further, such as, “What genre might this movie be categorized as?” Or, “Where do you think this scene takes place based on the background?” Be sure that students explain and elaborate to ensure that they are not simply making blind guesses. The point of close reading is to use all of the clues available, along with prior knowledge and inferencing, to assess the text on a deeper level. Activities and questions like these motivate readers to look closely at the details and draw interpretations and inferences—the same practices involved in close reading written text.
  • Collect song lyrics to use as warm-up practices for close reading and analyzing. Choose from an array of genres or styles and print lyrics for each student. Just like poetry, song lyrics can mean vastly different things depending on the audience. Open up the discussion by asking why certain terms were chosen by the songwriter—does slang play a deliberate role, for example?
  • Provide high schoolers with advanced texts that prompt a more analytical approach. Perhaps the text is of a higher Lexile level. Or maybe you provide them with a period piece in which they would have to decipher an unfamiliar dialect. Whatever the case, high schoolers can further develop their close reading skills by approaching more complex texts. Ensure that they have access to search engines so that they can investigate words or concepts for more clarity. When reading any text, even an article, poem, or short story, there are bound to be some words that a high schooler is less familiar with. Practice recognizing when this happens by asking if she can define the term in her own words. If she doesn’t know, use a dictionary or web search to define the word. This practice allows teens to not only recognize when they are unfamiliar with a word, but encourages them to seek clarification—a skill required for close reading. Enrich this practice by asking high schoolers to create a Frayer model for each new term or find synonyms and antonyms for these newly-defined terms.
  • Introduce the concept of questioning the author’s creative choices by discussing the title of a new book. Again, the subtly of this practice is a great pre-reading strategy that encourages readers to make predictions. Ask why the author may have chosen this specific title? Are there any other titles that might fit the story? Ask students to make inferences about what might happen in the story based on the title. Be sure to ask her why she thinks that. After reading, refer back to initial assumptions or predictions and discuss new findings.
  • Encourage your readers to ask questions while reading. These questions are likely the beginning of the close reading process. Explain that questions may be left unanswered based on the story. Discuss how these unanswered questions allow readers to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions. Then, encourage students to seek others’ responses to the text. Many academic forums, like databases or anthologies, provide students with examples of close reading pieces written by authors, professors, etc. Viewing samples of the process helps students to recognize what to look for when performing a close reading.
  • Seek clues from uses of figurative language and other creative writing approaches. For example, ask why a certain poem contains repetition. Does it create a sense of urgency? Help to establish rhythm? Solidify the theme or central message? Look into an author’s background to identify influences or common themes. An understanding of the writer helps when investigating the text during close reading.

How to Perform a Close Reading: Middle School

Middle school is such a huge transition. From the larger school, the locker situation, and the new faces, to the noticeable increase in homework and advancement of skill sets, many students feel overwhelmed at first. In terms of critical thinking skills, middle school students are still on the beginning tier—they are building a foundation and finding strategies that work for them.  As we progress from reading comprehension and understanding texts to dissecting and analyzing the content (i.e. close reading), we must alter the strategies to explicitly teach students how to examine the finite details. This practice in critical thinking and analysis does not evolve in one fell swoop—it must be practiced.

With our transition-plagued, middle school readers, we want to be transparent about how we approach the subject of close reading. The goal is to gain a richer understanding of the text by questioning, dissecting, and relating to it. This practice should help to cultivate a love of reading in our novice readers—not stifle their interest with rote exercises. In order to accomplish this while still scratching the surface of building close reading skills, educators and parents can implement different strategies to subtly introduce the concept to their middle schoolers.

