Some Ideas about Teaching



Reading for Understanding


One of the issues in teaching Special Needs classes, of course, is reading for understanding.

Beware of just reading through a passage and then proceeding as though they have understood it all - with SN classes, you have to be very careful that they have appropriated the meaning.

This is going to be different for different pupils:

1. True dyslexics will have IMMENSE difficulties ploughing through the text (either because they're dysphonetic - can't easily split the words down into their phonetic parts - or dyseidetic - can't easily remember words 'on-sight'). But once they have had the words decoded to them they:
a. CAN understand the general meaning of the text,
b. BUT (NB) they can't skim/ scan and locate as well as an ordinary reader.

2. MLD pupils MAY be able to decipher the words and 'read' quite fluently (or they may not, depending on their balance of deficits) BUT they can't appropriate the meaning of what they are reading. There is a whole category of pupils who read beautifully, with inflexion, and seem to appropriate nothing! Similarly, they may be able to skim and scan quite impressively, but they don't understand.

3. And then there are the Asperger's and ADD pupils who lost concentration some where halfway through the passage. Some even seemed to be paying attention, but their minds were elsewhere!

Particularly for the MLD pupils, I use a strategy which might be described as '
Q&A every which way but'.

This is how to do it:
Choose quite a small section of text.
Then exhaustively ask the pupils 'simple-understanding' questions about what you have read.

The key is to do this 'every which way but'.
To elaborate:
Take the text sentence:
"Karl Marx changed the world."
What could you ask pupils to establish understanding of this, 'every which way but'?
Most mainstream history teachers might not even check understanding of this sentence AT ALL - once the pupils have read it, they will largely assume it's been appropriated.
With an SN class, I would ask, successively:
- Who changed the world?
- What did Karl Marx change?
- What did Karl Marx do to the world?

The next sentence is longer:
"He said it was wrong that the rich got all the money but the poor did all the work."
Asked questions? I would ask, one after the other:
- What did he say the rich got?
- What did he say the poor did?
- Who did he say got all the money?
- Who did he think did all the work?
- What did he think was the difference between the rich and the poor?
- What did he say about this state of affairs?
- What did he think was wrong with the world?
- Who said all this?

And in this way I would work on down through the text we have just 'read round', stripping every sentence for its meaning from every different angle in this way.

You may say: 'Don't the pupils get incredibly restless?'
Funnily enough, to repeat a point I made earlier, no they don't!!
They ENJOY understanding, and being able to show they understand.
You may get a few funny looks the first time you start to do it, but eventually the pupils come to love answering correctly, over and over again.

We make these pupils advertise to the world, 5 hours a day, 200 days a year, that they DON'T know. You'd be surprised how much they appreciate showing you that they DO!

The 'Q&A every which way but' exercise also teaches them the vital skill of locating information in a text, and it emphasises the principle (lost on so many SN pupils) that the answer is in the text(s), NOT somewhere in the ether. (Just think of how many times, when you ask an SN pupil a question, their eyes turn upwards - indicating that they are accessing the creative or logical areas of their brain - and not downwards to seek the answer in their sources.)

It is also worth pointing out that, while this helps MLD pupils establish understanding, it also gives dyslexic pupils practice in scanning, and ADD pupils practice in paying attention. (To repeat a point made earlier, what allows one pupil to demonstrate a strength, is re-inforcement/stretching for another!)

Just for practice, the next sentence in my text is:
"He wanted poor people to take power in a revolution."
What questions-to-establish-understanding would you ask of this sentence, 'every which way but'.

Posted on: Dec 31 2003, 01:50 PM





To cite this page, use:   CLARE, JOHN D. (2003/2006), 'Reading for Understanding',  at Greenfield History Site (