To the Editor:
In his April 26, 2006, Commentary, E.D. Hirsch Jr. argues that strategy instruction is not as effective in improving reading comprehension as building broad background knowledge (“Reading-Comprehension Skills? What Are They Really?”). I agree with him on two points: Building background knowledge helps students learn from reading, and practicing wide and varied reading improves reading comprehension. But I disagree that strategy instruction is ineffective.
Today’s adolescents have access to a wider array of information than previous generations. Students can obtain information from other countries and make their own. My daughter, for example, listens to a podcast created by 13-year-olds in which the information presented may be humorous, inaccurate, or cruel. The gatekeepers of information—newspapers, major television networks, and schools—no longer control the information that adolescents receive.
In the absence of knowing the amount or type of information that students bring to their understanding of text, we need to teach them strategies to make meaning of what they encounter. Further, we must teach students how to read critically and to evaluate the source. For that reason, strategies like questioning an author and reciprocal teaching, whereby students clarify confusions and use each other and outside resources to comprehend text, are essential to improving the literacy of our culture. These strategies can assist those students who prefer to read without thinking, such as one young man at my school who said to me, “I don’t want to think when I read, I just want to read the words.”
Comprehension strategies keep students thinking as they read. They provide opportunities for skilled readers to make their thinking visible, so other students can observe and learn the skills they need to comprehend the complex texts they encounter. Strategies empower students to interact with fine literature and informational text; through this, they can develop the knowledge they need to succeed in their world.
Lori L. DiGisi
Fuller Middle School
A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 2006 edition of Education Week as Strategies Can Promote Critical-Reading Skills