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6 Habits of Effective Readers

Active Reading Can't Be Seen

Image from "Idea Go" at Free Digital Photos

In my own teaching practice, I have been wanting to know more about what constitutes an effective reader. As an academic who has completed university degrees, I am obviously an effective reader; being an effective reader doesn’t mean that I naturally or intuitively understand why I am an effective reader. In fact, I believe that most effective readers do not understand why they are effective readers! People who actively create meaning as they read usually do not deconstruct what they are doing to create that meaning, so my experience has been that these effective readers do not understand what’s wrong with those who read the same material and say they do not understand the text that is on the page. “If only they would ‘try harder’, they would get it!” is a thought I am sure has been shared by many an educator that does not understand what is happening with that student who expresses difficulty with the reading.

“They can read the words aloud well enough, so why can’t they understand it?”

There are seven habits that effective readers have developed than non-effective readers need to actively practice to become better readers. Most effective readers required very little teaching as to how to actively create meaning as they read because they internalized the habits easily; however, ineffective readers require more training in how to actively create meaning from text.

They must develop the following six habits:

  1. Predicting
  2. Visualizing
  3. Connecting
  4. Questioning
  5. Clarifying
  6. Evaluating

Note that these six habits do not operate in isolation from one another. Reading is a complicated process that occurs in the mind and is somewhat more elusive than teaching a concrete-physical skill that you can see. It cannot be determined whether a person is a good reader by examining their physical appearance! Being a good reader can only be determined by checking (testing) a person’s understanding of a reading selection. The skill of reading effectively has been deconstructed into these six skills that do overlap and interact with each other.

Implicit and Explicit Information

Information in any text can be stated directly (explicitly) or indirectly (implicitly). When information is implied instead of directly stated, many readers do not recognize the suggested information. Each of the six habits relies on the understanding of implicitly stated information, so it’s a skill that must also be practiced in conjunction with these six habits.

Habits Wordle

1. Predicting

Predicting involves using what you already know about a subject and using what you have just read about a subject to take an educated guess as to what might happen in the near future or distant future within a story. When there is implicitly stated information, or implied information, in a text, the task of predicting is more difficult because the reader must first recognize the implicit information so that he can make a prediction as to what might happen in the future.

Ideas:

  • Read a story aloud to your class and have them answer predicting questions as intervals during the story. I have done this with each student writing their responses in a quiet room (get everyone’s predictions) or aloud with student’s raising their hands to respond to the questions. You will not discover every student’s predicting ability, but you will be providing the class with explanation and discussion of the predictions made by students and why they are legitimate or not. For instance, if the student’s response does not take into account an implicitly stated detail, you have the opportunity to discuss the importance of that detail and why you would draw a particular conclusion based on it.

2. Visualizing

Visualizing involves creating mental pictures as you are reading a text. In a story, there will be descriptions of scenery and setting; characters appearance, emotions and physical reactions; and current plot events and flashbacks. All of these descriptions help the reader to actively create meaning about what is happening as they read. Being able to create pictures in your mind of the story elements mentioned above, helps the reader to understand what is happening in the story. The first step is knowing the basic events that have occurred; the second step is understanding the suggestions that have been made in the text–to understand the ‘deeper meaning’ of the text.

Completing visualization exercises in class is one way to help students become better visualizers, and I have found that students perceive these exercises as FUN! Whatever exercise you create, you should be asking the students to create a picture in their minds and you may want to extend the activity by getting the students to sketch what they see as well. The sketching is not about drawing the perfect picture; it’s about assisting the student to create a more detailed scene in their minds. I have found it to be an enjoyable, relaxing experience.

Ideas:

  • Describe a picture to the class as they try to create a picture of it in their minds (with their eyes closed). You could have them pair-share to describe their mind pictures to each other. Then show the image that you have described to them. Ask them how it’s the same/different from the pictures they created.
  • Try reading a short poem (10-20 lines) that contains visual imagery and ask the students to sketch what they see as you read the poem aloud. I usually read the poem at least three times while completing this exercise.

3. Connecting

Connecting relies on the previous learning and experiences of the reader. If a story involves riding on a subway, the reader could have difficulty visualizing and connecting to the events if the reader has never seen a subway and/or does not know how a subway operates. The reader’s prior learning in this case affects his present understanding of the story. There are three areas of connecting: actual prior experience, and prior reading or viewing on a subject. Actual prior experience is the best because the reader has first-hand knowledge; however, it’s not possible to have first-hand knowledge about every subject. It’s arguable whether prior reading or prior viewing is next best to actual experience since we all have different learning preferences. Viewing a film that contains scenes showing subways or involve a subway give the reader a clear visual as to a subway’s appearance and operation. It may not tell them everything about how a subway operates, but it will be enough to have a better understanding in the future of a text that involves a subway. Reading a text, preferably informational, will serve the same purpose as a film in learning about a new subject.

