I want to improve my physical fitness so I will feel healthier and have better control of my weight. I think if I write a plan and monitor it daily I will stick with it. My plan will focus on two goals: to exercise on a regular basis and to cut out eating between meals and taking second portions at meals. My exercise goal will begin with walking a half hour twice a week and will increase to walking four times a week. Walking with a friend will hold me more accountable for getting out; I will ask Sue to join me. Keeping track of my progress in a fitness journal will be a good way of reflecting. I have read the information on exercise and healthy eating, have a positive attitude, and I tell myself I can exercise and control my weight.
How often have you heard comments of this nature or even said them yourself? People of all ages say they want to change some aspect of their lifestyle but have trouble accomplishing the task. Why is it so hard to alter behaviors? Health experts say it has to do with changing long-standing habits, established dispositions of the mind, some of which have roots early in life. Ultimately, habits reflect how one thinks about fitness, and to be successful with any regimen means changing habits of the mind. A common theme prevails in self-help or how-to-succeed books: develop productive habits of mind. A well-known model is presented in Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989).
Cultivating productive mental habits is a lifelong process. Changing behaviors requires a focus on habits such as managing impulsivity, communicating with clarity and precision, or remaining open to continuous learning. These habits not only affect personal behaviors and lifestyle; they also permeate educational settings that create and support literate environments.
Societal and economic changes as well as disheartening reading scores on standardized tests have caused schools to broadly emphasize literacy. Employability rests on the ability to read. For example, in 1974 auto technicians were responsible for 5,000 pages of print; in 1994 it increased to 500,000 pages; and by 2000 car mechanics needed to understand 1,000,000 pages of service manuals to fix an automobile. Students must be equipped with strategic reading competencies to navigate and succeed in this information age.
Educators lament that their students lack the requisite knowledge, skills, and mental dispositions to read and comprehend text. Teachers complain that students are not motivated to read. Yet teachers themselves often say they are too busy to read, and current research indicates that many upcoming teachers actually dislike reading. A shift in thinking must occur in which all educators focus on reading. It is time for teachers to examine their own reading habits, and, in regard to their students, not only to focus on young readers but also to give increased emphasis to the literacy needs of adolescents.
A common cure for attacking literacy deficiencies is the use of appropriate strategies. In an effort to focus classroom instruction on reading, districts are mandating that teachers use well-established reading strategies such as graphic organizers, the Frayer Model (Frayer, Frederick, & Klausmeier, 1969) vocabulary strategy, or Anticipation/Prediction Guides (Herber, 1978). Although reading strategies are helpful, the engagement in reading is not the product of strategies alone but a fusion of strategies with mental dispositions. Because reading is “thinking cued by text,” readers create meaning by interacting mentally with the words on the page. Reading is more than simply moving one’s eyes across the page of written symbols or word calling. The complex act of constructing meaning from text involves intellectual processes or dispositions that can be taught, learned, and optimized over time. For example, strategic readers know how to think flexibly and persist in order to better comprehend the text.
These intellectual processes or dispositions, frequently referred to as Habits of Mind, are emphasized in Art Costa’s foreword for Strategic Reading in the Content Areas: Practical Applications for Creating a Thinking Environment (Billmeyer, 2004). He believes that through conscious use of Habits of Mind students will expand their capacities for reading more strategically in all content areas. Thus, the type of thinking emphasized coupled with a specific strategy has potential to develop strategic readers. The purpose of this chapter is to explain how Habits of Mind are integral to the development of strategic readers.
What Is a Strategic Reader?
Strategic readers are focused and in charge of their reading. They are aware of the mental dispositions necessary for comprehending a passage. Strategic readers know that reading has to make sense, so they develop a tool kit of formal and informal strategies to focus and monitor thinking before, during, and after reading. They are curious knowledge seekers who choose to read because they know reading opens doors of learning. Specifically, a strategic reader works actively to construct meaning, is independent, and reads to learn.
Which Habits of Mind Develop Strategic Readers?
Strategic readers possess and apply productive mental habits. They are aware of their thinking, feelings, and behaviors as they complete a task. They know how to manage, monitor, and modify their thought patterns. Art Costa suggests that all readers must develop three broad reading comprehension habits: self-managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying (Billmeyer, 2004).