  • Use one of your favorite paintings or photographs to practice close reading strategies in a more subtle fashion. Cover the image with post-it notes. Then, while slowly revealing portions of the painting, ask your middle schooler to describe what they think is happening in the painting. The key here is that they closely “read” the scenario without having the full picture to reference. This is a subtle way to prompt a young reader to look at the context clues in the illustrations. Be ready with questions to take the discussion further, such as, “What emotion is this painting evoking?” Or, “Where do you think this scene takes place based on the background?” These questions motivate readers to look closely at the details and draw interpretations and inferences—the same practices involved in close reading written text.
  • Familiarize your adolescent with unknown words by helping him search for definitions. When reading any text, even an article, poem, or short story, there are bound to be some words that your child is less familiar with. Practice recognizing when this happens by asking if he or she knows what a certain word means. If she doesn’t, use a dictionary or web search to define the word together. This practice allows kids to not only recognize when they are unfamiliar with a word, but encourages them to seek clarification—a skill required for close reading. Enrich this practice by asking middle schoolers to find synonyms and antonyms for these newly-defined terms.
  • Introduce the concept of questioning the author’s creative choices by discussing the title of a new book. Again, the subtly of this practice is a great pre-reading strategy that helps middle schoolers make predictions. Ask why the author may have chosen this specific title? Are there any other titles that might fit the story? Ask students to make inferences about what might happen in the story based on the title. Be sure to ask her why she thinks that. After reading, refer back to initial assumptions or predictions and discuss new findings.
  • Encourage your middle schooler to ask questions while reading. These questions are likely the beginning of the close reading process. Explain that sometimes, questions may be left unanswered based on the story. Discuss how these unanswered questions allow readers to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions.
  • Seek clues from uses of figurative language and other creative writing approaches. For example, ask why a certain poem contains repetition. Does it create a sense of urgency? Help to establish rhythm? Solidify the theme or central message? Look into an author’s background to identify influences or common themes. An understanding of the writer helps when investigating the text during close reading.

How to Perform a Close Reading: Elementary School

For the most part, elementary-age students are just grasping the concepts involved with reading comprehension. At this point, they have somewhat mastered fluency, decoding, and context clues. As we progress from reading comprehension and understanding texts to dissecting and analyzing its content (i.e. close reading), we somewhat alter the strategies to teach students how to examine the finite details. This practice in critical thinking and analysis does not evolve innately—it must be trained.

With our younger, elementary-age readers, we want to be very careful about how we approach the subject of close reading. The goal should be that we cultivate a love of reading in our novice readers—not stifle the interest with rote exercises. In order to accomplish this while still scratching the surface of building close reading skills, educators and parents can implement different strategies to subtly introduce the concept.

  • Use one of your child’s favorite picture books to begin the practice of close reading. Cover the text with post-it notes. Then, using just the pictures, ask your child to describe what is happening in the story from page to page. This is a subtle way to prompt a young reader to look at the context clues in the illustrations. Be ready with questions to take the discussion further, such as, “What makes you think that the animals are enjoying the tea party?” Or, “Where do you think this part takes place based on the background?” These questions motivate readers to look closely at the details and draw interpretations and inferences—the same practices involved in close reading written text.
  • Familiarize your child with unknown words by helping him search for definitions. When reading any text, even a children’s story, there are bound to be some words that your child is less familiar with. Practice recognizing when this happens by asking your child if he or she knows what a certain word means. If she doesn’t, use a dictionary or web search to define the word together. This practice allows kids to not only recognize when they are unfamiliar with a word, but encourages them to seek clarification—a skill required for close reading.
  • Introduce the concept of questioning the author’s creative choices by discussing the title of a new book. Again, the subtly of this practice is a great pre-reading strategy that helps children make predictions. Ask why the author may have chosen this specific title? Are there any other ways titles that might fit the story? Ask your child to make inferences about what might happen in the story based on the title—be sure to ask her why she thinks that.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions while reading. These questions are likely the beginning of the close reading process. Explain that sometimes questions may be left unanswered based on the story. Discuss how these unanswered questions allow readers to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions.

Tips to Improve Reading at Home

The benefits of fostering a love of reading at home are seemingly endless. Not only will this hobby have an inevitable positive effect on learning and academics, but strong readers also experience other lesser known benefits.  Avid reading builds study habits and improves linguistic skills, vocabulary, comprehension, analytical thinking and writing. Reading is also beneficial for reducing stress and strengthening memory. With such a vast array of benefits, reading at home should definitely be part of the regular routine.

