Presentation on theme: "Testimony : This document was written in order to - give testimony of the total distress that a lack of understanding reading strategies can cause for."— Presentation transcript:
Testimony : This document was written in order to - give testimony of the total distress that a lack of understanding reading strategies can cause for a reader in difficulty … who is however more than willing! - inform the teachers who are too often unaware of this distress so that they may acquaint themselves with these strategies and then, as true reading professionals, they can teach them to all readers.
Echoes of my first meeting with Julie. by Hélène Delvaux
We begin by getting acquainted. I explain to her how we are going to work (more specifically with mind management). She tells me that she has a lot of problems understanding the lessons, that she spends a huge amount of time studying and that she is failing in several courses. After having discussed processes she has succeeded in (modern dance and one course where she has reasonable results), I suggest doing a little reading understanding activity. Présentation: Julie is 15, she is in her third year of secondary school. She is having problems; her first report card shows several failures. She has come to ask for help. She looks down at the floor; she slumps her shoulders; she doesnt say much ! Presentation:
I can indeed tell that she is very stressed, she isnt sure of herself, hesitant about each answer, even in areas where she is successful; to continue getting to know her, it seems to me that it would be useful to suggest that she do a small task : read a tiny comic strip with only four panels. The document seems very simple to me and should thus be suitable for this first discovery of how Julies mind works when she is in a learning situation. You will see the document on the following slide. I ask Julie to read the comic strip just to understand the meaning; I tell her that she can take all the time that she feels she needs and that afterwards, Ill ask her to say in just a few words what she has understood of this little story, without looking at the document which will have been removed. Setting up the reading project : Here is the document :
We cant go on like this ! We really have to cut down on our household expenses ! For example, we could quite easily go without chicken on Sundays ! …and have fish less often ! Its price is out of bounds ! On the other hand, we could eat pasta more often ! and eat less meat ! Vegetarians dont eat meat, do they ? And…
Julie reads the comic strip, takes all the time she needs, then after a few minutes she tells me … that she doesnt understand it. She specifies that it is the the text as a whole that she doesnt understand. We then decide to look for the meaning together, panel after panel. I ask her to try to tell me what she has understood as we go through it. I tell her that I will help her in her approach, but that I wont do the work in her place. She agrees to this. Heres the story of this … adventure :
Panel 1 : - This panel means that the prices in the shops should come down. What does « that » mean in the first sentence? - Excellent question (its a question of looking for a reference, which is an important step for a good reader and which should therefore be encouraged to enable understanding). Were going to look for the answer together. Lets come back to your first answer : « the prices in the shops should come down ». J H Here is, essentially, the dialogue between Julie and myself : J H H - What did you understand in this first panel ? We cant go on like this ! We really have to cut down on our household expenses !
H - Do you think that the person whos speaking has some sort of power over the prices that shops put on things ? J - No. H - Well then, lets change our hypothesis and come back to the « that ». I connect it to the « we » at the beginning and I wonder who this « we » is ? Maybe it will give us an answer for the « that » ? (again a question of reference, which is indispensable for a good understanding – and at the same time it is interesting to show that understanding consists of noticing clues with which to work out a hypothesis about the meaning, which can then be checked). J - I think it is « people » in general. - And you, when you go shopping? Is the client the one who brings the prices down? J - … … H We cant go on like this ! We really have to cut down on our household expenses !
J H - Lets look at the panel more closely : a man is sitting in an armchair and reading; there is a little side table, a lamp, we can make out a curtain and a frame on the wall. Where do you think we are? - In a lounge. H - A lounge like the living room in your house, a lounge like in a big hotel, or like at the hairdressers, … ? J - More like a living room in my house. We finally come to the conclusion that the person who is speaking could be the father of a family (a family we dont know anything about, but which we can imagine). The « we » would then represent the whole family. (while saying this, Im « reading » the panel, i.e., Im picking out important clues, which is a step that Julie doesnt know ; and yet a panel can be read in the same way as a text). We cant go on like this ! We really have to cut down on our household expenses !
It should be pointed out that Julie told me that she hadnt looked at the drawing and that she had never thought of finding clues in it to back up her understanding. In fact, she didnt know that a drawing could be read too. - Now we know who the « we » is, but we still dont know what the « that » represents ! Lets go and look for it in the next sentence. H J - I dont understand what « household expenses » means. At that point I realize that she knows the two words separately, but that she doesnt have any idea what a familys daily life can cost. For various reasons, she never takes part in shopping for the household. We cant go on like this ! We really have to cut down on our household expenses !
Then, she immediately realizes what the sentence can mean : and consequently, she understands just as quickly that the words « like that » mean that the family is spending too much and needs to cut down. Together, lets look for what can cost something in a household : food, electricity, telephone, cleaning products, clothes, car, heating, etc. Now weve understood the meaning of the first panel. We move on to the second one. We cant go on like this ! We really have to cut down on our household expenses !
Julie rereads the text and doesnt understand the meaning because she has no idea of the cost of living : especially of meat and fish. As the knowledge isnt there, I provide her with it : I inform her that meat is often expensive and that fish is too. At that moment, she tells me that she doesnt understand the expression « its price is out of bounds ». Panel 2 : It should be pointed out that a good reader can say when there is something which isnt understood and exactly what isnt understood. This ability is to be encouraged. For example, we could quite easily go without chicken on Sundays ! …and have fish less often ! Its price is out of bounds !