Strategic readers are self-managing. They approach their text as a form of problem solving; the problem is to create meaning from the text. They come to the task equipped with a purpose for reading, questions in mind, a flexible plan, data drawn from past experiences, anticipation of success, and creative alternatives for constructing meaning. Key Habits of Mind that help readers self-manage are applying past knowledge to new situations and questioning and posing problems.
Strategic readers are self-monitoring. Metacognition, thinking about one’s own thinking, occurs when students are aware of what goes on in their minds as they read. They monitor their thinking before, during, and after reading. Strategic readers establish metacognitive strategies such as making connections to previous learning, visualizing scenarios, and comparing with other resources. They monitor their own comprehension, conscious not only of the meaning they are making but also of the adequacy of the processes they are employing to construct that meaning. Specific Habits of Mind that help readers self-monitor are thinking about thinking and thinking and communicating with clarity and precision.
Strategic readers are self-modifying. They reflect on, evaluate, analyze, and construct meaning. They are open to altering their perceptions, biases, and conclusions, and to synthesizing new learning and applying it to future activities, tasks, and challenges. Strategic readers view each reading task as a skill-building experience—an opportunity to continually evaluate and improve meaning. Specific Habits of Mind that help readers self-modify are thinking interdependently and remaining open to continuous learning.
Reading Strategies and Activities to Foster Habits of Mind
Each comprehensive habit is supported by specific Habits of Mind necessary for developing strategic readers. This chapter examines six key Habits of Mind and makes reference to other Habits of Mind as appropriate. The key habits are the following:
- Applying past knowledge to new situations
- Questioning and posing problems
- Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
- Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
- Thinking interdependently
- Remaining open to continuous learning
Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
The background knowledge of the reader greatly influences how the text is understood. Comprehension is a mental construction of what is on the page correlated with what is already known. The more knowledge a student has about a topic, the easier it is to derive meaning from new printed material on that topic.
Teachers should think of the prereading phase as an opportunity to give students a purpose for reading, to draw forth what is already known, to create interest, and to arouse curiosity. Johnston and Pearson (1982) believe that activating prior knowledge is a more accurate predictor of reading performance than IQ or test results. Because teachers are experts in their content areas and aware of what needs to be learned, they know which areas of prior knowledge should be activated to help students make the connections that will lead to understanding. For example, when approaching a reading selection on force in science, it is essential to have students draw upon what they know about mass and acceleration.
The gap between what students know and what the passage presents helps teachers determine what instruction is required during prereading. Sometimes students have misconceptions about the topic, and if teachers are aware of students’ inadequacies, they can focus particular attention on those areas. Concepts can then be explored, clarified, and approached from different perspectives. Helping students compare the differences between their misconceptions and accurate information enhances retention and understanding. Prior knowledge can be organized into two categories: knowledge about the topic and related concepts, and knowledge about the vocabulary.
In addition to the often-used K-W-L (Know, Want to Know, Learned), two prereading strategies that focus on knowledge about the topic and related concepts are the Anticipation Guide (Herber, 1978) and the DRTA—Directed Reading/Thinking Activity (Moore, Readence, & Rickelman, 1982). Strategies such as these motivate readers and activate past knowledge.
The Anticipation Guide focuses attention on the major points of a concept to be studied. Before reading, students react to statements developed about the topic. The goal is to arouse students’ curiosity by challenging their prior knowledge. The DRTA strategy asks students to record what they already know about the topic, what they are interested in learning, and finally, what they have learned about the topic during study. Whereas the Anticipation Guide is a teacher-directed strategy, the DRTA emphasizes student initiative. These strategies help the reader apply past knowledge to new situations. When teachers jump-start students’ thinking before reading, comprehension increases. (Figure 12.1 shows examples of the use of these two strategies.)
