Friday, 16 March 2018

Reading Strategies vs. Reading Skills - What's The Difference?

Reading Strategies vs. Reading Skills - What's The Difference?
After my last post about reading (Should We Teach Reading Strategies In Isolation Or In Combination?) I was led to think more clearly about what exactly I meant by strategies. Martin Galway challenged me on my potential year 6 bias (i.e. teaching to help children access the KS2 tests) when discussing strategies. When talking about teaching reading comprehension strategies in isolation did I actually mean teaching the skills that the SATs assess (as laid out in the KS2 Test Framework document)? On reflection, I probably was thinking more about giving children practise of answering specific types of questions similar to those found in the tests rather than the widely-accepted comprehension strategies laid out in documents such as the EEF KS2 Literacy Guidance or the IES Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade guide.

Why had I not distinguished well enough between the areas of the content domain and the most commonly-known reading strategies? Probably because some of them are similar (words in bold are comprehension strategies, words in brackets are areas of the content domain as laid out by the English reading test framework):
  • Prediction (2e predict what might happen from details stated and implied)
  • Questioning
  • Clarifying/Monitoring/Fix-up (2a give/explain the meaning of words in context; 2g identify/explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases; 2f identify/explain how information/narrative content is related and contributes to meaning as a whole)
  • Summarising/Retelling (2c summarise main ideas from more than one paragraph)
  • Inference (2d make inferences from the text / explain and justify inferences with evidence from the text)
  • Activating prior knowledge
  • Visualisation
There were two questions I had to answer:
  1. What is the difference between a strategy and a skill?
  2. Is there a way to teach comprehension strategies that prepares children well for the KS2 reading test?
What is the difference between a strategy and a skill?

In answering my first question a couple of documents were useful:
  1. Clarifying Differences Between Reading Skills and Reading Strategies - Peter Afflerbach, P. David Pearson, Scott G. Paris
  2. Reading Strategies Versus Reading Skills: Two Faces of the Same Coin - Polyxeni Manoli, Maria Papadopoulou
A quotation from Afflerbach et al to summarise the conclusions of both papers:

"A concrete example may clarify the distinction. Suppose a student determines he or she has only a vague understanding of a paragraph as he or she reaches the end of it. The student wants to do something to clarify his or her comprehension so the student slows down and asks, “Does that make sense?” after every sentence. This is a reading strategy—a deliberate, conscious, metacognitive act. The strategy is prompted by the student’s vague feeling of poor comprehension, and it is characterized by a slower rate of reading and a deliberate act of self-questioning that serves the student’s goal of monitoring and building better comprehension. Now imagine that the strategy works and the student continues to use it throughout the school year. With months of practice, the strategy requires less deliberate attention, and the student uses it more quickly and more efficiently. When it becomes effortless and automatic (i.e., the student is in the habit of asking “Does that make sense?” automatically), the reading strategy has become a reading skill. In this developmental example, skill and strategy differ in their intentionality and their automatic and nonautomatic status." (p368)

And one from Manoli and Papadopoulou:

"After all, we should bear in mind that, while automatic use of reading skills is a goal of reading instruction, a reading skill was once preceded by a period of deliberate and conscious application (Afflerbach et al., 2008). Thus, we can consider their relation to be two faces of the same coin, that is two sides of any reading process or task, since skills are strategies that have become automatic through practice whereas strategies 'are skills under consideration' (Paris et al.,1983: 295)."

So, by teaching strategies we develop skills. Strategies are used deliberately and skills are used automatically. During a KS2 reading test children might use strategies deliberately in order to answer questions or they might demonstrate that they possess particular reading skills by answering questions without much deliberate thought. There is a reason why the skills tested by the tests are similar to the strategies that can be taught to aid comprehension: in teaching those strategies, children gain those skills.

In their article Afflerbach et al touch upon the focus of my last blog post:

"Teaching skills involves practice and feedback to improve speed and efficiency, which taken together amount to what we call fluency. One challenge for teachers of reading is fully investigating the strategy–skill connection and determining how an effortful strategy can become an automatic skillA related challenge is designing instruction that makes clear the steps of strategies while providing practice so that strategies may transform themselves into skills." (p372)

We want children to gain reading skills and to do this we teach them strategies. As teachers it is important that we engage in this challenge of planning our teaching so that strategies are taught well - the word challenge is telling: this is not an easy task and it is one we must put a lot of thought into. Simply turning up to a lesson and reading a book is not going to develop necessary reading skills in all children. I would also continue to argue that teaching a reading lesson where a range of strategies are expected to be used, or a range of skills are expected to be demonstrated, to children who do not yet know how to use those strategies or demonstrate those skills is going to have little impact on their development of strategies and skills. As such, I still believe that, for children such as these, strategies should be taught in isolation until they become skills at which point they can begin to employ a multi-strategy/skill approach when reading.

To find out the answer to me second question, follow this link: Is there a way to teach comprehension strategies that prepares children well for the KS2 reading test?

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