Saturday, May 26, 2007

Metacognition and Reading

Tenured teachers in New York City can choose one of two options when it comes to evaluating their skills and performance each year. Option A is a straight forward formal observation of a lesson including a pre and post interview. Option B is to conduct a year long action research study of their choosing that highlights one aspect of teaching and connects with current research in the field. Although Option A is the easier of the two, Lauren and I always opt for the second choice.

This year we chose to address the role of metacognition (thinking about thinking) in the reading process. Below is a snippet from our initial proposal...

Researchers consistently posit that metacognition plays an important role in reading. Metacognition has been defined as “having knowledge (cognition) and having understanding, control over and appropriate use of that knowledge” (Tei & Stewart, 1985). A study by Michael Pressley detailed the active comprehension strategies employed by good readers as they make sense of written text (Metacognition and Self-Regulated Comprehension, 2002). Successful readers are described as active learners who engage in metacognitive activities such as planning before reading, monitoring understanding during reading and checking outcomes after reading. This interaction with the text determines one’s level of comprehension. It is concluded that metacognitively sophisticated reading teachers can teach children to become metacognitively skilled, self regulated readers through modeling strategies and scaffolding student practice of comprehension strategies during reading.

We were very interested in getting to know our students views not only on the reading process but also in gaining insight into how they felt about themselves as readers. Did they consider themselves to be part of the 'literacy club' or outsiders? It sounds like heady stuff for five-and six-year-olds but I find children to be surprisingly articulate when it comes to speaking about themselves. It starts young folks.

To begin we used a modified version of The Burke Reading Interview. We included questions about favorite books or types of books in addition to rewording some of the existing questions. All of the interviews were videotaped in our school library with Lauren and I taking turns in front of and behind the camera. We used these initial interviews as a baseline with a two-fold purpose; to monitor growth or change in perception over the school year and to view alongside videotaped running records to see if the strategies the children said they used while reading matched the strategies they actually employed as they read.

The second stage of our research was to videotape individual children as they read and conduct a Running Record of the reading. Running records track everything a child does as they read. The teacher notes if the child omits a word, goes back to the beginning of the sentence, self corrects, inserts another word, says a word other than what is written, etc. This is followed by an in-depth analysis that can be broken into three categories; semantic, syntactic and grapho-phonic. From this, one can determine which strategies a child is using while they read. Are they are reading for meaning, focusing on how the word looks (and which part of the word), using the structure of the sentence or a combination of the three? Many educators use running records without following through on the analysis. This makes me nuts. Many also engage in selective notation, usually not marking when the child goes back to self correct, which also makes me crazy.

Running records present a challenge when assessing Deaf readers because of the differences between manual and oral/written forms of communication. American Sign Language does not have a written component and cannot be measured according to one to one correspondence between text and spoken word. This is an area that I am interested in addressing for my doctoral research. However, in various pilot studies I have seen advantages that signing the text affords assessment that are not available while speaking a text out loud. This fascinates me.

The reason for addressing metacognition in the first place is so that students are aware of what they do as they read and to help promote the engagement of other strategies when they get stuck. The theory behind our research is that once a child knows this explicitly they are better equipped to meet the challenges of more difficult texts.

As the school year draws to a close Lauren and I are busy gathering our findings and creating a presentation to share with our colleagues. We are finishing up the final round of videos, asking the children the same questions we asked at the beginning of the year to see if perspectives have changed. Our students have grown and changed so much this year and that is clearly documented on the videotapes.

It has been a fantastic, exhausting school year. I am very sad to see another year, my 11th, fade away. I don't know how parents do it. I just want to hold on to the kids and protect them from everything, including second grade and any teacher they have who may not treasure them as I have. I go through this every year. Crazy.


SaraSkates said...

Gary - I can't WAIT to see you tussle through the process of a dissertation project. I know, it'll take just a little while - but it's going to be a great one, I can tell.

And grin re the bitterweet endings and letting go of your first graders - it feels the same as parents. I keep telling my kids to stop growing up, but they don't listen ;)

lettuce said...

hey Gary. How weird and wonderful is blogging? its been strange to think of you thinking of me... when we know almost nothing about each other. But I know your face from Reya's (i think) blog - and its good to read your blog and know a bit more about you. There are all sorts of things which interest me about your blog and you. So nice to "meet" you.

lettuce said...

(and, i should have said, thanks for your comment. She was a treasure)

d. chedwick bryant said...

kids feel the same about teachers too, Gary-- great teachers like you stay in their hearts and minds forever. I still think about my middle school English teacher and an elementary school teacher I had--and I get all misty over them.

Thanks for this post on metacognition--it always surpirsed me that people can read a book and not care about knowing what some of the "big words" mean... one word can mean a lot...

Finally, you have such a big heart and a wonderful soul--your kids KNOW they are treasured by you, and it will help them in the future when they are dealing with someone who may not care--

Sebastien said...

Wow, that's an unbelievable project. It's really so important, and it's funny, because one gets so used to reading that you completely forget the thought and the mental process that goes into understanding what one reads.

There are lots of factors that go into how well one can interpet things, but one has to want to understand... I think it's like most things in life, if you are not willing to put forth any energy and thought into your activity, well, you will get little in return...


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