Monday, November 30, 2009

How Smart are You? Part Two

In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind in which he proposed the theory of multiple intelligences. The theory suggests there is more than one way to describe smart as compared to a number from a paper/pencil I.Q. test. Traditional I.Q. assessments measure a student’s verbal-linguistic knowledge and do not take into account other possible strengths.

The original theory included seven different categories, however, as we learn more about human behavior and how the mind processes information, Gardner has added three more intelligence types; naturalist, spiritual, and moral.

Keep in mind there is a difference between learning style and multiple intelligence. Learning style is how your mind prefers to take information INTO the working memory. One the other hand, multiple intelligence is how your mind prefers to take OUT and APPLY the knowledge you have stored. Most students have a combination of intelligences.

To determine your multiple intelligence continuum, click on the following link. Make sure to click on “free multiple intelligence test” and then click on the first option that says, “MSEXcel self-calculating formula.” As you type in the number for each question, the computer will tally up your answer. When you have completed the survey, post your TOP THREE intelligences with the final tally number. Make sure to bring this information to class on Wednesday.

Answer the Question

BUZZ! BUZZ! You have been waiting for this quiet vibrating sound of your cell phone all morning. Someone has just sent you a text message or left a voice mail. Your heart beats faster in anticipation. The curiosity is killing you! Who could it be? Do you think it’s your sweetheart?

You start to create a plan on how to check your phone because you are sitting in class. If it’s a text message, maybe you could put it under the desk or behind a folder and read it. (FYI – your teacher can always see you texting. If the teacher doesn’t take your cell phone, it’s because she does not want to interrupt her teaching to deal with your distraction.) However, if it’s a voice mail, you’re going to have to do something more drastic… like get up and go to the bathroom.

Just like your strong desire to answer your cell phone, your mind has the same need to answer the questions you asked yourself as you read the chapter. Mature readers know answering questions not only satisfies the mind, it helps transfer the new information into long-term memory.

Asking questions BEFORE reading creates a purpose for reading. When you FLIRT with the text, notice when your inner voice says, “I wonder why…” or “I’m curious about…” Write each question on a 3 x 5 card or by the text feature that created the question. These types of questions keep you interested in the reading while your mind searches for the answer to each question. (See Reveal a Purpose for more information on asking questions before you read.)

Asking questions DURING reading helps your mind clarify the author’s message. When you DRIVE with the text, notice when your inner voice says, “What does that sentence mean?” or “How should I pronounce that word?” Highlight the area that caused the confusion and then use your Local GPS tool to ask questions until you find the meaning. Local GPS questions include:

Local: Can I discover a deeper meaning if I reread this section?
Global: What do I see on the page that will support my comprehension?
Prior Knowledge: What do I already know about the topic?
Structural Analysis: If I break the word into roots and affixes can I build meaning?

Searching for answers to these questions keeps your mind focused on creating meaning instead of skipping over difficult ideas. (See Revisit Vocabulary for more information on asking questions while you read.)

Asking questions AFTER reading helps to monitor your comprehension. When you RELAX with the text, ask questions like, “What was the most important idea?” or “What did I just learn from reading that section of text?” Notice how quickly you can recall the new information. If the answer pops into your mind easily, then your mind encoded the new information successfully. Difficulty forming an answer, or having no answer at all, means you must reread with more engagement; highlighting, talking to the text, and drawing pictures.


If only you were as urgent at answering the author’s questions at the end of a chapter as you are at answering your phone after class. Author’s questions have a purpose and it’s not to prolong your homework. Answering the questions is the final support by the author to make sure you identified all the important information and stored it properly in your mind.

Answering a question is like following a dress code. Dress codes are used in schools, fancy restaurants, and private country clubs to make sure everyone meets appearance expectations. I once went to a five start restaurant dressed nicely in shorts. When I arrived, the hostess advised me their dress code by pointing to a posted sign that said, “NO SHORTS ALLOWED!” I could go home and change or borrow pants they had for people who came in shorts.

“Come on,” I pleaded, “There are girls here wearing skirts SHORTER than my shorts!” Well, I lived too far away to go home to change and I didn’t want to miss the dinner so I asked for the pants. The pants were SWEAT PANTS! BLACK SWEAT PANTS! I was mortified, but I had no choice.

