The key to literacy is reading comprehension. The ability to determine an author’s main point and supporting arguments is the first step in critically engaging with a text. However, reading comprehension can be a difficult skill to develop in students. One way of developing effective reading skills in students is to use metacognitive strategies to create an awareness of their own thinking. Instructional strategies that require students to self-monitor their comprehension as they read allows students to realize when they no longer understand what they are reading and the steps they can take to remedy that. While many students may develop metacognitive reading strategies on their own, such skills can easily be taught, ensuring that all students are given the skills they need to become successful readers.
Plan, Monitor, Evaluate
The first step in alerting students to their own thinking is to break down the reading process into three stages. The Plan, Monitor, Evaluate model asks students to be mindful of their own reading comprehension before, during, and after they read any given text. During the planning stage, students prepare themselves for the content of a text. Teach them to read the title, scan the text for headlines or bolded words, look at the table of contents, and focus on pictures, graphs, illustrations and captions. Once students have completed this preliminary stage, have them ask themselves what they think the topic of the reading will be. Making inferences about content based on connections between what they have reviewed and their prior knowledge teaches students how to use what they know to contextualize what they are learning.
While students read, they should be prepared to monitor themselves by using a variety of strategies. Have students write their thoughts in the margins or on sticky notes. This exercise allows students to actually see their thinking process laid out in front of them. Any lapses in concentration will become clear as students work their way through a text. Once students are aware of where they became confused, they can address the reasons. Another way of monitoring comprehension is to have students pause after a certain number of paragraphs and write their predictions about what the next part of the text will be about. Similar to the predictions and inferences made in the planning phase, the inferences students make while they read will force them to remain focused on what they are reading and prevent their minds from wandering.
When students have finished reading, they can evaluate the information retained from the text. Looking back at the strategies that they used helps students determine which ones worked best. Have students review the notes they wrote in the margins of their text. Did they identify thoughts that were irrelevant to the text? Why was that? How can they avoid writing irrelevant thoughts as they move forward? In addition, have students evaluate the note-taking strategy itself. Did they find they were able to better concentrate when they recorded their thoughts in writing? Was it distracting for any students? Evaluating the effectiveness of any strategy is an important part of developing successful reading habits.
While the Plan, Monitor, Evaluate method is particularly useful for nonfiction texts, visualization exercises are useful metacognitive strategies for the interpretation of literary texts. These exercises ask students to examine the mental images that are evoked by a particular piece of writing. These images may further inspire certain emotions and feelings. Have students draw a picture showing how they feel after reading a certain text, allowing it to be as abstract as they want. This will help students connect with what they are reading, which can help with focus and recall.