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How to teach students to read for themselves, actively and analytically

We read a portion of the text aloud, stopping at the end of each sentence. I ask a different student (using cards to assure randomness) to rephrase what one student just read. If they cannot, we then break the sentence down, and determine what it is that the student doesnít understand. We then find out what that part means, even if we have to use a dictionary or ask someone else. "I donít know." is not an acceptable answer, since the student HAS to understand before we move on. Slowly, we rebuild the sentence until the student can put the whole thing into his or her own words.

This is absolutely painstaking at first, but eventually I can trust students to read and analyze anything they are given (including graduate level books). They learn to engage in an inner dialogue with the author, and so actually understand deeply. They realize the way in which reading means entering into a point of view other than their own, the point of view of the writer. They learn to actively look for assumptions, key concepts and ideas, reasons and justifications, suppporting examples, parallel experiences, implications and consequences, and any other structural features of the written text, to interpret and assess it accurately and fairly.

As we learn to understand as we read, learning is facilitated. Eyes are not just traveling over a page. identify questions you would like to ask the author, identify the implications or consequences of the authorís position, identify assumptions author is making, what is the author leaving out? Model all this for your students by reading out loud and rephrasing, raise questions that come to mind, elaborate with examples of your own. half page thing with summaries on one side, questions on the other applies to listening, too! ask them frequently to rephrase what is being said

I also have students pair up and alternate reading a paragraph aloud, back and forth, with the students responding to each other about the quality of their rephrasing, checking for accuracy in restating, providing elaboration and examples. I sometimes take a sample of writing and ask students to summarize it in writing, saying no more and no less, giving exactly the emphasis it gave and being true to the tone. This takes a lot of practice, yet until we understand clearly what was said, how can we agree or disagreee with the content? I also do link to an experience in real life.

Using 3x5 notecards with their names on it, I call randomly on students to read aloud from a piece of writing, one sentence at a time. Then, they rephrase the sentence using their own words. Sometimes I have the individual rephrase the sentence he read, and sometimes I have someone else do it. They never know whether they will be called on and this keeps them listening and engaged. After we have picked through the passage a piece at a time, I have several students rephrase the entire work. It gets clearer and more succinct each time through. Students see how much easier it is to understand text when it is rephrased (and begin to realize a reduced need for plagiarism). This exercise also introduces the concept of perserverance when confronted with difficult material, something I demand on a daily basis

Finally, we having a writing assignment that follows up on the quote. Students apply the quote to their own life by picking out a portion that "resonates" with them and they explain that to me. They must be very clear and show me how the situation links with the quote. With this, I can see their writing abilities right off the bat, I can see how well they make and defend connections they perceive, and we have homework right away so that they realize that I mean business. And, in a world where many students are intimidated with science (and come to class with a closed mind), this is an non-standard approach which, hopefully, lets them have a more positive, curious attitude about the class.


Article Highlights

Engaging students to think deeply about content
Five Aspects used to Assess Results
Critical thinking as an integral part of teaching
Lesson Plan Redesign Format


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