Some Ideas about Teaching
Reading for Understanding
One of the issues in
teaching Special Needs classes, of course, is reading for understanding.
Beware of just reading through a passage and then proceeding as though they
have understood it all - with SN classes, you have to be very careful that
they have appropriated the meaning.
This is going to be different for different pupils:
1. True dyslexics will have IMMENSE difficulties ploughing through the text
(either because they're dysphonetic - can't easily split the words down into
their phonetic parts - or dyseidetic - can't easily remember words
'on-sight'). But once they have had the words decoded to them they:
a. CAN understand the general meaning of the text,
b. BUT (NB) they can't skim/ scan and locate as well as an ordinary reader.
2. MLD pupils MAY be able to decipher the words and 'read' quite
fluently (or they may not, depending on their balance of deficits) BUT they
can't appropriate the meaning of what they are reading. There is a whole
category of pupils who read beautifully, with inflexion, and seem to
appropriate nothing! Similarly, they may be able to skim and scan quite
impressively, but they don't understand.
3. And then there are the Asperger's and ADD pupils who lost concentration
some where halfway through the passage. Some even seemed to be paying
attention, but their minds were elsewhere!
Particularly for the MLD pupils, I use a strategy which might be described
every which way but'.
This is how to do it:
Choose quite a small section of text.
Then exhaustively ask the pupils 'simple-understanding' questions about what
you have read.
The key is to do this 'every which way but'.
Take the text sentence:
"Karl Marx changed the world."
What could you ask pupils to establish understanding of this, 'every which
Most mainstream history teachers might not even check understanding of this
sentence AT ALL - once the pupils have read it, they will largely assume
it's been appropriated.
With an SN class, I would ask, successively:
- Who changed the world?
- What did Karl Marx change?
- What did Karl Marx do to the world?
The next sentence is longer:
"He said it was wrong that the rich got all the money but the poor did
all the work."
Asked questions? I would ask, one after the other:
- What did he say the rich got?
- What did he say the poor did?
- Who did he say got all the money?
- Who did he think did all the work?
- What did he think was the difference between the rich and the poor?
- What did he say about this state of affairs?
- What did he think was wrong with the world?
- Who said all this?
And in this way I would work on down through the text we have just 'read
round', stripping every sentence for its meaning from every different angle
in this way.
You may say: 'Don't the pupils get incredibly restless?'
Funnily enough, to repeat a point I made earlier, no they don't!!
They ENJOY understanding, and being able to show they understand.
You may get a few funny looks the first time you start to do it, but
eventually the pupils come to love answering correctly, over and over again.
We make these pupils advertise to the world, 5 hours a day, 200 days a year,
that they DON'T know. You'd be surprised how much they appreciate showing
you that they DO!
The 'Q&A every which way but' exercise also teaches them the vital skill of
locating information in a text, and it emphasises the principle (lost on so
many SN pupils) that the answer is in the text(s), NOT somewhere in the
ether. (Just think of how many times, when you ask an SN pupil a question,
their eyes turn upwards - indicating that they are accessing the creative or
logical areas of their brain - and not downwards to seek the answer in their
It is also worth pointing out that, while this helps MLD pupils establish
understanding, it also gives dyslexic pupils practice in scanning, and ADD
pupils practice in paying attention. (To repeat a point made earlier, what
allows one pupil to demonstrate a strength, is re-inforcement/stretching for
Just for practice, the next sentence in my text is:
"He wanted poor people to take power in a revolution."
What questions-to-establish-understanding would you ask of this
sentence, 'every which way but'.
Posted on: Dec 31 2003,