Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review

Peter Westwood has written many books on Learning Difficulties and and a well respected leader in the field.

He has recently written a review of my book, "Reading Comprehension: Assisting Children with Learning Difficulties" in the Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties.

He writes: "This book deserves a place on the bookshelf of every teacher and researcher concerned with improving literacy standards. It is undoubtedly the best book on literacy development written in the past several decades."

The full review can be accessed via Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties at

Working Memory Part 8 - Monitoring

Monitoring is an important memory process, it enables learners to develop as self-regulating learners. It keeps tabs on how the thinking is progressing during any learning activity. During reading it is largely guided by the goals set by the learner in the Before reading phase. It may, for example, focus on whether or not the on-line reading is making sense. If, for example, the reading does not make sense then the reader may read back to the beginning of the sentence to regain meaning. If this does not work the reader may choose to sample more of the look and sound of the words in the text or read on to the end of the sentence to sample the the context to gain more cues.

Thus, the monitoring regulates the comprehension strategies used during the reading process and directs the attentional focus in working memory.

To recap on this series - in the COR literacy framework I have indicated (in red) where this monitoring aspect fits.

Before the learning activity (Conceptualise)
  • Attending:  focusing attention on the task and excluding extraneous information.
  • Planning: ordering information (what is known) and prioritising time. This may take the form of writing notes, drawing diagrams, visualising.
  • Goal-setting: prioritising and setting goals for the activity. 
During the learning activity (Organise)
  • Organising: sifting the main ideas from the details,  by shifting and categorising.
  • Encoding: arranging information and linking with background knowledge from long-term memory, encoding and storing information into long-term memory.
  • Monitoring: checking whether the encoding process is making sense and whether the reading or writing strategies are adequate or whether an alternative strategy will work better.
After the learning activity (Reflect)
  • Reviewing: Recollecting the events of a story or the ideas presented in an article.
  • Reorganising: Reframing the recollections in a way that is more meaningful and connected to one's life experience.
  • Reflecting: Thinking about what has been learned and forming an opinion, making judgements, and predicting outcomes.
In summary we basically process text at three thinking levels in each of the three reading phases (before, during, and after).

What can you do to promote monitoring during reading?
  1. Focus on the goals that were set during the before reading phase of the learning activity.
  2. Focus on meaning - comprehension is about constructing meaning.
  3. Give specific feedback.
  4. Model the monitoring process by thinking out loud while reading so that the novice reader can hear what good readers do while reading.
  5. View self-correction as an important part of the reading process - it shows a focus on meaning making.
  6. Give praise but it should always be related to performance goals (set in the before reading phase) and model the way in which the reader should generate self-praise.
  7. Encourage the reader to make self-statements e.g. self-praise statements.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Working Memory Part 7 - Encoding

Encoding is the thinking process that operates during a learning activity. For example, while reading it will involve arranging new information and linking to existing background knowledge stored in long-term memory. It also entails the encoding and storing this new information in long-term memory. This will require the learner to clarify the information being processed by comparing and contrasting the new information with the old information stored in long term memory. This operation takes place at the conceptual level of thinking whereby the reader classifies and makes new or novel connections. The reader does this by linking the information at the local or sentence level together with the ongoing global or thematic representation of the story.

In terms of reading comprehension the reader forms a situation model of the story being read. In other words the reader constructs an overall mental impression of the story as it unfolds. Often efficient readers will make mental pictures as part of this situation model. This may include mental 'snapshots' of various events and impressions throughout the story or alternatively the impressions may be represented as moving images as in a film. This is why people sometimes say that the story "comes alive" or that it was "better than the movie".

Not all children do this as they read. There are a number of reasons as to why they may be unable to do this. One explanation is that the child may be overloading working memory by processing too much information as he/she reads. For example, the child may be attempting to process word text information inefficiently by trying to decode letter by letter. Working memory has a limited capacity and this activity may place a heavy demand on the limited memory resources that are available at any one time. When this happens the reader will not have sufficient resources to image or make a situation model of the story.

What can be done?

  1. Follow my 10 Principles for Assisting Reading
  2. Follow my series on Fluency
  3. Follow my next series on Using Imagination while Reading

All of the above strategies operate at this During reading phase at the conceptual level.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tribute to Maurice Sendak - Died 83

It is fitting to interrupt my series on working memory to remember Maurice Sendak, who died on Tuesday this week.

"Where the Wild Things Are" is one of my favourite children's books. Imagine growing up without this book. This is something that every child should enjoy. I have spent many hours reading this book over and over and over again to my children.

Thank you Maurice, we will miss you!