H J - Do you understand « out of bounds »? - Yes. H - Do you understand the word« price »? J - Yes. H - So, what do you think the expression : « its price is out of bounds » means? J - I dont know. H - Well, make some hypotheses and take the risk (understanding is taking a risk, its important to repeat that, not many students know it and it is a relief for them to hear it often – it obviously means that the teacher is ready to accept mistakes). The fish has an « out of bounds » « price »: what could that possibly mean? Go on ! Take the risk and try ! J -That means that it doesnt cost very much. H - Bravo ! Thats a good hypothesis. Lets check it in comparison with the rest of the sentence. For example, we could quite easily go without chicken on Sundays ! …and have fish less often ! Its price is out of bounds !
Between each question/answer, Julie thinks to herself silently;I keep quiet too and I wait for her answer. This silent time is important so she can work by evocation. J - No, that doesnt work. H - So, go on and make another hypothesis. J - …that fish is very expensive! H - Very good hypothesis. Check it. J -Yes, that works with the beginning of the sentence! It is important to accept all hypotheses positively, even those which, as we know from the start, arent correct. This is because the objective here, is to bring the reader in difficulty to take the risk to make hypotheses, whether right or wrong. For example, we could quite easily go without chicken on Sundays ! …and have fish less often ! Its price is out of bounds !
Julie has just experienced the risk and…the pleasure of giving meaning, by herself, to a word or an expression that she doesnt know. She appreciates this. All we have left to do, is to link the meaning of the text to the drawing : the person has got up out of the armchair, closed the book and is walking with a very annoyed look (face – hand ). Its consistent with the text : he hasnt yet found a solution, hes looking for it. We can move on to the third panel. For example, we could quite easily go without chicken on Sundays ! …and have fish less often ! Its price is out of bounds !
Panel 3 : Comprehension for this drawing is quick : - Julie knows that pasta is cheap - She knows about vegetariens - She finds confirmation for our preceding comprehension in the statement « eat less meat ». She looks at the drawing and finds that the persons attitude confirms her understanding : his face seems a little less strained, he s moving towards a solution, even if he seems resigned. On the other hand, we could eat pasta more often ! and eat less meat ! Vegetarians dont eat meat, do they ? And…
sometimes the reader doesnt have the knowledge, but often its there and the reader doesnt think to use it. It should be noted that previous knowledge is important : That can also be a part of the teachers role : J. Giasson recommends a series of ideas in order to stimulate knowledge. On the other hand, we could eat pasta more often ! and eat less meat ! Vegetarians dont eat meat, do they ? And…
Panel 4 : J H - I dont understand! - What is it that you dont understand? J - I dont know what the cat is carrying on its shoulder. H - Its carrying a bundle and symbolically, thats everything it owns! We observe the drawing : the cat looks like its entering the living room, its walking with a resolute step and it isnt looking at the father of the family. Where is it going? The father of the family is very surprised : his attitude shows it and is confirmed by the exclamation mark! The cat is therefore doing something unexpected and astonishing.
There is something to be inferred from this. Julie cant find it. H - What did the father of the family imagine that he could save money on? J - On food. H - And what does a cat like to eat? J - Meat. And then, Julie understands immediately : the cat, having heard the plans for saving money on meat and fish, is leaving, doubtless for another house. We have finally finished by understanding the comic strip … which I thought simple at first.
Observations and comments. As soon as the first panel had been read, the question of reference came up with the « that » and the « we ». Neither of them is easy because the « we » must be inferred from reading the drawing itself and the « that » must be inferred from the following sentence which illustrates the opposite. As far as inference is concerned, it is omnipresent in both the text and the drawing. Logical connections are, however, clearly expressed and facilitate understanding : « for example », « on the contrary », « and ». Moreover, in order to understand, previous knowledge must be mobilized: Julie isnt used to doing this, she must therefore be informed and helped to perform the task, while being reminded of the risk involved in carrying out the process : by proceeding in this manner, it isnt certain that an answer will be found, and even less certain that the correct answer will be found.
Some knowledge that could be considered « elementary » isnt present inside her head; this information must be given to her, without judgement. When faced with a vocabulary word or a new expression, Julie remains passive : shes used to asking for the meaning, never to looking for it by herself (sometimes in the dictionary, but its so off-putting!). In short, faced with a text, Julie isnt in the least used to doing all this mental work of understanding : observing what is given, picking up significant indications both in the words and in the drawings, asking herself questions, trying to link pieces of information, comparing them with her experience, making hypotheses of meanings and checking them, etc. Julie wasnt aware that there was all this work involved in understanding. Furthermore, she told me : when I first met you, for me, understanding meant « my eyes had glanced through the the text. Thats all ».
This is an echo of my first meeting with Julie. There were many more during which we patiently practiced the strategies for understanding in reading. And Julie had a lot of fun while doing so, even if it was often difficult for her. And each time, we took the time, to become aware, to name the strategy, to describe it, to recall it, and to imagine possible ways to use it again. Without this last metacognitive phase, the work would have been incomplete and, without a doubt, less efficient.
Testimony For the project « Signesetsens » 2007-09 Document by Hélène Delvaux dIF Belgique Photographs : H. Delvaux