All your prior learning is called your SCHEMA. Each person’s schema is different because each has had a different life; no two person’s experiences are the same, so each brings a different schema to the new reading. If a person does not have much prior knowledge of general subjects, he will have more difficulty understanding what he has read; however, everyone can increase the size of his schema by learning about new topics and subjects. In the same way that new immigrants to a foreign country must learn the language to communicate, those with a low knowledge base can increase it by learning new things! If your students have low prior learning because of their lack of experience and reading, you can help to develop their connection by teaching them new facts.

Ideas:

  • For instance, when teaching a story about the Great Depression, give the students an outline of what happened in this time period that includes key vocabulary and general facts.
  • You could have the students research about the subject first before you read the story. When they have a greater understanding of the NEW subject, they will have a better understanding of what is happening in the story.

4. Questioning

Asking questions while you read is another reading skill that is important to becoming an effective reader. While reading a text, a reader should have questions while they are reading. Active readers are constantly asking questions without realizing it. The “how” and “why” questions help to focus the reader on what is important in a text. While focusing on those questions, the reader is engaged in the events of the story.

For example, in the novella Of Mice and Men when Lennie and George meet with the boss for the first time, the reader may ask, “Why does the boss find it strange that they travel together (because it’s natural for friends to travel together today)?” Later, when Slim tells George that it’s strange the two of them traveling together, the reader may ask, “Why does everyone in the story think it’s strange that these two guys travel together?” since the modern reader may not know that the transient workers during the Great Depression traveled alone and typically did not have any family. Then after discovering they are not relatives and discovering that Lennie often creates problems for George, the reader may ask, “I wonder why George travels with Lennie) when he could have less trouble if he traveled alone)?” since the reader has now learned that the author is writing about the loneliness of the transient worker during this time period. Steinbeck has numerous themes and purposes in this short novel; however, one of them is to develop the solipsism vs. commitment theme through the separation and loneliness of the characters; Lennie and George are an exception because they are together, but George stays with Lennie because he does not want to be alone like everyone else.

Ideas:

  • Read a story aloud in class, stop at intervals and ask important questions to the class. Discuss responses.
  • Same as above, but when you stop at intervals, ask the students what questions they are asking at this point in the story.
  • Same as above, but when you stop at intervals, get students to write down the questions they are asking at this point in the story.

5. Clarifying

Clarifying quite obviously involves questioning, because if you are making a clarification, you are asking if something is true or if you are correct in making a particular assumption or drawing a particular conclusion. Clarifying is about making the text understood to the reader.

When a reader clarifies, he will likely start by asking a question. For instance, in the story “To Build a Fire” by Jack London, the reader may clarify, “Is the traveler experienced regarding traveling in the extreme cold?” To which, one would respond, “No, remember he is called a ‘chechaquo’ by the narrator which means ‘newcomer’ in Chinook.”

When making a clarification, a reader might reread the text to ensure he understood correctly. For example, the story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson involves not revealing key information until the last couple of paragraphs of the story. Once the surprise is revealed, the reader is compelled to revisit the story to clarify what is now understood. The reader rereads the story with a different perspective that puts the whole purpose and message of the story into context. (If you have not read this story, you must! I won’t ruin it here by telling you the conclusion.)

The reader may also restate what he has read and/or to visualize what has been described to ‘clarify’ his thoughts. Even when a reader is restating or visualizing, he is asking, “What does this mean? What has just occurred in this narrative?”

6. Evaluating

Evaluating occurs before and after reading a text; it involves making judgments about the text before and/or after reading the text, which could be a news article, short story, novel or novel chapter, play, email, script, etc. This skills encourages the reader to make critical judgments about the people (characters) and events, meaning he is forming opinions about the subject or specific situation and events of the text. After making these judgments, the reader may develop new ideas and general conclusions about any given subject: history, politics, sociology, psychology, etc.

Ideas:

  • Create questions that require students to evaluate what they have just read. It’s surprising that students are generally lacking in critical thinking skills because I find that educators tend to consistently ask students to evaluate what they have read. Maybe it’s the development of the other habits that are lacking and and affecting their ability to evaluate what they have read.

Interesting video about the importance of teaching content:

See the Reading Resource Section for a list of useful links that I have collected on the subject of teaching reading strategies to improve student reading.

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