Chapter 3: Developing Reading Strategies

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Strategic readers attack text. Their eyes dart ahead in some places, barely skimming the words. They might stop to focus on one word, or a part of a word. Suddenly, they double back to the beginning of a sentence and then jump ahead again. These eye movements reflect cognitive activity (Pollatsek & Rayner, 1990). Scrutinizing, checking, comparing, and monitoring, successful readers construct understanding. They search for the information they want in the right places, allocating attention to the elements that help them grasp words, sentences, and texts. They check what they are reading against what they already know, make predictions about what is to come, and continually construct and revise a sense of the whole out of the parts. Successful readers are not passive or reactive; they use strategic skills to pursue meaning (Palincsar & Klenk, 1991).

Strategic Behavior and the Brain

The strategic systems of the brain—those responsible for knowing how to do things, including how to read skillfully—are located in the frontal lobes of the cortex. Like the recognition systems, they function through distributed processing. The elements of strategic behavior are divided among smaller systems that work in parallel, simultaneously performing the tasks that combine to produce skillful action. Like recognizing things, knowing how to do things is not a single process but a cluster of capabilities. The two systems are also similar in that the process of developing a new recognition or strategic ability requires more energy and occupies a larger portion of the brain than does making use of an established one. The implication is that teaching new skills requires a balanced, whole-brain approach. But the processes of learning strategic skills differ from that of learning recognition skills in important ways, and the methods of teaching them effectively differ too. Software designed to help develop strategic reading skills must reflect a clear understanding of how these skills are developed.

Recent neurological research confirms what skilled teachers already know about teaching strategic reading skills. The brain's strategic systems do not generate step-by-step "recipes" for action. For example, rather than defining a sequence of muscle movements required to reach out and grasp a cup, strategic systems develop an internal model that includes both the goal (grasping the cup) and a strategy for attaining the goal (reaching out to the right place). Good models make for efficient action; faulty or incomplete models result in uncoordinated or undirected action (Banich, 1997; Jeannerod, 1997). This two part (goal and plan) model has important implications for learning and teaching. It suggests that becoming a skillful reader means not just developing techniques, but developing a clear sense of the goals the techniques serve. Glancing back up a page to recall key words is a technique, but it has little meaning for students who do not understand that the aim of the technique is to clarify the passages that follow, establishing, for instance, who is speaking.

How are these internal models constructed? We can build them slowly by trial and error, testing and refining tentative plans for accomplishing something new, often starting with an existing strategy that we modify to perform a new task. We can also build them by observing someone else exercising a skill. Neuroscientists have discovered the surprising fact that watching an action activates the same neurons as performing it. When we see someone do something, our brains seem to follow the action, picking up the patterns to some extent. According to Jeannerod (1997), "observation … plays a prominent role … [in] motor skill learning" (p. 190).

Teaching Skills

Observation of skilled behavior is an important part of learning a complex skill, but is clearly not sufficient by itself. Watching a musician play the violin can teach an observer some things about violin playing and can provide a goal, but no one becomes a violinist merely by watching. Learning to play requires extensive practice and ongoing guidance that includes expert comments on the learner's efforts, suggestions for improvement, and further demonstrations of expert playing, accompanied by verbal explanations of what the expert is doing and why.

Consider a child learning to ride a bicycle. She sees others ride, so she knows what success looks like. She thinks that riding will be fun and knows that she will be able to go places quickly once she learns to ride. When she is ready to try, she needs help getting started because riding a bike is difficult; it depends on a set of interrelated skills that cannot be mastered all at once. She needs scaffolds to support her early efforts—training wheels or someone holding the back of the seat. Gradually, with support and lots of practice, she gets the hang of it; the training wheels get raised a bit or the person steadies the bike less and less. Finally the training wheels are removed or the helper lets go. Possibly not even aware that she's riding on her own, the child stays up for a dozen feet or so before she tips. Then nothing can stop her. She practices incessantly until she no longer has to think about staying up or steering. Next, she practices going places, learning to ride safely, to vary her speed, to manage curbs, hills, gravel, and wet pavement. Riding becomes automatic, and her thoughts and energy are directed at handling challenging terrain, considering where she wants to go, and enjoying the fun of getting there.

