Teaching Comprehension: When Graphic Organizers Don’t Work

Despite the vast array of graphic organizers used to visually organize comprehension strategies, what seems like a logical and insightful organizational strategy to some is meaningless to others.

When our best efforts to involve students in organizational strategies fails, it’s time to summon up our “educator’s resilience” by rethinking our approach and revisiting what we know. The first step is to move away from traditional graphic organizers.

The following sequence is intended to encourage the learner to experience of what it feels like to organize their thoughts as they gather, organize and understand new information.

1. Provide an opportunity for the learner to acknowledge the known: Start with a conversation: What is this learner interested in? Regardless of the interest (soccer, video games, fashion, food, music, animals, etc. etc.), ask the learner to tell you about it. As the learner describes the interest, ask questions about the learner’s interest. For example:

– How do you know that?

–  Why is that?

– Is that similar to . . . ?

– Have you ever wondered if . . .?

These questions provide a subtle model of the types of questions one asks when gathering information from text.

2. Build on what is known with an audio and visual search for new information:

  • Ask the learner to find some images that illustrate the topic of interest, search the images for information that is already known and search again for additional information that is new.
  • Find a short audio or video recording of the topic. Ask the learner to listen / view and search for information that is known and for additional information that is new.
  • Tell the learner why you’re doing this: to get a sense of what it feels like to acknowledge what they knew and use that information as the foundation of the search for new information.

3. Provide an opportunity for the learner to read about the interest:

  • Find a text about the learner’s topic of interest.  NOTE: A text that is too difficult focuses so much of the learner’s cognitive energy on word solving that there’s little left for comprehension, so make sure the difficulty level of the text matches the student’s reading level. (If no such text is available, you may have to rewrite difficult text to match the learner’s reading level.)
  • The goal for the first reading is to find information about what is already known. The “known” can be noted orally, highlighted, marked with a post it arrow.
  • The goal for the next reading is to find new information. The “new” can be noted orally, highlighted or marked with a different color post it arrow.
  • Tell the learner why you’re doing this: to see as well as feel how the known is the foundation of the new.

   4. Provide a variety of opportunities to practice

  • Work through this sequence a few more times with a variety of topics of interest presented through a variety of mediums –  audio, visual, and text.
  • As the learner becomes more comfortable with this process, work with the learner to construct a personalized method of recording the known and the new. Don’t fall back on graphic organizers that have been tried in the past.
  •  Tell the learner why you’re doing this: to construct a meaningful method of gathering and organizing information so it can be used at a later date.

5. Monitor the learner’s progress.

  • Have ongoing conversations about the topics of interest and continue ask questions that require the learner to connect the known and the new.
  • Provide feedback about progress made and links to next steps.

If this sounds a bit simplistic, that’s the intent. We’re convinced that the most effective instruction guides the learner from acknowledging what is known and using that as a foundation for exploring and gathering information about the new.

For more professional conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at Beyondtheapplecontact@gmail.com







About Beyond The Apple

Beyond the Apple provides everything a Professional Learning Community needs! Designed to follow Beyond the Apple's Tenets of Adult Education, our videos re-ignite the excitement of professional conversations among educators in the classroom, university, colleges and professional training. Our free teaching and learning resources provide a follow up with more information that is current, research based and practical.
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