Mature readers know they have no choice but to follow the dress code. The key to getting a gorgeous grade is to take time to discover the hidden dress code behind every question. When it comes to answering a question, remember to follow these three easy style suggestions:

First, analyze the question by highlighting key words in the question stem and targeting the text structure. Use your knowledge of text structure to help guide your selection of text evidence and identifying key points. Once you have established HOW to build your answer, your mind will know WHAT to recall from your long-term memory.

Second, select the graphic organizer that matches the text structure. Resist the temptation to begin writing without taking time to plan your ideas. The process of jotting down a few key words not only eliminates confusion over what to include in your answer, it also helps you organize your thoughts into a strong, cohesive essay.

Third, choose a few transition words and place them on the graphic organizer. Mature readers refuse to give in to the distractive voice that screams, “Enough already! Any answer will do! Let’s slap something down and get out of here.” Strengthen your answer by connecting each thought with these small, but powerful words.

Identifying the hidden dress code before answering the question prevents you from getting a failing grade! Determine the text structure. Match what you already know to the correct graphic organizer. Then dress up your essay with transition words. Remember, every question has a different dress code. When your answer reflects the question style, your final grade will make you smile!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Linking Existing Knowledge to New Information

Verizon advertises they are, “America’s largest and most reliable 3G network,” with unlimited coverage, fewer dropped calls than other networks, and wireless service worldwide. But what does all this mean and how does hitting the “SEND” button allow you to hear your friend who lives hundreds of miles away? You don’t need to know the mystery behind how a cell phone works, you just trust the process.

The same holds true for reading. You don’t need to know how your eyes remember these squiggly lines on the page. Just trust the FLIRT, DRIVE, and RELAX process to connect new information to existing knowledge.

Your mind is like the Verizon commercial. It has billions of neurons working together as a network, making sure the message gets through. Just as the Verizon commercial tries to make the invisible network visible, you can make the network of your thinking visible by writing down your thoughts before, during, and after reading.

As you FLIRT with the text, your mind scrolls through your schema, locating the information you already know about the genre, topic, and author. Write down whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if each idea is relevant to the topic. If you knew everything about the topic, you wouldn’t need to read the text. The important part of the FLIRT process is priming your mind or activating those Velcro hooks so new information can be sent along the proper frequencies.

As you begin to DRIVE your mind through the text, make sure to highlight, talk to the text, and draw pictures to keep your mind active and engaged. You don’t want any dropped calls as your neurons try to talk to each other. Talking to the text is just like typing out a text message in your cell phone. Stop often and ask your mind, “Can you hear me now?” If your mind is distracted, it could interfere with the message you are trying to relay.

The RELAX stage is like hitting the “SEND” button on your cell phone. This final step moves you beyond just “soaking up facts” to building and adjusting existing schema. Cognitive researchers call this process synthesizing. Synthesizing is when you take new information and combine it with existing knowledge. In other words, your mind is consistently comparing new information to your previous memories. As a result, RELAX enables your mind to shifting and rearranging the connections in your schema. (See I Already Know for more information on assimilation, accommodation, and elimination.) Summarizing the new information isn’t enough. Take time to allow your working memory to manipulate the new information so that it can be organized and stored in a meaningful way.

When you FLIRT, DRIVE and RELAX, the cells in your mind connect and you become smarter. And SMART is the best wireless service around!

If you want to extend your learning about how a cell phone was invented or why it’s called a “cell phone” and not a “cordless phone”, explore the following link:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Extend Your Learning: Proactive Reading

Have you ever said, "I don’t learn anything from reading because the textbook is boring or too difficult to understand!" If you answered yes, you are a reactive reader. The problem may be your mindset, not your textbook. A reactive reader feels helpless and shifts the responsibility of learning to someone else; i.e. the teacher or author of that terrible textbook. The best way to avoid being a reactive reader is to take control of your learning.

Be proactive and search for better information on-line.

  • Build your background knowledge BEFORE you start to read. While FLIRTing with the text, determine which sections will be easy to read and which sections may be difficult. A proactive reader types the unknown words and concepts into an on-line search engine to search for movies, pictures, and articles that will activate schema and lay a foundation of new information to build upon. Try the following on-line sites:
    iii. iTunes for podcasts from other teachers

  • Clarify confusing words and ideas AFTER you finish reading. The E in DRIVE helps proactive readers evaluate their comprehension. Sometimes the Local GPS tool isn’t enough to create meaning. Type the confusing word and/or idea into an on-line search engine for more examples and/or a better explanation of the concept.