The process of learning any complex skill—playing the violin, riding a bike, or reading—includes a number of essential elements. Combining observation, practice, support, and guidance, these are:

  • active models of skilled performance;
  • scaffolds to support the learner;
  • ample opportunities to practice;
  • ongoing, immediate, feedback; and
  • opportunities to demonstrate skill.

Taken together, these elements constitute what we call "apprenticeship." Reading skills ranging from learning to decode to making meaning from text are best learned when students become apprentices to a "master reader"—their teacher. Tutorial-based programs like Reading Recovery include all the components of apprenticeship. Teachers model the process of sounding out words, exaggerating the phonic elements and the sequence. They provide scaffolds for the children's own attempts by pointing, gesturing, or starting words themselves. They support children in practice, structuring work and reviewing students' efforts in tutorial sessions. They provide ongoing feedback, and gradually reduce their support, encouraging more independence as students become more skillful. Children demonstrate their competence daily in oral reading and writing.

Similar activities and supports help students learn to read and understand connected text. Teachers model active reading strategies by making implicit strategies explicit. Before reading a text, they help students define purpose and expectations (building models of goals), learn new vocabulary, and connect the text to their own background knowledge. Teachers also use "think-alouds" to externalize the active internal processes of hypothesizing, questioning, monitoring, understanding, rereading, searching for specific information, and highlighting points they may want revisit later. Like a violinist explaining why she moves her bow in a certain way, the teacher articulates both the goal and the techniques used to achieve it. In a tutorial setting, teachers can support individual efforts with appropriate scaffolding and provide specific feedback. Discussion, papers, projects, and tests give students opportunities to demonstrate their competence. Authentic communication contexts such as reader-response journals are especially compelling because read respond that pertains them personally.

Computers and Reading Strategies


Apprenticeship is the best way to learn how to read, but apprenticeship environments are difficult to create in a classroom. Apprenticeships traditionally involve a few students working very closely with a teacher or master craftsperson. Although teachers can model skills for a whole class of students, there is usually no practical way for them to offer individual feedback, customized practice, and scaffolding. Software can help by giving students more individual attention than a teacher can provide. Many software packages give students opportunities to practice and demonstrate skills; few mirror the techniques that experts use with apprentices: explicit modeling of skills, individually appropriate scaffolding, and immediate response to student efforts. We will consider software that supports to some extent an apprenticeship approach to teaching decoding, and then look at applications that can be used to support a similar approach to building comprehension strategies. In both instances, teachers will get the best results by combining software programs specifically designed to develop these skills with open-ended applications that let them design supports and practice opportunities for individual students.

Learning to Decode

In addition to recognizing words automatically, skilled readers must be able to analyze words that they have never seen before. They must know how to break the code of an unknown word, identifying letters and letter combinations, translating them into sounds, and blending them sequentially into the sound of the whole word.

Sounding out is a purposeful technique for building a larger whole from word elements. Students with learning disabilities often have difficulty acquiring the necessary word attack skills. Studies show that when students with dyslexia read challenging text, their eye movements are disorganized, reflecting unskilled strategies such as guessing on the basis of single letters or context (Rayner, 1986). For beginning readers with or without learning disabilities, decoding skills are learned best through exposure to models, scaffolds, practice, relevant feedback, and opportunities to demonstrate performance.

In the following discussion, we highlight both specific software packages (such as My Personal Tutor) and applications (such as HyperStudio) that can be used to create customized apprenticeship environments. Both approaches offer benefits and have drawbacks. Programs designed to support decoding practice require little preparation to use, but tend to provide isolated exercises unrelated to connected text. Creating customized connected texts provides contextual modeling and practice but requires considerable time and effort on the part of teachers. In our view, both approaches have merit and should be combined for maximum effectiveness.

The processes of modeling, providing feedback, practicing, and scaffolding in decoding are inextricably linked with each other. In the following discussion we highlight them individually for clarity.


