+ Comprehension Skills: “Reciprocal” Teaching

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From Joan A. Williams’s article in “The Reading Teacher,” a publication of the International Reading Association.  Here are some of her thoughts about using “reciprocal teaching” to guide students toward shared comprehension of a text. 

Reciprocal teaching has been around for many years and is first and foremost a conversation between teacher and student. 

The strategies of predicting,  questioning, clarification and summarizing are modeled by the teacher and then transferred to the students as they themselves then take the role of the teacher to lead a discussion about the text.

Williams worked  with a class of fourth grade students.  In small groups of four students at a time, she used expository texts because of their clearer structure and useful  academic vocabulary.

Predicting

First, Williams models how to make a reasonable prediction about the text at hand.  It does not matter, at this point, whether the prediction is accurate; what matters is that the prediction makes sense. 

Some students may have strong connections to accuracy, so let them know that the prediction needs only to be a sensible prediction.

After reading a page/passage, she talks with the students about whether her prediction had been confirmed.  She emphasizes that strong readers make such reasonable predictions while they read.

Questioning

Next, Williams moves on to the strategy of questioning.  She demonstrates how to ask a “heavyweight” question after reading a page of text. 

Heavyweight questions move toward higher levels of critical thinking (What is the difference between a cyclone and a tornado?  Why does Ayers Rock appear to change colors?) 

Lightweight questions ask for more literal thinking (What color was his jacket?  What kinds of animals are in the picture?)

The goal in using this terminology, she writes, is to help students understand the difference between the two kinds of questioning.  Further, they recognize that they are moving beyond the literal level of meaning toward questions that engage them more fully in thinking about the significance of the text. 

“Clarification”

At this point Williams asks students if they need “clarification” on anything they’ve read.  They talk about what “clarify” and “clarification” mean.

Students might begin by asking for clarification of words they don’t understand (“erode,” “territory,” “reference”).

But after they understand the strategy of clarification of single words and phrases, she moves them on to “clarification of ideas.”  She models this by posing a question about an idea they don’t understand, for example, “How does erosion cause the rocks to look like that?”

Students will spend a whole lesson practicing the skill of clarifying ideas.  When they are able to do this easily, she knows they have moved forward toward their own independent use of the strategy.

Summarizing

Finally, she demonstrates how to summarize.  She enumerates the “main points” of the page or passage of text. 

She then shows a partial summary, along with a statement of details from the passage.  She helps them contrast those two items with a copy of a complete summary of the information.

Turn it over: students can “Be the Teacher”

After performing the role of teacher for about five days, Williams turns the discussion-leading responsibility to the students, one at a time.

Using  their “Be the Teacher” Bookmark as a support for the strategies, students practice leading discussions.  Over time, they become proficient moderators and are able to guide their fellow students toward a full comprehension of the texts.

Create your own “Be the Teacher Bookmark.”

Title it “Be the Teacher Bookmark“.  Under the headings “Predict,” “Question,” “Clarify,” and “Summarize” offer these suggestions for them to refer to: 

Predict 

Use clues from the text or illustrations to predict what will happen next.  

  • “I think… because…” 
  • “I’ll bet… because…” 
  • “I suppose… because…” 
  • “I think I’ll learn… because…”

Question

Ask questions as you read.  Ask some questions that have answers in the text.  Use the question words WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY,  HOW and WHAT IF. 

Try asking some questions that can be inferred.  Use clues from the text plus your experience.

CLARIFY

  • How can you figure out a difficult word in the text?
  • Reread, reread, reread!
  • Think about word chunks you know.
  • Try sounding it out.
  • Read on.
  • Ask,  Does it make sense?
  • Talk to a friend.

SUMMARIZE

Using your own words, tell the main ideas from the text in order.

  • This text is about…
  • This part is about…

Reciprocal Teaching and Comprehension

Williams contends that in order for all students to make sense of the academic language used in the classroom, they must know how to ask questions, and feel comfortable doing so.

The teacher’s job, therefore, becomes one of facilitating the skill of questioning for each student.  In this way teachers can move students away from a narrow perspective of the language of right answers and guide students to a broader understanding of the characteristics and use of academic language.

sole source: Joan A Williams’s article in “The Reading Teacher, 64(4) pp.278-281.  The  text of the “Be the Teacher Bookmark” is  from Oczkus, L. (2003) “Reciprocal teaching at work: strategies for improving reading comprehension.

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com 

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