Monday, July 30, 2012

Layers of Understanding: Going Deeper



In the early 1990’s Ellin Keene’s research sparked a comprehension revolution. Mosaic of Thought changed the way we think and talk about reading. Although I did not grow up learning about metacognition or synthesis, today I do my best to expose students to the “mental moves” readers use as they seek to gain new meaning from text.

Her second book, titled To Understand, took the strategies to a whole new level. I remember reading this professional development resource on a plane ride from Boston several years ago, and the concepts were so abstract, I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around them. She addressed theoretical ideas I’d never considered, and I longed to be the kind of classroom teacher whose students chased after understanding with passion and a sense of urgency.

This summer, I have finally started reading her newest book, Talk About Understanding. Teachers are pushed to provide more rigorous comprehension instruction by answering the following two questions. Obviously, the emphasis lies in depth of understanding.

1. How can we help children understand more deeply?

2. How do we know when they comprehend deeply?

Chapter one begins by providing an overview of how strategy instruction has impacted the classroom. For example, teachers have become more reflective about our own reading, which has led to increased time spend teaching comprehension. The strategies have created a common language between teachers and kids, raising the expectations for all children. The revolution in comprehension instruction generated innovation in America’s classrooms, and allowed teachers to focus on the reader, not just the text. Our students are reading with more depth and focus, and the strategies have helped children build a vast bank of content-area knowledge.  

This layering of understanding rings true for classroom teachers, as well as our students.  As I sit and digest the ideas presented in Ellin Keene’s latest publication, I am overwhelmed by how much I still need to learn about reading and thinking. Trying to synthesize her research reminds me of Jeff Anderson’s quote about taking a sip of water from a fire hose—it’s overwhelming. For now, I plan to focus on the indicators of understanding. So much of what I’m reading connects to the UBD work we are doing on the curriculum writing team. The six facets of understanding are definitely present in in her Indicators of Deeper Comprehension.

Outcomes of Understanding: Indicators of Deeper Comprehension

As the new school year approaches, I aspire to be the kind of teacher who models deep thinking. I want my students to watch in wonder as I struggle and fight for understanding. Complex texts require rigorous reading, and although I’ve enjoyed several “relax reads” during the summer break, I am now wresting and dwelling in ideas. To synthesize my reading, I’ve started a short Power Point presentation related to narrative text. Next on my list of things-to-do, create a slideshow for expository text. Hopefully all this reading and thinking will translate to deeper understanding for my students. Here’s to a wonderful year of magnificent “mental moves”!

Narrative Outcomes of Understanding Power Point

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