Although most reading programs emphasize word recognition rather than strategy-building, some are beginning to use the flexible multimedia environment to model decoding processes. My Personal Tutor strives to provide an interactive, supportive environment for learning strategies. In one activity, left-to-right reading is first modeled for the student as a car moves across the screen, revealing letters in the word car one by one. The student hears the instructions, "We always read from left to right. The car is moving from left to right. That's the same direction we move our eyes when we read, left to right." The student is then asked to try it. In the example shown in Figure 3-1, the student moves a ball across the screen by clicking on keys below the picture in sequential order from left to right, revealing letter by letter the word ball hidden underneath.

FIGURE 3-1. My Personal Tutor (Microsoft)

Another activity in My Personal Tutor models blending and provides opportunities for supported practice. Students are told, "You can make a word. Just put sounds together like this. Say /r/. Say /am/. Blend the sounds together and what do you have? Ram." The blended word is first spoken slowly and then repeated at a normal rate.

Software packages that model decoding generally do so in the context of isolated exercises. But modeling decoding strategies in context offers advantages. The content itself can engage students' interest, and seeing decoding strategies in context helps students understand that it is sometimes necessary to "drop back" while reading to analyze an unknown word. On the computer, teachers can develop models of decoding in context by using digital audio or video to record themselves sounding out a word from a text, exaggerating the sounds and proceeding from a slow emphasis on sound segments to a rapid blending of sounds. They can then paste the recorded model into the text, before or after the word. HyperStudio, Microsoft Word, and other applications enable teachers to record and students to replay decoding models easily.

A library of embedded decoding models takes time to build, but it provides rich resources for individualized instruction. Each student can choose to play only those models attached to words he or she finds difficult. Students can practice and demonstrate skill by recording their own attempts to sound out difficult words. They can then listen to their own efforts and compare them with their teacher's models. Teachers can use these student recordings for assessment and feedback in later sessions with students or parents.

Providing Feedback

Most decoding software provides assessment feedback "after the fact." Matching tasks, sorting games, multiple choice questions, and the like test and reinforce the decoding students have done. Except in tutorials, children rarely get feedback on their actual pronunciation of words as they are reading; yet we know that skill learning is best supported by immediate feedback. Imagine trying to learn the violin from a teacher who saved all of his comments until the end of the lesson. Suggestions teachers make while students are decoding help direct and improve their efforts. Yet teachers lack the time to give immediate feedback to each student who needs it.

At this time, technology cannot match a teacher's ability to hear, evaluate, and comment on students' decoding. The closest approximation is found in programs supporting the creation of a "reading portfolio," or collection of digitally recorded oral reading performances. For example, WiggleWorks: The Scholastic Beginning Literacy System provides a record and playback tool on each on-screen page of text. (Authors' note: CAST co-developed WiggleWorks: The Scholastic Beginning Literacy System with Scholastic.) Students can record and listen to their own decoding efforts as many times as they like, and save their final version in a reading portfolio. Although neither computer nor teacher provides immediate feedback on students' reading, students can replay the model of expert reading that accompanies the text and compare it with their reading. Later, the teacher can listen with a student to the recorded reading and provide help and support.

Providing Opportunities for Practice

Guided practice to develop competence is integral to skill building. While many computer-based reading activities offer practice, it is more difficult to find examples where appropriate scaffolding and feedback make it effective.

'Tronic Phonics (see Figure 3-2) is a program that offers a systematic but flexible practice environment. It allows students to work with words that come from stories they have read, in either a print or CD-ROM version. For instance, having read My Dog Jet, they can explore and practice with words that rhyme with pet in an engaging environment. Students read and hear rhymes, discover the common spelling patterns in rhyming words, make new words belonging to the same word family, and write and read new rhymes. In the example pictured, when the student clicks on a letter such as g, it moves to join -et. The /g/ and the /et/ are pronounced slowly and separately at first; when they are joined on the screen to form a word, the word is pronounced, get.

FIGURE 3-2. 'Tronic Phonics (McGraw-Hill School Interactive).
Reproduced courtesy of McGraw-Hill School Interactive, McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. ©1997.

If the student selects a letter that results in a nonsense word, such as h, he or she is told, "Het rhymes with pet but het is not a real word."