  • Caution: Not all on-line sources can be trusted. Always look for .edu, .org, and .gov domains before visiting other sites.
Be bold and ask the smartest student in class to help you study.
  • Being smart has more to do with organization, persistence, and dedication than it does with an I.Q. score. Success always leaves clues. If you have a chance to work side by side with a student that is successful, take it! What is the worst thing they could say, “No?” Most successful students will jump at the chance to work with someone else because they know the best way to LEARN something is to TEACH it to someone else.

Be daring and get a tutor.
  • Tutors aren’t just for struggling students! If you have a “B” in a class, why not get an edge over other students by working one on one with an expert. Chances are the tutor has already taken the class and can share many reading secrets to streamline your studying and improve your grade.

  • Tutors can also help you make a reservation to read. If you are tempted to play on the computer in between classes, why not make an appointment with a tutor? Research suggests learning is a social activity and talking through your understanding of a concept is much more fun than studying silently by yourself.

Don’t let your academic struggles get you down! The instant you notice your reactive mindset begin, shift your thinking by asking, “What can I do to make this information more meaningful and memorable?” The more you practice shifting from a reactive mindset to a proactive mindset, the easier it will be to find solutions. Remember, extend your learning and take back control.

Reduce the Author’s Message

Congratulations! You successfully finished reading a difficult section of text. Look back and admire all of your thinking. Can’t you feel your mind growing smarter and pulsing with pride? It’s time to reward yourself. Go ahead and send a text message to your mind. Chances are, the author already sent you the perfect text message through the text features and is patiently waiting for your reply.

Your mind is not like an email with unlimited space, it’s more like a text message. In 1985, Friedhelm Hittebrand, a communications researcher and creator of text messaging, discovered the average conversation transaction between two people needed about 160 characters when typed out on his typewriter. “Just look at your average e-mail today, he noted. Many can be summed up in the subject line, and the rest often contains just a line or two of text asking for a favor or updating about a particular project.” *

When sending a text message, is it easier to send a two word message or a whole paragraph? Two words of course! Reducing the author’s message helps your mind think faster by condensing the amount of information into two words and/or two sentences. Remember, it isn’t necessary to memorize everything the author wrote.

Mature readers alert their metacognition to search for repeated ideas and then assign a name for each group of ideas. Cognitive researchers call this type of mental process classifying. Classifying occurs when you pull together the main ideas and themes by choosing words/phrases that have similar meanings. Once the ideas are grouped, you can create a two word summary that classifies what the list of ideas has in common. These two word titles condense the text into more manageable chunks of information.

Step One: Reduce the information your mind needs to remember by condensing repeated ideas into two words and two ideas.

Step Two: Reuse the text features; titles, headings, captions, and bold words to help you generalize key ideas and reinforce information the author advertised at important.

Step Three: Recycle the phrases you highlighted or the thoughts you wrote down while talking to the text. Your metacognition alerted you that these words triggered your mind to react so keep using them to help you study.

The more you reduce, reuse, and recycle academic concepts, the faster and easier your mind will be able to learn new information. Satisfy your need for speed by sending two word text messages. Remember, when you have fun, the studying gets done.

Quote taken from a LA Times article entitled: Why Text Messages are only 160 Characters Link for article:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

RELAX After Reading

Trying to memorize a lot of information is not only stressful, it’s impossible. But what do you do when you are faced with a chapter that has 80 pages of new vocabulary and concepts. I have three words for you: reduce, reuse, and recycle. You are never going to learn the content material if you are bored while you study. It’s time to invite all your neurons and dendrites to a brain party. Mature readers know the mind pays attention to new stimulus, or input. There is a part of your brain called the midbrain that controls motivation. The midbrain is a wild and crazy risk-taker. If you look at the same old notes over and over again, your midbrain will say, “Yeah, yeah, been there, done that. I’m bored. Let’s go check out something new on the Internet!” This means you will have to do something different, something new, and something novel with the content you are studying. That something needs to be motivating, interesting, and something you want to practice every day. RELAXing after you read is all about taking your social life activities and infusing them with academic studying.

