kitchen table math, the sequel: do students learn to read from beginning to end?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

do students learn to read from beginning to end?

from the math and reading thread, EM reports:
I have in fact encountered quite a few SAT students who quite literally don't understand what it is that they're reading.

It has nothing to do with them not producing a particular answer that a teacher has arbitrarily deemed "correct" but rather is a result of their inability to unpack complex syntax, infer meanings that aren't literally spelled out for them, and, astonishingly (at least I was astonished the first time it happened - now I've been desensitized), to read an entire sentence from beginning to end, paying attention to every word, rather than "skimming" it in such a way that they only pick up random words that bear no apparent relationship to one another. If asked to summarize the gist of a reading in their own words, they're often completely lost.

Did I mention that some of these kids have attended elite Manhattan private schools since kindergarten?

At least from what I've seen, the problem isn't as bad as most people think. It's actually a lot worse.
I assume some of the problem can be attributed to balanced literacy reading instruction, which teaches students to move their eyes around the text as they seek clues to help them decipher unknown words. But I don't know, of course.


Must get palisadesk on the case---!

Here is Arthur Whimbey making the same observation.


Allison said...

Anecdotally, I was just told of a high school graduate on her way to college who is about to take some reading program to handle her "dyslexia"--I don't know what that specifically means in this case, but the issue is her reading speed or reading processing speed is slow and the concern is it will interfere with her ability to succeed in college.

I was told that she was told that her reading problems stem from being taught NOT to read linearly. Instead, her eyes literally jump around the text. More, the people who are students doing the adult reading program all have this problem.

Dyslexia? Sounds like dysteachia.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Wow, that Whimbey article is describing exactly what I see. Thank you for posting the link to it. The first time I encountered someone skipping around within a sentence, I thought it was an isolated incident, but I guess it's far more common than I realized.

The relative clause part is really interesting -- I actually never thought of it that way before. I would have assumed that weak readers would miss the question because it wouldn't occur to them to look at the beginning of the sentence (i.e. *before* the word being asked about) for the definition, only after.

That's what I've seen a lot of kids do on the SAT: the find the line or phrase they're supposed to be looking for, then read starting from it, even if it's in the middle of a sentence. It simply doesn't occur to them that the important information could come earlier, and then they roll their eyes when I remind them to read from the beginning of the sentence (because that wastes time). They just don't get that there's often NO other way to answer a question.

Bonnie said...

I think what you are seeing with the SAT kids is simple laziness rather than poor reading skills (though they might also have poor reading skills at the same time). My oldest son is a very strong reader, but he tends to do exactly what you are describing when faced with material he doesn't want to read. I think it is a habit picked up from years of packet instruction. I don't know if other districts do this, but our district is a NY State test powerhouse. The way they accomplish this is via endless reading packets - clumps of worksheets filled with disconnected paragraphs. After each paragraph, they have to answer questions. I've looked at them enough to see that the paragraphs tend to follow patterns. If you pick up the pattern,you can quickly figure out the correct answers while only reading a sentence or two. Especially in the 4th grade, where the test results really count, that is all my son did all year. I am not sure that they ever read any real books.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Some of it is definitely laziness, and some of it is not being accustomed to sustained concentration, but other times i've seen that kids actually don't know how to put meanings together by reading from one end of a sentence to the other. It seems to be a completely foreign concept to them.

I'm not sure it can really be explained by the worksheet issue. A more typical assignment would be to write a précis of an academic article on post-colonial politics written at a comprehension level at least five years above them. (I'm not exaggerating, by the way - this was actually one of my students' assignments). I think it's more likely that they're simply so overwhelmed by being required to apply skills they haven't really mastered (like how to distinguish the main idea of argument from the supporting evidence) that they go into a sort of panic mode and simply seize on random bits of information, hoping that it'll somehow help them.

John said...

Having taken advice from this blog, I bought a set of Primary Mathematics: Challenging Word Problems just over a year ago.
When I showed them to a head teacher friend of mine the other day, not only was he was very impressed with the quality of the maths teaching, he immediately spotted that every question required a careful reading. If the learner doesn't read each one, word by word, it is highly probable that important steps in solving the problem will be left out. As such this approach encourages self-regulation, attentional and perceptual skills.
It seems to me that if learners can be taught these skills from an early age, the skimming-and-missing strategy is far less likely to happen.