Scaffolds for Decoding

In most reading software, students hear a word spoken when they click on it. This feature helps them learn to recognize unknown words. But hearing a word does not provide a scaffold for developing decoding skills. A true decoding scaffold must provide the kind of partial support given by an adult holding on to a child's bike seat. He steadies the bike only when it starts to tip. If he held it rigidly upright, the child would never learn to keep her balance. True scaffolds do not provide "the answer;" they offer a "jump start"—part of an answer or a helpful clue—and let learners do as much of the work as possible. A teacher providing this kind of partial support might break a word into smaller segments, pronouncing the segments and letting the child blend them, or pronouncing just the first segment and encouraging the child to pronounce and blend the rest. As the child's skill increases, the scaffolds are gradually withdrawn, with only the support the learner actually needs left in place.

Genuinely useful scaffolding must be tailored to individual learners and reshaped as skills develop. Providing such flexible support is an art that current technologies cannot emulate. No existing software supports individual students progressing at different rates and demonstrating varied strengths and weaknesses with anything like the subtlety and responsiveness that effective scaffolding requires. In the future, computers may have advanced voice recognition and sound analysis capabilities that will allow them to listen to a student sounding out words and instantaneously calibrate the exact amount of prompting needed. For now, though, teachers must supply scaffolds for students learning to decode.

Our discussion has demonstrated what computers can do to support an apprenticeship relationship between one teacher and a class full of students learning to decode. We have also made some of the limitations clear—most notably the inability of computers to respond flexibly and intelligently enough to provide current feedback and scaffolds for the changing needs of individual students. These same strengths and weaknesses characterize software designed to foster comprehension skills.

Developing Comprehension Strategies

Mature reading requires the active application of skills and strategies. Consider the strategic reader described at the beginning of this chapter: eyes skimming and darting through the text, doubling back, collecting, comparing—using complex, coordinated skills to achieve a set of clear comprehension goals. Like other complex skills, these strategic skills are best taught through apprenticeship using models, scaffolds, feedback, practice, and demonstration.

"Comprehension" Software

Most software purporting to teach comprehension reflects the fact that computer technology is in a transitional phase; it is still being used to do old things in slightly new ways. Essentially electronic versions of print-based comprehension exercises, these programs test recall after reading. Students read passages on screen and answer multiple choice questions. The most basic comprehension programs barely take advantage of multimedia.

Recent applications such as That's a Fact, Jack make sophisticated use of computer technology and to an extent support strategy development. Using a game show format, this program poses questions about specific works of children's literature. The screen shown in Figure 3-3 asks a question about The Giver by Lois Lowry.

FIGURE 3-3. That's A Fact, Jack (Follett Software)

An extensive management system and lively audio enhancements give this program advantages over printed workbook exercises. Record-keeping tracks students' achievement and signals areas of weakness, helping teachers to individualize instruction based on performance. Like the sample above, some questions call for inferences about the characters; others are more factual. Teachers can choose questions appropriate to individual students and only the selected questions will be displayed. Sound and graphics appeal to students with non-textual learning preferences and heighten interest for all students. The host in That's a Fact, Jack gives spoken feedback on both correct and incorrect answers, often with explanations. His comments model how skilled readers use material from the book to support their responses.

By modeling strategies, giving feedback on student work, and allowing some adjustment for individual differences, That's a Fact, Jack begins to move beyond traditional comprehension exercises. The program still presents students with questions after reading, however. Guiding and supporting students while they are working with text (not afterwards) are the best ways to teach comprehension skills. To be most effective, software programs must help students while they read. A few programs try to do this, as we discuss below.

Modeling Comprehension Strategies

To learn how to read strategically, children need mentors who "make explicit and visible the mental processes useful for constructing meaning from text" (Palincsar & Klenk, 1991, p. 117). Teachers do this by pausing to articulate their thought processes while reading aloud, showing "students how good readers actually read" (Richek et al., 1989, p. 260). A teacher may stop and say, "I'm predicting right now that the butler did it," or "I'm not sure what this word means so I'll look at the sentence and see if I can figure it out from what I know already," or "I'm still looking to find the name of the President of France, but I haven't found it yet so I'll keep reading." By describing what they are thinking, they model a hidden process, showing learners both how they make sense of text and what kind of sense they are trying to make (Davey, 1983).

