Comprehension Meets Critical Thinking

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BlogPostGraphic_ComprehensionMeetsBy Laureen Reynolds, SDE Presenter

Last month I wrote about using great books to take students beyond just sequencing and retelling as signals of their reading and listening comprehension. I promised then that we’d get a little more specific this time around, so here we go!

Your very first step after finding some fabulous books is to think about the kinds of questions you are asking students to answer about the texts you read. One of our goals, as educators should be to continually build students’ higher-order and critical thinking skills.

Higher order thinking has many definitions depending on who you ask. To keep things simple let’s say that higher order thinking asks children to go beyond regurgitating information, beyond questions that require a yes or no answer. It pushes children to think about how, why, and what if? Just knowing isn’t enough. It asks students to take what they know and do something with it. Some folks combine it with the term “critical thinking” which is associated with the 21st century skills necessary for college and career readiness. No matter what you call it, getting students to think more deeply about what they are reading is a good thing. Here are some question stems to get you started:

How might you classify…?
What qualities/characteristics…?
How would you compare…?
How is ___ an example of…?
How could you improve…?
What more can you say about…?
What connections can you make between…?
If you were a reporter how would you describe…?
How does ___ effect ___?
If you changed ___, what might happen?
What is your opinion about…? Why do you think that?
What are the positive and negative aspects of…?
What factors might explain…?
What is the significance of…?
What observations did you make about…?
What is your theory about…?
If you were going to guess…?
What are some possible solutions to…?
How could you draw…?
What symbol best represents…?

You might notice that these kinds of questions require students to think way beyond what happened first or what color something was. That’s the whole point. This is not an exhaustive list, by the way, just something to get your brains juicing a bit. Even adding the simple question: Why? into any discussion you’re having with students, will get them thinking more deeply.

The good news her, besides the fact that students are really having to think, is that you are likely addressing some speaking and listening expectations found in your standards. When we ask student to expand an answer, agree or disagree with another, justify their thoughts, we are getting more students in on the action with every question. They’re listening to their peers and deciding what their personal response might be and how it relates to what others are saying.

Along these same lines is another technique I like to get students talking about shared text. It’s super easy, but definitely a change of habit for most of us. If, while reading to your class, a student has a question. Seems likely, right? Now think about what you do with that question. Most of us would happily answer it hoping to increase that students’ comprehension of what’s being read. Sound plausible? Sure. But here’s what I want you to do: instead of being the ‘sage on the stage’ and answering the question, become the ‘guide on the side’ and throw the question out to the rest of the group. If you answer the question, no one is doing very much thinking. However, if you put the onus on other students to provide a response or hypothesis, almost everyone is doing some thinking. Better yet, ask a few students to give their thoughts to spur the thinking, listening, and speaking spectacular.

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