By this point you are becoming automatic with FLIRT and DRIVE, but what do you do with all these post-it notes? RELAX offers several ways to organize and condense your thoughts, notes, and new text information onto one sheet of paper. This makes studying fast, easy, and convenient.

Sure, you now know how to stay focused while you read. You take breaks when you need to, you talk to the text with margin notes and you make connections. However these steps only help to get the important information into your brain. They do not organize and transfer the new information into long-term memory. Simply by interpreting the author’s message in creative ways, you are putting a strong hold on the new information you just added to your schema. If you do not take this final step to help your mind RELAX, your brain will discard, or get rid of the new information. As a result, the hour you spent reading the chapter has now been a waste.


To relax, means, “to rest, unwind, and release from mental strain.” As a reader, you are taking a rest from interacting with the text so your mind is able to connect the dots of individual details into a wider, clearer, and unique new perspective. When you open the doors of your mind for review, rehearsal, and reflection, you are able to share what you learned with others. Since there are five different steps your mind must go through when RELAXing with the text I created an acronym to help you remember them. An acronym, means each letter in RELAX represents a cognitive step:

R: Reduce the Author’s Message
E: Extend Your Learning
L: Link Old and New Information
A: Answer the Question
X: Xperiment with Study Strategies

Remember, you don’t want to cram for a test and be smart for one day. You want to RELAX and be smart for a lifetime!

Evaluate Your Comprehension

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” Ursual K Le Guin

You are driving alone, minding your own business when a large truck cuts you off. Instantly you slam on your breaks to avoid an accident. You notice a big white bumper sticker on the back of the truck that says, “How’s my driving?” At this point you seriously consider using your cell phone to call the number and tell the trucking company exactly what you think of their driving.

When it comes to reading, you are both the driver of the truck and the evaluator in the surrounding vehicles. You are the only person who can analyze your comprehension and evaluating your comprehension is the most important part of the reading journey. As you cruise up to the crossroads, where one section ends and another section begins you need to;

1. Look back over your notes. What comprehension problems did you solve? Are there areas that still require road side assistance? Identifying unclear ideas before DRIVEing to the next section is the quickest and easiest way to ensure the information in your working memory makes the trip to your long-term memory. Look back at your T4 comments to make sure you are applying the Local GPS tool for complex ideas/words.

2. Look with-in your metacognition. What happened in your mind while you were reading? What were you doing mentally to keep your mind alert and engaged? Mature readers are constantly adjusting their metacognition to match the movement of the text. Look within to make sure you were consistently taking action when you noticed your mind was distracted, confused, or overwhelmed with new information.

3. Look around the page. How are you physically keeping your mind interested and motivated to learn? Comprehension is the act of successfully applying strategies to solve isolated confusion and interpret the written text. What are you doing to make your thoughts visible? Is there anything you need to change? Look around to make sure you were interacting with the text by making connections, asking questions, clarifying words/ideas and drawing pictures. If you don’t see any signs of thinking, chances are your mind is lost and heading in the wrong direction.

4. Look forward to the next section. Do you have an idea of where are you heading and what strategies you are going to repeat? Establish a purpose for reading and prime your mind by FLIRTing with the text. Look forward to make sure you are prepared to navigate through roadblocks, vary the pace, remove distractions, and apply the appropriate note taking tools.

The crossroads of reading (look back, look with-in, look around, and look forward)* will lead your mind in the right direction while giving you the flexibility to make adjustments in your reading journey.

* The four crossroads are adapted from a sermon by Pastor Jim VanZandt, who adapted them from various devotionals.

Visualize the Author’s Message

One look is worth a thousand words.” – Fred B. Barnard
One picture is worth Ten Thousand words.” – Chinese Proverb
“A picture shows me at a glance what takes dozens of pages of a book to expound.” Ivan Turgenev

The three quotes at the top of this page reinforce what cognitive researchers have discovered:

1. The brain likes pictures. “Although each of us has the ability to process kinesthetic and auditory information, we take in more information visually than through any of the other senses.” (Wolfe, P. 2001)

2. Stronger neuron pathways are created with mental images. The mind is able to retain more information over a longer period of time since the visual images on the page are mirror images in the visual cortex. As a result, Antonio Damasio (1994) suggests you don’t need to recall the whole picture. “When a critical mass of sensory neurons is activated, the brain fills in the missing portions to complete the picture,” which makes it easier to recall information.