Computers can also model these metacognitive strategies. Publishers have experimented with embedding think-alouds and other kinds of prompts in text, accessible on request by students (for example, Scholastic's Smart Books and McGraw-Hill School Interactive's Story Web). These have the merit of offering help during reading and can be individualized to the extent that students only play them if needed. However, these "pre-recorded" think-alouds do not reflect the needs and interests of particular students. Though requiring more effort, software that lets teachers and students create their own think-alouds can be customized for individuals.

The teacher message and record/playback features in WiggleWorks support both teacher-made and student-made think-alouds. The message maker available from the menu (see Figure 3-4) allows teachers to record one message per page which students have the option of playing.

FIGURE 3-4. WiggleWorks (Scholastic)

The record and playback tool, available to students from a button on screen, lets students record one message per page. Teachers can use the teacher message to model strategies, or to ask students to record their own reading strategies. By recording different types of strategies into different books, teachers can match models to individual needs.

Similar effects can be achieved using word processors that permit embedding of recorded sound such as Microsoft Word or HyperStudio. The programs give teachers and students the option of attaching think-alouds, questions, predictions, and ideas at any place in a text. Electronic think-alouds enable teachers to individualize content for different students, and for students to hear recorded strategies as often as they need them. They also allow students to practice and to demonstrate understanding by creating their own think-alouds. Such electronically annotated texts can function as reading strategy portfolios for students, teachers, and parents to review.

Scaffolding Comprehension Strategies

The most effective scaffolds to help students learn how to make sense of connected text support them while they are engaging in reading and writing activities. And they provide just enough support, neither leaving students in the dark nor giving the "answers." Scaffolds of various types are critical for the development of strategic reading skills. Vygotsky (1978) highlights the importance of scaffolds provided through interactions with teachers for developing higher order mental functions. In interactions with the student, he observes, the teacher provides extra structure to the process of learning by asking questions to prompt reflection, by emphasizing or exaggerating certain stimuli, by summarizing, by providing background knowledge, and by supporting vocabulary. Students can also provide similar scaffolds for other students (Brown, Palincsar, & Armbuster, 1994; Palincsar & Klenk, 1992; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994).

Print can provide focus questions, background knowledge, stated purpose for reading, and the like, but it offers none of the flexible give-and-take of these human interactions. Computer scaffolding has more flexibility, and can be individualized, helping learners at different levels develop comprehension skills. Typical electronic scaffolds include word reading, vocabulary support, and background knowledge enhancement.

Word Reading
Most electronic storybooks offer word reading "on demand." Individual words, sentences, or paragraphs are read aloud at the click of a mouse. Brøderbund's Living Books series (as shown in Figure 3-5), WiggleWorks, and the Disney Animated StoryBook Collection are examples of software that include this feature.

FIGURE 3-5. Arthur's Teacher Trouble (Brøderbund)

When the learning goal is to develop comprehension strategies (as opposed to decoding), providing these basic supports can be enormously helpful, enabling students to read text and/or hear text read as they need it, freeing them to focus on meaning. Programs that read by word, phrase, line, or sentence are especially desirable because these options provide variable support for diverse learners at different levels. WiggleWorks lets teachers adjust reading supports as students' skill levels improve. For example, text highlighting and digital voice can be synchronized to highlight and read whole lines or individual words at variable rates. Text highlighting can be used without the digital voice to help students follow the text (with words being read only when students click on them). This kind of flexibility is essential, since scaffolding only works when it is appropriate to individual learners. Too little does not help enough; too much means that the computer is doing the work for students.

Some electronic books and learn-to-read software programs provide definitions for certain words. One product with this feature is Tomorrow's Promise. Colored text indicates that a definition and a sentence with the word in context are available (see Figure 3-6).

