Reading comprehension, the goal of reading, happens when students read strategically. An important part of reading strategically is the use of inference. Readers make inferences when they draw conclusions that are not explicitly stated by the author of a text. Students who develop strong inference skills become adept at comprehending the meaning of texts.
A teacher or parapro can help students read strategically by developing a plan to guide the reading experience. The plan might include activities that will take place before, during, and after the students read. Throughout the unit you will find many activities that can fit into such plans.
At first, teachers and parapros give such plans to students. It’s a kind of scaffolding. Eventually, though, teachers and parapros fade their support. That’s because we want students to create plans like this on their own. Once students are able to make useful plans for their own reading, they have become strategic readers. Over time, they can get better and better at using strategies to improve their comprehension of reading passages.
Susan’s student, who was assigned to read the biology text, has finished reading. Now, Susan holds a conference with the student to talk about what she learned from the text. She tells Susan about the way plants get energy from the sun.
She marked her favorite part, a description of a plant turning its leaves to face the sun. Then she reads that part aloud so Susan can hear. Together, they go over a chart he gave her before she started the reading, which she has now filled out. It drew her attention to the key concepts in the chapter, important cause-and-effect relationships, and graphs in the chapter showing trends.
The student has some questions as well. From a passage about leaves changing color in the fall, she flagged a few terms that she had trouble with while reading. One of them is “carotenoid,” the name of a pigment chemical that is responsible for leaves turning orange in the autumn.
Now, think about how the vocabulary question this student raised fits into what you’ve learned about reading strategies.
How might Susan have prepared this student to read the passage more fluently?
If you were Susan during the after-reading conference, how would you explain the new word to the student?
Perhaps you’d begin by explaining the way the chemical is related to the color orange and pointing out an image in the text with orange leaves. The student might chime in that she notices what looks like the word “carrot” at the beginning of the word “carotenoid.”
She’s right! And her observation provides a great opportunity to point out the usefulness of making inferences. The word “carrot” and the word “carotenoid” both have the same root word, and both words refer to things that are orange. This is an example of how a reader can take her outside knowledge, connect it to something she observes in the text, and use the connection to draw a conclusion about a word’s meaning.