Mature readers visualize, or create mental images, to keep their mind engaged and entertained while they read. Sure, talking to the text and summarizing are great strategies to support your thinking, but drawing pictures is much more fun. Remember, you must create a learning environment that is exciting and pleasing to your amygdala, especially if you are a visual learner. In other words, the best way to prevent boredom while reading is to draw. (See Mind Temper Tantrums for more information on how emotions drive learning).

Did you ever wonder why there are so many billboards by the highway? When you drive, do you take your eyes off the road and sneak a peek? What do you see? Advertisers pepper the highways with PICTURES, LOGOS, and ILLUSTRATIONS because visual images convey a lot of meaning in a short amount of time. It’s only natural that you would be drawn to these visual pictures, especially the billboards that flash, change, or have scrolling texts.

Not only do pictures help you remember information, they increase your understanding of abstract concepts. Visualizing simplifies a topic by packing meaning into a picture. When a concept is complex, authors provide pictures to support your comprehension. Recent studies have found students who drew pictures to represent vocabulary definitions scored much higher on vocabulary tests than students who memorized dictionary definitions only (Bull & Wittrock, 1973).

I can’t talk about visualizing without revisiting the T in FLIRT. Applying the text structure and text organization information you learned while scanning the text for transition words is directly related to visualizing. The text structure establishes the framework for creating mental images. Should the camera in your mind focus on descriptive details or the sequence of events? Next, the text organization (how the ideas work together to illustrate connections between concepts) help you select the appropriate graphic organizer to support your note taking. Graphic organizers support your comprehension by providing a visual tool to store ideas. As you identify and highlight important ideas, place the phrase on the graphic organizer. Not only does this keep you actively engaged in the reading, it reduces the demands on your working memory because you have a place to store new information. The process of reading, highlighting, drawing, and writing tells the frontal cortex that this information is important. As a result, your mind will transfer the new information from working memory into long-term memory. Revisiting the graphic organizer after reading allows your mind to “to see” undiscovered patterns and examine the relationship between key concepts.

It’s time to do more thinking and less writing. Remember, words are nice, but pictures are better. Create your own billboards while you read so studying can be quick, simple, and fun.

Wolfe, P. (2001). Brain Matters
Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain.
Bull, B. & Wittrock, M (1973). Imagery in the learning of verbal definitions.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Identifying Important Information: Stop, Drop, and Roll

Is your purpose for highlighting to make the page as colorful as possible? Do you think highlighting every word is helping your mind remember the most important information? When you mindlessly highlight sentences instead of summarizing the author’s message, you are starving your mind of nutritional thoughts.

Reading is not like a hot dog eating contest. It’s like eating in an elegant restaurant; the pace is slow, there are several courses, and the food is eaten in small bites. Mature readers know reading without stopping isn’t good reading. They pace themselves with the movement of the text, stopping often to savor the important ideas and digest the author’s message. The best way to avoid a big fat head ache is to STOP the flow of new information, DROP into your own knowledge to assign meaning, and then ROLL the ideas onto a piece of paper for long-term memory. Every time you STOP, DROP, and ROLL, you increase your engagement and improve your comprehension. This type of cognitive process is called summarizing.

Summarizing occurs when a reader condenses the author’s message by deleting repeated ideas and nonessential details. Summarizing is a three course meal for your mind with an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert.

All the FLIRTing you did before you read is like an appetizer; it wets your appetite but leaves rooms for the main course. The text features advertise the ideas the author thinks are most important. While you read, pay attention to phrases that repeat text feature information. STOP when you identify the important information and highlight no more than five to six words. Match the portion of your highlighting to the size of an appetizer; small yet memorable. In other words, highlight one phrase per paragraph.

The entrée includes reread the section and digging deep into your schema to make connections and revisit difficult vocabulary words. When you DROP the new information into your schema, you combine the information for a meaningful dish of knowledge.

Finally, after identifying important ideas and deleting details, you are ready to ROLL everything into long-term memory. Just as dessert is the perfect end to a three course meal, writing down a condensed version of the author’s message improves your memory and increases your enjoyment of reading.