FIGURE 3-6. Tomorrow's Promise (Jostens Learning)

Supporting vocabulary frees learners to focus on larger units of meaning and on strategies such as predicting and clarifying. Definitions should not be at a higher reading level than the text. When offered in multiple media, including text and speech, images, animation, or video, they reach students with varied learning styles.

Background Knowledge.
Background knowledge is a critical component of text comprehension (Anderson et al., 1985; McNeil, 1992; Stanovich, 1994). Research has shown that when background knowledge is provided before reading (for instance, through video clips), story comprehension improves (Kinzer & Leu, 1997; Sharp et al., 1995). These findings have begun to influence the design of commercial software programs such as the Little Planet Literacy Series and Story Web. Several now offer background knowledge to support readers who may have limited familiarity with the subject. Story Web scaffolds background knowledge in a variety of ways. For example, video clips embedded in the story Hattie and the Fox provide information about the real-life behavior of hens, foxes, and other animals. These clips make the story more meaningful, even for readers already familiar with these animals. On the page where Hattie the hen sees the fox and flies up to a tree branch, the reader can view a short video showing that hens rarely fly and usually only for short distances (see Figure 3-7).

Two screenshots of Story Web software

When students click on an icon of a video clip in Story Web (McGraw-Hill School Interactive), a short video enhancing background knowledge appears on screen.

Two screenshots of Story Web software

In this case, the video (displayed in the upper right part of the screen) describes and shows what hens are like when they fly.

FIGURE 3-7. Reproduced courtesy of McGraw-Hill School Interactive, McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. ©1997.

Because the video makes it clear that Hattie's flight is a remarkable feat, it increases the importance of her action and highlights the intensity of her fear of the fox. Embedded background knowledge scaffolds are particularly effective because they appear only on request and communicate compelling information interesting even for students who do not need help understanding the text. By simultaneously supporting readers unfamiliar with the content and enriching the experience of all readers, these background knowledge videos embody some of the principles of universal design.

Guided Practice

Extensive practice is an essential part of learning any skill. No one can learn to ride a bike by watching others or by trying once or twice with training wheels attached. Effective practice requires active, focused, repeated effort over time. Supporting students as they practice strategic reading is challenging, particularly because the activity being practiced is an internal mental activity, not observable for evaluation and feedback.

In print-based curricula, practice often resembles testing. Students read short, decontextualized passages, then answer questions about them. Even when accompanied by active guidance, this process does not give students opportunities to develop mature reading strategies (Palincsar & Klenk, 1991). And meaningful guidance is rarely given. This approach tests what students may have retained from reading, but does not support strategic reading as a process.

Unlike this isolated practice, the "reading process" approach to strategic reading makes explicit the skills being practiced (Atwell, 1987; Palincsar & Klenk, 1991). In the context of a tutorial, classroom lesson, or reciprocal teaching environment, students engage in dialogue about what and how they are reading.

Exchanges between teacher and student and between students can foster active reading practice, providing energy and direction. Writing about reading extends these reading process conversations. Many teachers ask for written responses to reading or start dialogue journals in which teachers and students exchange thoughts about material they have read. These commentaries go far beyond typical "comprehension questions" about plot summaries, story sequence, and theme. Common approaches include drawing parallels between story content and readers' own lives, connecting one author's style with another's, and expressing and supporting opinions of the work.

The social context of process reading supports expression of the internal work involved in developing strategic reading. By talking and writing about reading, teachers and students uncover normally hidden processes for making meaning. Although print can support these interactions, electronic media provide a more powerful means. Print is fixed, like fired clay. Readers can react to it or comment on it, but they cannot manipulate it. Digital text, like raw clay, can be shaped and reshaped. It invites manipulation. The new medium offers new opportunities to learn about text by changing it and evaluating the results. Changing text to modify its meaning requires an understanding of which parts of the text create that meaning and how they do it. With digital media, students can find key elements in the text and create new meaning by replacing these elements with alternatives.

Electronic text invites students to enter a piece of writing and make themselves at home in it, developing a sophisticated understanding of what text is all about through hands-on experience. This adventure almost seems prefigured in Virginia Woolf's lovely invitation: "Literature is no one's private ground, literature is common ground; let us trespass freely and fearlessly and find our own way for ourselves" (Atwell, 1987).

