Children Benefit from Modeling, Demonstration, and Explanation
All children need instruction, but some children need substantial amounts of truly high-quality teaching to learn to read and write alongside their peers. What all children need, and some need more of, is models, explanations, and demonstrations of how reading is accomplished. What most do not need are more assignments without teacher-directed instruction, yet much of the work children do in school is not accompanied by any sort of instructional interaction or demonstration.
Children are routinely asked questions after reading but are infrequently provided with demonstrations of the comprehension strategies needed to answer the questions posed. In short, too often assigning and asking are confused with teaching. When the teacher-directed instructional component is left out of the lesson, it enormously reduces the potential of many activities (e.g., maps, webs, summary writing, response journals) for supporting the acquisition of complex comprehension strategies (Fielding & Pearson, 1994; Pressley, 2006). With no clear instruction, children are left to discover the strategies and processes so important to skillful readers and writers. Some children puzzle through the activities assigned but never discover the thinking patterns that proficient readers use.
Modeling, explaining, and demonstrating are essential teaching activities if all children are to learn to read and write. Teachers model the reading and writing processes by engaging in them while children observe. Reading aloud to children, for instance, provides a model of how reading sounds and how stories go. Composing a list of things needed for a project provides a model of one function of writing. Talking about how a newspaper story made us worry provides a model of response to text. Models are essential, but models do not give children much in the way of information about how proficient readers actually accomplish such feats.
Reading aloud to children is one way to model fluent reading and thoughtful talk about books, stories, and responses. While read-alouds have become increasingly popular, research indicates that nearly one-third of classroom teachers rarely read children's books aloud to their students (Hoffman, Roser, & Battle, 1993). They also offer guidelines for read-alouds:
- Designate a time each day for reading aloud, not a time-filler slot.
- Select quality literature to read.
- Discuss the books read with children.
- Create groups for children to share responses to books read.
- Reread selected pieces.
Explanation is probably the most common method teachers use to help children understand how one goes about reading and writing. Unfortunately, explanations can get wordy and often require a specialized language. We tell children that a good summary includes "the most important ideas," but some children are left wondering how to tell which ideas are most important. Unfortunately, explanations are often unhelpful. Children can define the main idea, for instance, but they still cannot construct an adequate summary reflecting the important information in a text. Explaining a process is an improvement compared to simply assigning students work, but many children do not acquire useful strategies from explanations alone.
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