Figure 12.1. Examples of Two Prereading Strategies
|Topic: First Nation in Cyberspace|
|Before You Read||After You Read|
|______||______||1. The Internet, first developed by Paul Baran, was originally intended to be a military command-and-control system.||______||______|
|______||______||2. The Internet is now an uncontrolled electronic freeway that circles the globe.||______||______|
|______||______||3. Because the United States first developed the Internet, the U.S. government owns and maintains the Internet.||______||______|
|______||______||4. The Internet has no restrictions, meaning that anyone can say anything on it at any time.||______||______|
|DRTA—Directed Reading/Thinking Activity|
|Topic: Ancient Civilizations|
|What I Know I Know: Egypt is in North Africa. The Nile is the longest river in the world.
What I Think I Know: Egypt had pharaohs for their rulers. They built pyramids.
What I Think I Will Learn: How hieroglyphics were invented and how they were decoded.
What I Learned: The Rosetta Stone was key to deciphering.
Another type of prior knowledge focuses on vocabulary. It is important to help students make connections with critical terms related to the topic and to familiarize them with the meaning of words in new contexts. Comprehension improves when students are aware of critical vocabulary terms. Some teachers use the structure shown in Figure 12.2 to help students assess background knowledge about critical vocabulary terms.
Figure 12.2. Self-Assessment Tool for Vocabulary
|Vocabulary Assessment—Ancient Civilizations|
|Unknown—I have never seen this word.||Familiar—I have seen this word. I need to think about what it means.||Recognized—I automatically know what this word means.||In-depth—I have extensive knowledge about this word.|
Questioning and Posing Problems
Students do not take responsibility for their comprehension when the teacher or the textbook is the “keeper of the questions.”
Questioning is a powerful metacognitive tool to guide and monitor student learning. Self-questioning is one of the most potent cognitive tools for stimulating content learning; question generation prompts readers to search for answers that are of interest to them. The Question/Answer Relationships strategy (Raphael, 1986) is beneficial because it categorizes questions into four types: Right There, Think and Search, On My Own, and Author and You. Providing students with a cue card like that shown in Figure 12.3 supports their efforts with self-questioning.
Figure 12.3. Cue Card for Students’ Self-Questions
|Right There—Literal Questions (who, when, where)
Think and Search—Interpretive Questions (draw conclusions, analyze, predict)
On My Own—Evaluative Questions (imagine, speculate, hypothesize, believe)
Author and You—Thinking Beyond Questions (interact, connect, associate)
The Enlighten Your Thinking strategy (Billmeyer, 2006b) offers a comprehensive list of questions developed for the 16 Habits of Mind. Questions can be used as an introduction to a lesson, during the lesson, or as a closure activity. Figure 12.4 shows sample questions for three of the habits.
Figure 12.4. Sample Questions Derived from Habits of Mind
|Habit of Mind||Sample Questions|
|Applying past knowledge to new situations||How does the passage relate to events or experiences you have had?
How does knowing the findings of the scientist help you to understand the physical world?
|Questioning and posing problems||What problems led the scientist to pursue experimentation?|
|Thinking about thinking (metacognition)||How did the author cause you to think? To feel?|
When students learn how to access and build their own background knowledge, they become strategic readers. Struggling readers are often unaware of what they can bring to comprehending and learning from text. Frequently students are not aware of their own background knowledge and how they can use it to interact with the passage or to solve problems when reading. Strategic readers, on the other hand, ask themselves these kinds of questions before reading:
- What do I know about the topic?
- What vocabulary is related to the topic?
- Which words or ideas might I encounter?
- What do I know about myself as I read this type of text?
All students can learn how to think, reflect, and question in a competent manner. Questions linking content to a reader’s life provide connections when learning factual information. Training all students to generate high-level questions helps all students learn how to think effectively before, during, and after reading. The goal of strategic reading is comprehension; strategic readers use the Habit of Mindquestioning and posing problems to enhance understanding.
Thinking About Thinking (Metacognition)
Metacognition, or thinking about your own thinking, is at the heart of strategic reading. What we know today about strategic reading is a direct result of the research on metacognition.
Strategic readers use metacognitive strategies to facilitate active thinking and continuously check to see if they understand the author’s message. Strategic readers are aware of their thinking as they read, selecting appropriate self-monitoring tools. When all students are strategic readers equipped with thinking about thinking strategies, reading in the content areas will be more productive.