The next time you sit down to read, don’t try bite off more than your mind can chew. Remember, summarizing satisfies your mind’s hunger to learn. When you take time to taste the text instead of stuffing your mind with empty thoughts, you create a healthy habit of reading.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

To skip, or not to skip: that is the question.

You know how to FLIRT and you know how to direct your metacognition to notice when you understand and when you don’t understand. The question is, “What do you do when you don’t understand a word or phrase?”

A. Depends on the word/phrase
B. Slow down my pace of reading
C. Reread the text where the confusion began
D. Ask questions
E. Do an on-line search for the unknown word/phrase
F. Skip it

I hope your answer was A: Depends on the word or phrase. Not all confusion is created equal. Reading is like untangling a knot. If you work too quickly, you could end up with a tighter knot than the one in which you started. Mature readers work with slow, strategic movements; trying different strategies over and over again until they are able to determine the meaning of the unknown word or phrase. Applying the Local GPS tool only works when you look closely at the difficult section of text, search for the context clues and persist until you gain a deeper and wider understanding. (See Revisit Vocabulary for more information on Local GPS context clues).

When your metacognition draws attention to a section of text that is difficult to understand, don’t increase the speed of your reading and ignore the problem. Slow down your pace and identify the type of confusion or road block. (See Revisit Vocabulary for a list of possible road blocks). From here you need to determine the importance of the confusion. Sometimes it is OK to skip unknown words. For example, maybe you can’t pronounce a character’s name or the name of a scientist who conducted the research. As long as you know the difficult word is a name, you can continue reading.

Sometimes the beginning of a chapter can leave you with a lot of unanswered questions. An author doesn’t reveal everything on the first page because he likes to build suspense to keep you interested and on the edge of your seat. In this situation, you have to trust that the author will reveal the information as you continue to read.

On the other hand, if the word/phrase is in the text features, repeated several times, underlined/bold, in the author’s question or summary paragraph, you need to stop and apply the Local GPS strategy. Ask yourself, “In order to understand this sentence, do I need to know the meaning of this word/phrase?” If you answer, “Yes,” than you have no choice but to search for direct context clues within the text and indirect context clues within your mind.

First, break the confusing sentence into two parts: what you understand and don’t understand. Once you identify the information you don’t understand, reread the clues left by the author and add information from your schema. Double check the meaning you made by asking, “Does this make sense for this specific concept? Does the meaning sound right within the sentence? Does the word I am pronouncing look right?”

Applying the same strategy over and over again doesn’t always work either. Mature readers are able to match the type of confusion with the appropriate strategy needed to repair comprehension. Research suggests information in a nonfiction text cannot be understood without making connections to your schema (See I Already Know for more information on background and prior knowledge).

Let’s be honest, using the Local GPS tool can be annoying. There are times when you have to realize when your attempt at using Local GPS is leading you in the wrong direction. Sometimes you don’t have enough schema to identify the context clues the author left behind. However, the author may not have left enough clues to help your mind make meaning. When you are driving in a new town and get lost, sometimes, you just have to stop and ask someone who lives in the area for help. Mature readers realize they may have to stop reading and seek help from another source or ask the teacher.

Don’t fear! All your thinking with the Local GPS tool is not wasted. You can use this information to show your teacher how much thinking you have done. By showing the teacher the notes you took while reading (talking to the text and Local GPS) she will be able to identify the exact vocabulary term or idea that is still causing confusion. Not only will you be able to get an answer to your question, you will impress your teacher.

As a teacher, I am always weary when a student says, “I don’t get it!” First of all, you aren’t telling me specifically what you “don’t get”. Secondly, I am not sure if you are making excuses so I will give you the answer without doing any of the thinking. I know about the “Lazy Game”: If I pretend I don’t understand the text, the teacher will explain the chapter to me and I won’t have to read. However, now that you know how to think through difficult words and abstract concepts, you don’t have to play the “Lazy Game” and you can impress your teacher at the same time. This is a win-win situation for you, the student, and me, the teacher.

In closing, the answer to the question: to skip, or not to skip, is… it depends on the word or phrase. Remember, everyone has trouble with reading; it’s what you do when you are confused that matters.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Revisit Vocabulary: There is Trouble Ahead

Have you ever driven to an unknown destination? Were you stressed or worried about getting lost? Did you keep looking at your directions, checking the map or slowing down to read street signs?