Turn nightly reading into an adventure by making it something that your family looks forward to. Create a “special spot” for reading, such as a fort or comfy cove in the family room. Allow your children to help with the process of constructing and decorating the reading area. Be sure to include pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals to make it extra cozy. Bring flashlights and something healthy to nibble on while the family reads together. Take turns reading aloudand don’t forget to get into character!

Keep reading time consistent. Whether you are reading nightly or weekly, be sure to maintain the routine. Reading each night or weekend can be a quick, 20minute activity. The key is to keep it enjoyable, not laborious.

Casually ask questions before, during, and after reading. This should not take the form of a spit-fire question and answer session. The book talk should seem just like that—a casual conversation in which the family discusses interesting aspects of the story.

Have a cause for celebration or a reward? Treat your children with a trip to the library or bookstore. Allow him to select any book of his choice as a means of rewarding good behavior, hard work at school, or helping out around the house. Reading as a reward is a great way to associate reading with something pleasurable or gratifying.

Read your child’s book ahead of time, prior to her starting the book. Then, mark up the story with your own comments, cartoons, or questions. As she starts the book, she’ll have your special messages to build inquiry from page to page. These little notes are also a great way to introduce children to annotating and note-taking as a close reading strategy.

Take the books on the road with tablets, iPads, or audiobooks. With the prevalence of technology, eBooks make it possible to incorporate reading wherever the family goes. These technologies can be especially handy during long road trips or flights. Have your children discuss their books with the family as they finish a chapter. You can also set reading goals for the family vacation—something such as each person trying to finish their book before returning home.  

For older kids and teens, motivate with an added incentive for finishing a novel. If your teen has finished the most recent Harry Potter novel, rent the movie for him to enjoy. Then chat about which was better—the book or the movie? Finish the whole series? Plan a Harry Potter themed family dinner, complete with butter beer and boogie-flavored jelly beans…ok, maybe not!

 

Tips to Improve Reading in the Classroom

Not surprisingly, reading is one of those activities that students either love or loathe. As much as it can be difficult to get a bookworm to put the book down for a second, it can be equally challenging to get a reluctant reader to pick one up. So how can we improve reading skills for both our avid and unenthusiastic readers? The strategies and methods are just as different as the students themselves.

For Reluctant Readers:

Allow reluctant or struggling readers to use digital aids to improve comprehension and ease the stress correlated with fluency and decoding. Listening to audiobooks is a proven method to encourage and boost struggling readers. Explain to students that they must follow along while listening to the text. Many audio tools also allow students to highlight, mark, or pause the reading in order to define difficult terms or make notes along the way. This process allows students to actively engage with the text without relying solely on their own reading skills. While some argue that listening to books on tape is not actively reading, educators know this to be false. These digital tools, such as the audiobook, are simply scaffolds to allow for different avenues of comprehension. Yes, students are following along, but the audio also acts as an added support for comprehension, which can be very encouraging for struggling readers.

Make sure that the Lexile level matches the ability of your reluctant readers. Many students find reading to be discouraging, especially if the level of the text far exceeds their ability to comprehend. Numerous educational applications are available now to help teachers sift through texts and find appropriate levels for all readers. Some apps even provide variations of the same story or article for on, above, or below-grade level readers. This allows all students to read and comprehend the same text, so participation is not an issue.

Appeal to individual interests by providing student choice. As much as possible, students should be provided with texts that engage them and relate to them personally. Yes, the end goal would be for students to embrace reading as a means of exploring new things. However, for reluctant readers, it is all about the incentive to buy in. Charming their interests is a great way to bring enjoyment to an activity that they don’t necessarily love.

For Avid Readers:

Encourage students to explore texts that challenge their current level of comprehension. Voracious readers embrace the opportunity to increase their own vocabulary by encountering more challenging texts. Not only do unfamiliar terms pique their interests, but the complexity of sentence structures or plotlines also helps to stimulate learning and engagement for strong readers.

