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What Kind of Strategies Should I Teach if I Want My Students to Comprehend?
I’m reading a book about Herman Melville and Lewis Mumford (one of Melville’s autobiographers). Last night, before sleep, I read about 20 pages. The author alternates chapters – one on Melville, then one on Mumford.
I didn’t get the organization immediately, but whatever is revealed about one author will be implicated in what will be divulged about the other, though the connection isn’t always explicit. Last night’s pair was about how these very despondent men each managed to find someone who would connect deeply with them emotionally and intellectually, despite the depths of their negativity.
That sounds like I was comprehending what I read… and, yet, that depends on how you define comprehension.
Each chapter addresses a span of years in these writers’ lives… but today, I could only provide a guestimate as to the spans of last night’s chapters (1850s and 1920s, perhaps). I remember that Melville’s emotional partner was Nathaniel Hawthorne – I’ve read a lot of Hawthorne over the years and even visited his home and the settings of some of his novels. But for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of Mumford’s long-suffering wife or how they found each other.
I’m distinguishing here between reading comprehension and learning from text.
It’s an important distinction if we seek to teach reading effectively.
Historically, reading comprehension research tended to use text memory as a close-enough proxy for comprehension. This is because memory is a result of comprehension (Craik & Lockhart, 1972) and that the two phenomena can’t be separated (Harris, Cady, & Tran, 2006). Comprehension refers to grasping the meaning, and meaningfulness is an important factor in getting something into memory.