When you are reading, sometimes you can get lost with words and ideas you don't understand. Just as you kept rechecking the directions while driving, you have to keep checking your metacognition to decide if you are making meaning.

Mature readers slow down their pace of reading and look for context clues to help steer their mind over difficult words and through abstract ideas. Context clues are phrases left by the author to help you locate more information about a vocabulary term or complex ideas. The next time you find yourself dazed or confused, use context clues to clarify the author’s meaning.

Breaking It Down

Psst! Hey! Yeah, you! It’s your brain again. I have a secret tool that will save you a lot of time and stress. Best of all, this tool will prevent you from getting confused while reading. I call these confusing words and ideas, road blocks, because they block the meaning from entering your working memory. Road blocks are those unknown words and phrases that cause you to stop reading and say, “Oh man, what the heck is the author talking about?” Here is a list of road blocks you need to watch out for as you read:

Revisit a vocabulary word when:
• you can’t pronounce the word
• the word is new or unknown
• you are unsure of author’s meaning

Revisit an idea when:
• you are confused.
• you notice you are thinking about other things.
• you can’t create mental images.
• you can’t make a connection.

Skipping over these road blocks isn’t helpful or a mature decision. We are no longer going to let these road blocks stop our thinking! With the help of my built in Local GPS tool we will be able to navigate these road blocks and find a direct, fast, efficient route to the meaning of these unknown words and phrases.

Local GPS is an acronym for the four different types of context clues the author uses to support a reader’s comprehension. To find the local context clues, zoom in to the sentences surrounding the difficult word. Reread the sentence before, and after the word you are trying to understand. The author often uses commas, parentheses, and hyphens to signal definitions, pronunciations, and examples to help the reader build meaning. This is your local context clue because the author’s clues are located right by the word.

The G stands for global. To find the global context clues, zoom out and look at the whole page. Scan the text features (pictures, captions, charts, and maps) to see if they can give you more information. This is called global context clues because you are taking a wide view of the text.

The P stands for prior knowledge. Sometimes the meaning is implied, which means the author doesn’t come right out and say what he means. In this case, you have to look at the text and add meaning to what the author didn’t include. Your schema will help you determine a meaning or clearer picture of the word. Prior knowledge is the third type of context clue because you can use what you already know about this word to build meaning.

The S is the final context clue. Structural analysis is looking at how the word is built. By breaking the word into smaller parts you will be able to decode the meaning. Search for prefixes, suffixes, or root words. Keep in mind working with words is a complex process. Being able to pronounce the word doesn’t mean you know the meaning. Until you know both, the pronunciation and meaning, you haven’t fixed the road block.

Remember, context clues are located within the sentence, on the page, or within your own mind. If you get lost, turn on my Local GPS to help you navigate through the road blocks, gain a deeper understanding of an abstract concept and save time from looking words up on the computer.

Reality Check

You are in the driver’s seat now. Knowing your destination or purpose to read isn’t good enough. You need to know different ways to build meaning by using the context clues on the page to help you figure out unknown words and ideas.

You are now ready to expand your understanding of how your mind builds meaning. The good news is you are independent and free to drive your mind wherever you want it to go. The bad news is your choices may lead you off the road and into a ditch. You must steer yourself over difficult words and through abstract ideas.

Your world is going so fast. Be a rebel and slow down! Once you identify a confusing word or idea, use your Local GPS to guide you to a deeper conversation and understanding of the author’s message. Beware, the more you apply these strategies, the more information you will retain and the smarter you will become. Avoid the temptation to skip over the words/ideas due to time constraints or lack of effort. This slip of poor judgment will only result in a loss of meaning and a missed opportunity to sharpen your mind’s ability to maneuver around difficult sections of text.

Just as you were required to fulfill a certain amount of hours before you got your driver’s license, your mind needs time to acquire problem solving strategies. Whatever you do, do not pull over to the side of the road and give up. Get behind the wheel and follow the Local GPS clues until you reach a clear meaning. Sure you may need to back up and reread or even take a detour from the page you are reading to investigate the glossary or on-line dictionary. Ask yourself, “Does this make sense? Does this sound right? Does this look right?” When you uncover the meaning of these words and ideas, you will experience a wonderful sense of satisfaction. Sit back and enjoy the ride!