Allow strong readers to take creative liberties with their writing assignments. Since writing and reading abilities are reciprocal, a strong reader will likely flourish in writing, as well. Provide enrichment by having strong readers extend a novel, poem, or short story. The idea here is that fanfiction not only boosts writing skills, but also encourages advanced reading skills such as close reading, mimicking voice and tone, making interpretive predictions, etc.

Provide time for reading and exploring new texts in class. Obviously, avid readers are happy any time they are able to indulge in their favorite hobby during class. But, more than just silent reading for the sake of it, small bits of class time devoted to reading for pleasure is a great way to foster literature circles or book talks. Socializing over a beloved novel is a way for advanced readers to dig deeper into inquiry-based methods and learn to analyze texts on a more progressive level.  

Building a Strong Vocabulary: Elementary Level

Information gathered from the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary estimates that there are likely three quarters of a million English words, and this is a conservative estimation. With seemingly limitless options to choose from when speaking, writing, or reading, vocabulary acquisition is a vital, albeit somewhat disregarded, aspect of academic development. Elementary curricula widely limit vocabulary instruction after a certain grade, making it even more important to build up a strong foundation at home. So, how exactly can we foster a rich vocabulary for children at a young age? Surprisingly, age is on their side when it comes to acquiring vocabulary skills.

A little-known fact about language is that it cannot only be heard before birth, but some studies indicate that infants even begin to equate meaning to words in the womb, as well. Even more impressive is the rapid rate by which school-aged children learn new words after age six—an average of 20 new words per day! This information proves that it is never too early to work on improving vocabulary.

Studies suggest that direct instruction of vocabulary does little to build an understanding. Word games, however, are a fun and easy way to practice building vocabulary at a young age. Scrabble, Boggle, crossword puzzles, etc., will provide children with skills to build a robust vocabulary. Even using an activity such as Mad Libs can help children practice vocabulary use in a “play-like” format. Utilizing word games is a great way to build motivation and comprehension without making it seem like instruction.

Incorporating synonyms is another valuable manner of building vocabulary. When your child is expressing emotions, prompt him or her to use other words beyond “mad,” “sad,and “happy.” Expressions, animals, actions, colors—the categories are limitless for introducing synonyms. The point here is to provide as much exposure as possible. Even when speaking around your children, introduce new or unfamiliar words so that they can hear them being used in everyday speech. When doing this, be sure to provide adequate context so that the new terms are rooted in speech or language that they already know. Otherwise, the new terms will be literally lost in translation.

It is also important to note that it is not necessary to correct children’s speech on a regular basis. The interesting part of “kid-speak” is the subconscious thought process behind youngsters’ common grammatical errors. For instance, it may be adorable when we hear children say things like, “I goed to the store with Mom today.” No, “goed” is not grammatically correct, but it does exhibit the attempt to use the past tense verb of “to go.” Instead of blatantly correcting their error, subtly replace their “goed” with “went.” This slight shift in language use will demonstrate the correct grammatical usage without frustrating them with constant corrections. Once they have mastered the grammatical usage, synonym work becomes even more helpful. Did you “go” to the store with mom? Or did you mosey to, rush to, visit, meander through, peruse about, etc.

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How-to Check for Comprehension: High School

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Comprehension: though this term has a simple definition, it is far from a simple concept. Comprehension centers on one’s ability to understand or make sense of something. It is truly a complex cognitive ability that can be difficult to measure and varies person to person.

Once adolescents arrive at the high-school level of their education, comprehension is an expectation in the classroom. Having progressed through years of schooling, high schoolers have had their comprehension assessed countless times. The methods for which to assess them over the years is just as varied. Whether via formal or informal assessments, comprehension at the high school level leaves no room for gray areas—students either comprehend a concept, or they do not. This is different from the lower grades, when students are still developing comprehension skills. So how can high schoolers check for and improve comprehension skills? The three-step strategy below is a proven process which expands a student’s comprehension skills.

