Thinking Differently… part 2.

Screen_Blank2Conventional approaches to reading instruction hammer at the fundamentals of basic reading skills – decoding, grammar, vocabulary, etc. – with an emphasis on regular testing to measure progress.

Sadly, more than a decade of intense pressure for more testing and more reading instruction time has produced trivial gains in reading test scores. What’s wrong? If the “more is better” philosophy is to guide us, then do we need more tests (daily or even hourly?) and more time for reading instruction (Will half the school day be enough? The other half for math instruction?) Is this our dream of the perfect school of the future? I think not. As the cliche goes, insanity is doing more of the same and expecting different results.

A hint comes from a recent article in the ASCD Education Update that describes research highlighting the vital importance of the Visual-spatial and Intrapersonal intelligences to reading comprehension. A few quotes are worth sharing, “Literacy experts know oral and written comprehension is dependent upon our ability to see, or make mental images of what we read. Strong readers do things to actualize the story world…strong readers create mental models to navigate the text.”

My research has found that Visual-spatial intelligence is one of the lowest areas for many teachers. And, I suspect, especially so for reading teachers who excel at the conventional linguistic skills associated with reading instruction. This leads me to believe that such teachers fail to grasp the importance of visualization to many students as they grapple with the complexities of learning to read. And thus, teachers do not use visualization “tools” to guide and help many students who need to activate it.

Visualization is necessary, but insufficient to produce deep comprehension. “Without it, kids don’t have an experience of the text that they can connect to… or reflect on.” Intrapersonal thinking as evidenced in making personal connections to the text and then reflecting on them are essential elements in comprehension. This is a subtle skill that is too frequently overlooked in our determination to hammer at reading using only linguistic approaches.

We would do well to consider how to teach reading by thinking differently in our instructional strategies. Many students do not benefit from the reading strategies that work so well for us as teachers. This is especially true for those students who are at risk of academic failure due to reading problems. My research with the MIDAS has found that many of these students have strengths in the Visual-spatial intelligence that are neglected by conventional instruction.

When will we learn to use strengths to leverage success?

The topic for the next post will be thinking differently about what at risk students need to succeed in school.

When the Screen Goes Blank By Laura Varlas ASCD Education Update. July 2014 | Volume 56 | Number 7