The Think-Aloud (Davey, 1983) causes thinking, a covert process, to become overt. It explicitly helps students understand what goes on in the mind of the reader. For example, before reading a selection the teacher might say to the class, “As I preview this passage I am wondering what enthymeme means, and I’m thinking I better find out so the passage will make sense,” or “I’m mulling over a prediction for this reading. I’m thinking it will be about three different rain forests and what makes them different.” A benefit of the Think-Aloud strategy is that it helps students understand how the mind constructs meaning when reading as well as how it thinks through difficult spots. Figure 12.5 shows a Think-Aloud self-assessment guide and strategic reading journal.
Figure 12.5. Think-Aloud Self-Assessment and Reading Journal
|While I was reading, how much did I use these Think-Aloud strategies?||All the time||Quite often||Not much||Some||Very little|
|Forming a mental picture|
|Connecting what I read to what I already know|
|Creating new questions|
|Strategic Reading Journal|
To become a strategic reader means developing awareness of oneself as a reader and knowing fix-it strategies to solve problems that may occur when reading. Through direct teaching of the Habit of Mindthinking about thinking, students can become strategic readers.
Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
One of the biggest challenges in creating strategic readers is to teach students to think about and to engage in meaningful use of vocabulary. In her presentations, Heidi Hayes Jacobs (2006) has been heard to say, “If I were to do one thing to raise test scores, even on standardized tests, it would be to build vocabulary. In chemistry, for example, students would write ‘Dilute the solution with three milliliters of water’ rather than simply, ‘Add more water.'”
Vocabulary activities help students think and communicate with clarity and precision. Two examples of such activities are “word walls” and “words in the news.”
Word walls. The saying “Out of sight, out of mind” highlights an important concept related to vocabulary development. Words need to be used at least six times before students internalize their meanings. Words can be displayed on a word wall to remind students to use them. Teachers and students record new or interesting words on butcher paper hung on the wall. Words can be organized into categories according to mathematical or scientific concepts, themes, origins, or letter patterns. Word walls provide quick and easy access for students during writing activities, when defining other words, or as a reference. Effective word walls are organized, placed at eye level, and highly readable.
Words in the news. A meaningful way to help students communicate with clarity and precision is to link vocabulary with current events. Teachers list the concept words from the text and ask students to make connections between the concept being studied and the current event (see Figure 12.6).
Figure 12.6. Linking Vocabulary with Current Events
|Words in the News|
|Title and summary of the article: _________________________|
|empathy||physical systems||human systems|
|I chose the word ____________ because _________________.|
|I chose the word _____________ because ________________.|
Learning vocabulary words is a complex task. To gain and retain vocabulary words, students must listen to them being used multiple times, use the words as they speak, read them in context, and finally use them in meaningful writing activities. To become skilled users of new words, students will find that incorporating two Habits of Mind in particular—persisting and taking responsible risks—can pay big dividends.
Language is the visible edge of thinking. Observations, class discussions, interviews, and written surveys are methods used by teachers at all grade levels to determine students’ habits and perceptions about themselves as readers. Surveys are beneficial because they alert readers to key elements of reading, and students can monitor how their attitudes and competencies change over time. Figure 12.7 presents examples of survey questions.
Figure 12.7. Student Reading Surveys
|Open-Ended Response Statements
|1. I like to read at home.|
|2. I enjoy going to the library.|
|3. I like to discuss what I read with my family or my friends.|
|4. When I need information on a topic, I seek out reading material about it.|
Survey results focus the teacher’s perception of students’ likes and dislikes, and competencies and deficiencies, thereby assisting in effective planning. Information can inform instruction in the following ways:
- Determine which books or sections of text to read aloud
- Determine supplemental reading material to be displayed in the classroom
- Guide individual students toward specific books, articles, or authors
- Determine which reading strategies to incorporate
- Share information with other teachers who instruct the same students
- Group students according to themes for projects or for Literature Circles
- Share information when planning with parents or guardians
When readers think interdependently, they are able to work with and learn from others in reciprocal situations. Learning and talking with classmates causes readers to be active composers of meaning. Collaborative work fosters positive interdependence. Not only is content stressed, but also all students are responsible for helping group members experience success with the assigned task. Numerous reading strategies cause students to think interdependently.