  1. Annotate texts, assignment sheets, rubrics, etc. Essentially, any text can be annotated to check for understanding. When students receive an article, report, novel, etc., they should immediately assume the role of an active reader and writer. This means that, when reading, students should have a pencil and/or highlighter in hand, ready to record as they read. This is not an innate skill; it takes practice and consideration. Highlighting is not merely enough—students have to indicate why they have highlighted something, which is where margin notes come into play. This process helps to ensure that students are actively engaged in the text, following along and thinking critically as they read.
  2. Employ close reading, of which annotating is an important aspect. Close reading involves a critical analysis of a text that requires the reader to engage closely with the text by focusing on significant details, patterns, and other distinguishable aspects of the author’s writing. Close reading asks that readers question or critique the artistic choices of the author, i.e., Why did he include that simile? What is the meaning of that term as it is used in the context of the paragraph? What is the greater message that the author may have been trying to convey? Close reading encourages readers to look at the text in layers, similar to that of an onion. As we peel back the layers, we ask different questions of the text. First, what is the author saying? Then, how is the author saying it? And finally, why would the author choose to say it in such a way?
  3. Respond to the text. Having annotated and performed a close reading of the text, a final method for ensuring comprehension is to respond to the text. With the notes that the student has taken, and the observations and critiques that have been made, high schoolers can exhibit further comprehension by responding in various forms, but likely a written response. High school students can create book reviews, author reviews, argumentative or persuasive pieces, etc. By commenting on a text in a critical way, students are able to show that they have not only comprehended the material, but also analyzed it critically.

How-to Check for Comprehension: Middle Grades

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Comprehension, quite simply, indicates a person’s ability to understand something. Simply by existing, humans are constantly receiving input and information, analyzing it, and (hopefully) making sense of it. Something that is done so automatically and continuously should be easy, right? Not always. Herein lies the issue, especially when it comes to the middle school child—adolescents often think that they know everything, and/or, they completely disregard anything that confuses them. The “if I ignore it, it will cease to exist” mentality unfortunately only works to create more confusion. This is why self-checking for comprehension is a necessary skill for middle schoolers to learn to employ.

Trust me, comprehension will be assessed at great lengths throughout middle and high school. Between the standardized testing, regular assignments, and lengthy book reports, formative comprehension checks will become a routine as students make their way through their schooling. In order for students to recognize whether they have comprehended something or not, it is important for them to begin to actively question themselves as a learner. But what does this look like? Here are a few strategies that middle schoolers should employ to check for their own comprehension.

Can I summarize that reading? A summary should consist of the key points, major details, and take-aways from the entire reading as a whole. If a middle schooler is not able to adequately present a holistic view of the key moments from a text, he or she has not fully comprehended it.

Did I understand all of the vocabulary that I encountered? This question goes back to the issue of disregarding information that is confusing. When stumbling through a reading where vocabulary presents an issue with comprehension, students’ typical reaction is to plow through, ignoring the terms or phrases that they do not understand. This is an obvious sign that the middle schooler is not fully comprehending the text. As annoying as they may find this to be, middle schoolers should get in the habit of searching and defining unfamiliar words as they read or work.

Can I comment, question, or critique anything from this reading? Again, this practice is often met with moans and groans. “As if reading the text is not difficult enough, they now want me to analyze it?!” Yes. If a middle schooler does not have anything to add or consider after finishing a text, then their comprehension is questionable. Highlighting and taking margin notes will help when it comes to critiquing the text. Be sure that your middle schooler knows why he or she highlighted a certain section. Again, if they are able to pinpoint key moments or question the text, chances are the comprehension piece is intact.

Was my focus on the text the whole time? This question is one that even adults struggle to answer on occasion. If readers arrive at the bottom of the page only to discover that they were thinking about what to eat for dinner, then the focus was disrupted. Without focusing on the text, there is no way to fully comprehend its meaning.

Try implementing one or more of these strategies the next time your middle schooler completes a reading assignment. You may both be surprised to see how a few extra minutes of reflection can greatly enhance comprehension!