Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Interesting Thing About Monitoring

One of the things that I've noticed about struggling readers over the past few years is that most of them do not seem to monitor--to notice whether or not they are understanding as they read or if what they say matches the print. Of course, it's pretty easy to observe this when the reader is making errors or has no idea what he or she has read, but I find it particularly interesting that these readers often do not realize when they have made successful attempts either.

I was struck by this again this week while doing end-of-semester assessments. While I observe my kids constantly during the school day, I was observing especially closely as my at-risk readers read and talked about the texts. As I did, I filtered my observations through the goals we had as readers and the teaching that had taken place not only during small group reading, but across our days. One of the biggies has been making sure that everything makes sense and matches when we read--that we are monitoring and notice when it doesn't match or we don't understand. And then we do something about it.

I would love to say that we've licked the problem...but I'd be lying. Not that it was all bad news--all the kids have grown as readers, and all do monitor for at least some things at least some of the time.
My readers are talking about the texts they read, and almost all of them seemed to understand most of what had happened in the text. They all stayed on topic while talking about the books.
My readers stopped and tried something almost every time when they were unsure. They recognized that they were encountering something they did not already know, and at least tried 1 thing before giving up or appealing to me for help. Some made multiple attempts.
My readers frequently monitored themselves by making sure that what they said matched at least some of the information in the text--a sight word, an initial sound, something in the picture. 
My readers occasionally smiled or made a comment while reading, which indicates they understand. One little guy even realized he did not understand and commented, "wait...that doesn't make sense."
This is all good stuff, and all stuff we've been working on. We celebrated these things, because they are important and observing this and naming if for the kids helped us all realize that progress has been made.

But I noticed some other stuff too--and I found my interest drawn to it. What was going on? Why? And what do I do about it?
My readers almost always made attempts that sounded like questions--when their attempts were wrong, but also when they were right.
My readers almost always stopped, even after successful attempts--they did not automatically go on without prompting.
My readers often looked at me immediately following an attempt--this after weeks and weeks of my just looking back at them asking, "were you right?", "does it match what's happening?", and "does it match the sounds?"
My readers sometimes made correct attempts at word solving or correctly read a passage, then went back and changed it so it was incorrect. In fact, that happened a lot.
My readers, when answering questions, seemed very unsure of themselves, even when they were correct. Even when they could respond without having to stop and think about it.

Intriguing--that's what I kept thinking. How far we've come...and yet...

First and foremost, I think that my at-risk readers doubt themselves and their ability to know something for sure and to problem solve successfully. Whether it's because they've experienced failure so many times or have learned that they always need help or that they are just unlucky doesn't really matter. What matters is that I find a way to help them overcome it--to position them so that they experience success over and over and learn what it feels like. To teach them how to know when they are right and that if they are not, they can try again and that this is what successful readers do. They need to re-imagine themselves as see themselves as members of the capable readers club.

I know this isn't everything my observations tell me we need to work at, but I think it's the one I find the most troubling. Somehow I have the feeling that if I cannot find a way to help my readers monitor themselves--not just to know when they have made a mistake, but when they are reading successfully, they will continue to struggle.

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