The Pairs Read strategy involves students reading aloud to each other, stopping to clarify ideas as needed, and then summarizing the information read. Figure 12.8 summarizes this strategy.
Figure 12.8. Pairs Read Strategy
|Read to Analyze|
|1. Determine the selection to be read with a partner.|
|2. Students work in pairs, with one student as the “reader” and the other assuming the role of the “coach.”|
|3. The reader reads the first paragraph or section aloud to the coach. The length of each section to be read is determined by the difficulty of the selection. Students might stop in the middle of the paragraph to discuss complex ideas, asking “What’s going on here?”|
|4. The reader summarizes the main idea of the section read. To push for analytical thinking, the coaching partner asks clarifying, probing, and inferential questions.|
|5. Students reverse roles and continue with the next section.|
The L.E.T.S. Connect strategy (Billmeyer, 2006) engages the mind of the learner during a read-aloud or a video. Periodically the activity is stopped so paired learners can share with each other what they are thinking about the topic at that moment. L.E.T.S. Connect is an acronym with the following meaning:
L = Listen to the selection.
E = Engage with the content.
T = Think about the ideas and details, vocabulary, or sequence of events.
S = Say something to your partner about your thoughts.
Connect = Do all of the above steps and connect with the author, content, and other student’s thoughts. Connections are any related thoughts that enter the listener’s mind.
Although the L.E.T.S. Connect strategy emphasizes thinking interdependently, it also reinforces the Habit of Mind listening with understanding and empathy.
Discussion is a structured form of talking in which groups of students share their ideas to refine thinking and explore issues. Interactive discussions allow readers to closely examine a topic by exchanging understandings, ideas, and questions. Through dialogue students develop an awareness of their own beliefs and values about a topic. A sense of creative freedom evolves that encourages ownership of ideas and helps to build strategic readers. Two reading strategies that incorporate structured discussion are Reciprocal Teaching (Palinscar & Brown, 1984) and Literature Circles. Reciprocal Teaching is an interactive dialogue focusing on four reading attributes: predicting, clarifying, questioning, and summarizing. Students are organized into groups of four, with each student responsible for discussing one of the attributes. As students progress to the next paragraph or section in the selection, they rotate the reading skills.
Literature Circles encourage students to engage in and collaboratively process text. A Literature Circle is essentially a book club, a meeting in which people who are encountering the same text come together to discuss it. The best use of Literature Circles is when students are selecting texts they want to read, perhaps from a list predetermined by the teacher. Students assume roles to facilitate interdependent thinking; examples of roles are literary critic, conversation captain, and concept connector (Billmeyer, 2004). Strategic readers talk and listen with understanding and empathy to stimulate their thinking and to extend and refine their understanding of the content they have read. Strategies that cause readers to think interdependently not only create active minds but also deepen understanding of the selection read.
Remaining Open to Continuous Learning
Becoming a strategic reader is a lifelong process. If the goal is to create strategic readers who are independent, it is important that they exercise control of their own reading processes. Strategic control of the reading process means readers know and understand themselves as readers. For this to occur, students must establish one key Habit of Mind—remaining open to continuous learning.
An important reading attribute identified in Capturing All of the Reader Through the Reading Assessment System (Billmeyer, 2006a) is “Reflects on own reading process.” Art Costa and Bena Kallick (2000) state, “To be reflective means to mentally wander through where you have been and to try to make some sense of it” (p. 61). For students to be able to transfer the use of strategies from one context to another, they need to reflect on how individual strategies assist comprehension. As teachers incorporate strategies, it is important that they help students understand how the strategy works and why it is effective in building comprehension.
Students then can use reflective feedback to construct meaning from text and to analyze themselves as readers. Reflective opportunities range from informal conversations between the teacher and the students (“What did you learn about yourself as a reader when using the anticipation guide strategy to study cell division?”) to formal writing activities, such as writing a letter to summarize their learning or writing a letter to themselves citing insights they have gained as readers.