Consider a lesson about how authors create mood, using this paragraph from Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights:

On that bleak hill top the earth was hard with a black frost, and the air made me shiver through every limb. Being unable to remove the chain, I jumped over, and, running up the flagged causeway bordered with straggling gooseberry bushes, knocked vainly for admittance, till my knuckles tingled and the dogs howled. (p. 9)

Students can react to this passage presented in print by highlighting or underlining words, writing notes, or discussing the elements that create its mood. With an electronic version of the passage, students can manipulate the elements that create mood and analyze their effects. A first step might be to reformat the words and phrases that seem to create the mood of the original, making them bold or italic, or changing their color:

On that bleak hill top the earth was hard with a black frost, and the air made me shiver through every limb. Being unable to remove the chain, I jumped over, and, running up the flagged causeway bordered with straggling gooseberry bushes, knocked vainly for admittance, till my knuckles tingled and the dogs howled.

Then they might create a different mood by substituting words with a different character:

On that glorious hill top the earth was rich with moisture, and the air made me thrill through every limb. Being unable to remove the chain, I jumped over, and, running up the flagged causeway bordered with cascading gooseberry bushes, knocked heartily for admittance, till my knuckles tingled and the dogs yapped joyfully.

Students can work individually or collaboratively, exploring various textual characteristics. The only resources needed are a word processor and electronic versions of texts. (For a large group working together, a projection plate is also desirable so that all students can see the text while working.) A tremendous variety of digital texts are available on the Internet and CD-ROMs. With a scanner and optical character recognition (OCR) software, printed text can be digitized. We are only beginning to understand what vast new opportunities electronic text provides for strategic reading practice. Imaginative teachers and students are inventing new techniques right now.

Electronic media can also enhance more established process reading activities such as written response and dialogue journals. E-mail is an ideal environment for these exchanges. The Harvard Literacy Lab Web site, described at the start of the book, makes reading and writing purposeful and exciting by letting students post their work on the Web and then read responses from anywhere on the globe. Another real-world Web example, the Web site, urges readers to submit book reviews to be published on-line for the benefit of prospective buyers. Similarly, the World of Reading posts short book reviews submitted by students from around the world (see Figure 3-8), and the "Reading Room" section of Houghton Mifflin's Education Place Web site invites children to write "KidView" book summaries and respond to discussion topics.

FIGURE 3-8. World of Reading Web Site {}.

©1998 Netscape Communications Corp. Used with permission. All rights reserved. This electronic file or page may not be reprinted or copied without the express written permission of Netscape.

All of these approaches to expressing and exchanging ideas highlight the important connection between reading and writing. The two work together at every stage of learning to read. Using both is especially critical for developing comprehension strategies because writing makes internal processes visible and open to analysis and imitation. The malleability of electronic text makes the connection between reading and writing so seamless that it is difficult to tell where one finishes and the other starts. This blurring of the boundary between reading and writing provides opportunities to practice comprehension skills while building writing skills.


Feedback on performance encourages and guides effective practice, but discussion opportunities, dialogue journals, and e-mail are not always available. How can students get responses to their efforts when they are working at home or in study hall or in some other situation where they do not have access to one of these social or instructional environments? Print cannot respond to anything the student does. Though computers are not yet sophisticated enough to analyze and respond to students' strategic work, they can "play back" the results of that work and help students evaluate it for themselves. When students explore a text by modifying parts of it, as in our Wuthering Heights example, they can digitally record and play back both the old and new versions or hear both versions read through synthesized speech. Hearing these versions read aloud immediately after writing them helps students (especially those who have difficulty with reading mechanics) to "step back" and analyze their work. The "dialogue" between student-as-writer and student-as-listener promotes reflection and judgment, giving students perspective on how textual elements affect meaning.

Hollywood, a program for creating digital animated "films" (see Figure 3-9), provides an excellent environment for composition and feedback. Students choose settings and characters, develop plots, write dialogue and stage directions, create a sequence of events and interactions, and add music and sound effects.

