Miles got a tricked-out new desk chair.
His mother figured since he was such a techno-gearhead eighth-grade dude, he could put it together himself. Five days later, his chair sat in 50 pieces on the floor and Miles had ripples on his scalp from frying his brain.
Teacher Says: Teach Miles to read in reverse. It's a tested method that works not only for middle-schoolers or secondary-level kids new to speaking English, it ups reading comprehension for early or reluctant readers and those with attention disorders.
Traditionally, when secondary teachers use a textbook, students read a chapter, answer questions at the end of the chapter, talk about it in class and when time permits, participate in a related activity. Reading in reverse increases the comprehension quotient because it puts the activity first and embeds it with key vocabulary words. Then, kids picture-read and use inspection methods that can yield 50 percent comprehension before they begin reading the chapter. The last thing they do in the reverse reading method is read word-for-word.
"Don't start with reading, don't assume that kids are ready to read about experiences they have not had," says Marjorie Rosenberg of the University of Maryland's Center for Assessment, Validity and Evaluation. "One of the most significant predictions of reading ability is oral language and experience," says Rosenberg, a former teacher of English as a second language.
The following is adapted from a method developed for secondary students who speak English as a second language.
Put the experience first. Instead of putting a textbook or instruction booklet under Miles's nose, share pre-reading experiences that are image-rich, vocabulary-packed and loaded with details. Seek opportunities for him to draw on what he knows, make predictions, justify his answers and check his accuracy. For example, hunker down over his new chair together. As he examines the parts, call up comparisons. What does the new chair have that the old one doesn't? Then ask him to forecast. Where will the new parts go? Why there? By looking at his old chair, how does he think the new one will be constructed? Have him lay out the parts in that order.
Embed vocabulary. Conversational vocabulary is one thing, but the words kids need for understanding textbooks and standardized tests is something else. Elevate Miles's vocabulary by extracting unfamiliar words from reading assignments and threading them through pre-reading experiences. To cement new words in his head, match them to a corresponding action. For example, use "pneumatic lift" as he's pumping his chair up to fit the height of his desk. Have Miles repeat the words while he works. "Vocabulary doesn't get used after a one-chance meeting," notes Rosenberg.
Picture it. "Kids can preview and learn about text by titles and pictures," says Rosenberg. Because older kids often forget that, remind Miles that photos, captions, charts, and annotated illustrations always "explain something on the page," she says. Refer back to the instruction booklet and make comparisons between the illustrations there and Miles's proposed assembly. Based on the diagram, how accurate were his predictions about what parts went where? Change his assembly accordingly.
Prompt conversation. Maureen McLaughlin believes that better than asking questions after kids read, targeted prompts -- or conversation-starters -- ramp up the amount of information they absorb and use. "Prompts encourage children to engage in higher-level thinking and express their ideas more freely," says McLaughlin, author of "Guided Comprehension in the Primary Grades" (International Reading Association, $34.95). Prompts also build on Miles's framework by guiding his use of words, tenses, grammar and sentence structure.
Though targeted prompts sound like you are thinking aloud, they provide an accurate gauge of how kids assimilate and process difficult materials. And if you occasionally appear bewildered, all the better. With middle school kids, nothing inspires conversation better than setting a befuddled adult straight.
Examples of prompts from McLaughlin's work:
I wonder . . .; I think it is surprising, amusing, interesting that . . .; I think it is confusing that . . .; the illustrations in this textbook, news article, poem . . .; a word I want to talk to you about is . . .; I want to ask you about . . .; a phrase, word, idea we should remember is . . .; this reminds me of . . .; something new I learned is . . .; I imagine . . .
Inspecting and Reading. Now that he's built a framework of understanding, Miles is ready to inspect and read sections of text or his instruction booklet. Review the graphics, then have him inspect it by reading the first sentence of each paragraph. Then have him go back and read only the first and last paragraphs completely. What additional information does this inspection yield?
Now have Miles read the text word-by-word and put his chair together. Did it come together like the diagram indicated or did he have to fill in some blanks?
Stop periodically and discuss his predictions. "Give them opportunities to justify their answers," says Rosenberg. Offer to read when his interest flags and use prompts to help him summarize.Contact Evelyn Porreca Vuko at email@example.com and join her live online at www.washingtonpost.com today at 10 a.m.