I am working with a young man who is phenomenally intelligent. He knows more about basketball and history than I could ever know. He loves it! If he is interested in the subject of the test, he can read it fluently, analyze the text, and is able to have thought provoking conversations about the subject. But if he is not interested, he will not be able to read and comprehend the ideas within a text. He explains it this way, “My brain just shuts down and I can hardly even begin to read the material.” He would like to change this behavior; but, he has been unable to do this on his own.
My job is to discover how to help him read, engage with, and demonstrate comprehension of text he doesn’t care about. One of my most important finds of the summer is the text, “Executive Function in Education: From Theory to Practice.” There is a chapter in this text by Gaskin, Satlo, and Pressley about Executive Control of Reading Comprehension in the Elementary School. The authors outline how executive control impacts reading comprehension and suggests how to talk with students about the reading process to enhance comprehension. Following the authors suggestions, my guy and I discussed what “intelligent behavior” looks like when you are reading.
1. He has discovered we have to have knowledge of the reading process;
2. we have to be motivated to apply the knowledge and strategies you learn; 3. and we have to demonstrate control over our behavior.
In Executive Function language “control” could be any number of cueing and directing behaviors. Right? So, for my student, we had to go back to his previous comprehensive assessment and the primary issues identified. For this smart guy, it was about beefing up his knowledge in the area of how to summarize a paragraph. He is using questions and a very brief note taking technique to help him hang on to specific important details.
He also had to learn how to motivate himself to read and apply the new summarization strategy. For example, he is learning how to set a timer, take a break to reward his work, and return to his reading after his break. He is basicly using Premack’s principle, telling himself, “If I work for 30 minutes, I can shoot some hoops for 10 minutes.”
And finally, my student has to control or learn to cue and direct himself to be more flexible in his thinking about certain topics. His awareness of his possible inflexibility has helped him monitor whether the reading selection is of interest to him or not. If not, he may need to set up more motivation controls and be vigilant in asking himself the summarization questions he uses to cue his attention to important details in the text.
As a result of his work, he is happy and excited about implementing these strategies this fall. I am excited about adding more tools to my toolkit for working students to improve their reading comprehension skills.