FIGURE 3-9. Hollywood (Theatrix)

While composing a film, students can switch from edit mode to performance mode and watch their script-in-progress being enacted on screen. They can evaluate the impact of their dialogue and stage directions on the meaning and dramatic effect of the performance. Going back to edit mode, students can revise dialogue and action, then view the performance again until they are satisfied with their work. This highly engaging activity brings writing and self-evaluation together. Hollywood, Hollywood High, and Write, Camera, Action! give users insight into many of the textual elements that good strategic readers use to build meaning. Students learn about dialogue and character, creating mood, the sources and effects of humor, and the relationships among sequence, length, and plot. Though the computer does not evaluate students' work, it enhances students' ability to evaluate it themselves by playing it back as they compose.

Demonstration of Skill

Demonstrating progress to peers, mentors, and themselves is important for students learning comprehension; it helps them recognize their growing skills and encourages them to go further. Traditional comprehension questions do not elicit enough information about how students apply their skills to text or why, in a given case, they fail to understand something. Did students miss questions because they lacked critical vocabulary, failed to decode words correctly, lacked background knowledge, or did not use the strategic skills needed to make sense of a passage?

Written responses to reading and marked up electronic texts provide much richer and more reliable insight into students' reading strategy strengths and weaknesses. They make the strategies explicit, capturing the thinking processes students used to understand text. Using a computer, students can write about their reading experience, record spoken comments, or even draw representations of their understanding on screen. Response and dialogue journals and electronic texts altered by students can serve as records of students' thinking, understanding, and progress for a reading portfolio.

Students can make their strategic process explicit by turning a digital text into an outline or set of examples that support an interpretation of the passage or exemplify particular techniques used by the author. Using a word processor with digital text, students can highlight the words that led them to their conclusions, or cut and paste parts of the text, grouping elements that gave them clues to meaning or established mood or style. Examples of these explanatory manipulated texts can also go in the reading portfolio.

Computers and Reading Strategy Development: The Story So Far

Any complex skill is best learned through apprenticeship: that extended relationship between an expert and a novice that gives learners opportunities to observe skillful behavior and receive guidance and support tailored to their own slowly growing mastery. These activities support the construction and refinement of the mental models that we know underlie skillful behavior. Because successful apprenticeships thrive on responsiveness, they present a special challenge to computers, which currently are not good at relating or responding. Still, the flexibility and growing power of computers make them useful skill development tools. They have many advantages over printed materials and can help teachers give students the necessary individual attention.

Multimedia features including sound, animation, video, and record/playback allow computers to model skills as well as help students and teachers assess them. The option to provide guidance only when needed makes it possible for computers to support learning flexibly. Computers enable students to manipulate and create material—to learn by doing—with word processors or programs such as Hollywood. Such programs offer students feedback (through "playback") on their work during the process of reading and writing rather than after the fact.

The increasing ability of students to communicate over computer networks has created an especially engaging new tool for learning strategic skills. The World Wide Web and e-mail have broadened collaborative opportunities, and the practice field for apprentice readers now includes the world.

Nevertheless, we have a long way to go before the skill-developing potential of computers is realized. Too many programs that ostensibly support strategic skills focus on pattern recognition and skill assessment. They reflect neither clear insight into how skills develop nor much understanding of the real power of computers. We can confidently predict, though, that computers will become much more valuable partners in the process of teaching skills as their power and flexibility increase and our understanding of how we learn deepens. The following basic criteria will help identify the software that most effectively contributes to developing strategic reading skills. Look for:

  • Software that supports aspects of a reading strategies apprenticeship: providing models, feedback, guided practice, flexible scaffolds, demonstration opportunities.
  • Software that supports students while they are working on strategies and skills, rather than after the fact.
  • Software that allows material to be adjusted to match individual needs at different stages in the learning process. Ideally, content, form of presentation, and teacher and student response mechanisms should all be flexible.
  • Software that presents information in a variety of media, providing redundancy, choice, and engagement; this variety makes it possible to reach those with different learning styles and heightens interest in general.
  • Software that includes key interactive, process-supporting features such as record/playback, synthesized speech, and voice recognition.
  • Software that supports e-mail and Internet access to provide authentic communication.

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