Journal writing is beneficial because it offers the reader time to reflect and project. When thinking is recorded, students gain a historical perspective of their work as well as an opportunity to plan. Some students find journal writing difficult; sentence stems can stimulate thinking and cause thoughtful reflection. Here are some examples of sentence stems for journal writing:
- What I learned about myself as I used this strategy …
- This strategy caused me to …
- I know how to adapt strategies when …
- When reading informative text …
- Ideas to remember about [topic] are …
The Write to Learn strategy (Billmeyer, 2006b) allows students to think critically, explore, and experiment with ideas, and to internalize content in a different way. Students are free to express personal ideas, concerns, and questions about the concepts they are learning. This unstructured writing encourages students to remain open to continuous learning. Teachers frequently use response journals, reading logs, or learning journals as tools for free writing. Figure 12.9 is an example of a response journal for science.
Figure 12.9. Example of a Student’s Response Journal for Science
|Topic: Climate, Section 1-1
I developed the book questions but have these extra questions I’m interested in too.
Topic: Climate, Section 2-1
This stuff on climate isn’t half bad. Here are some things I learned. The climate is affected by two basic factors: temperature and precipitation. Latitude, elevation, and the presence of ocean currents are three factors of temperature, and prevailing winds and mountain ranges affect precipitation.
The development and monitoring of a personal reading plan, in which students set and reflect on personal reading goals, encourages students to focus on their own reading habits. Creating a personal reading plan also helps the reader develop the Habit of Mind of persisting. Writing a plan and implementing it are two different things. When students monitor and adjust their plans, they learn to persist and try another approach. Figure 12.10 shows the outline of a personal reading plan.
Figure 12.10. Personal Reading Plan
Personal reading goals:
Steps to accomplish these reading goals (which Habits of Mind will be helpful?):
Reasons why these goals are important:
Strategic readers are never complacent about their level of performance. They always strive to learn more about their competencies, attitudes, and responsibilities as readers. Because reflection is not an inherent quality of most learning environments, it is important that teachers model habits of continual learning through reflection.
How Can Students Acquire Productive Habits of Mind?
Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
If Einstein’s statement is true, then it seems evident that productive Habits of Mind need to be an integral part of the instructional process. Habits of Mind are alterable; people can learn to question, reflect, and think interdependently. Knowing and understanding productive mental habits encourages students to think about situations in different ways and to approach solutions with a greater probability of success.
Once students are knowledgeable about and skillful with Habits of Mind, they will become accustomed to asking themselves, “What Habits of Mind will help me to be successful in reading and understanding this material?” Changing a habit requires a conscious and conscientious effort on the part of the learner. Because nonexistent, underdeveloped, or self-defeating habits lead to poor learning, it is important to identify and teach specific mental dispositions. As teachers focus on content, it serves well to focus on Habits of Mind to increase student success. A clear, congruous correlation between course content and the Habits of Mind enhances learning of both.
Questions to consider when teaching the Habits of Mind include the following:
- Which concept or content requires the use of specific Habits of Mind? For example, success in mathematics depends upon striving for accuracy.
- Which habits will be introduced?
- Which habits need to be reinforced or emphasized?
- What is the best approach for teaching the habit? What real-life examples will help students understand?
- How will the Habit of Mind be reinforced?
- How might growth, refinement, and internalization of the Habit of Mind be monitored and evaluated?
The complex act of constructing meaning from text involves Habits of Mind that are taught, learned, and optimized over time. The goal is to have students automatically employ these mental dispositions. A strategic reader, one who self-manages, self-monitors, and self-modifies, knows that mental habits influence thinking, comprehending, and learning. Just as monitoring food intake, nutrition, and exercise becomes a habit of a fit person, so does the use of Habits of Mind as they are embedded within reading strategies. As students experience success with these Habits of Mind, they will draw upon them when faced with challenging situations in reading and learning.
Teachers will discover countless ways to apply Habits of Mind to reading instruction. Just as these mental dispositions will support capable readers, so too will reading strengthen the habits and pave the way for their application throughout life. For this to occur, it is imperative that teachers consciously integrate Habits of Mind into their lessons. When the habits are intentionally taught, all students will have opportunities to acquire productive habits. A major goal of reading instruction must be to support students in developing and habituating these mental dispositions until the applications of Habits of Mind and the acts of comprehension are so interdependent as to be indistinguishable.
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