“Did you read chapter?”
“Yeah, I read it.” Yet the pages are blank and the student offers little to the class discussion on the text. If this sounds familiar, it is because increasingly students and teachers mean very different things when they name the learning activity “read.”
When a student says “I read,” he or she means that their eye balls crossed the page from left to right and top to bottom. Individual words were all very familiar and the pages turned. However, what does a teacher mean when she or he asks, “did you read?”
Teachers beware the widening difference in the language of learning. A 14 year old freshman girl reconfirmed this supposition during a casual conversation in the dining hall.
“I really like math. Reading is OK. You know, I read texts. I got this. Besides, they have computer programs that will read my books to me, so…” Functional literacy vs deep thinking.
So, what do teachers mean when they say read? Most likely they mean a myriad of cognitive and physical tasks – understand all of the words or stop to look up a few key words that were unfamiliar, ask a question of the author or a simple clarification question, make any connections between this reading and other readings or life experiences, agree or disagree with the author’s premise or the character’s actions, summarize events to self-monitor for understanding. Notes were taken and dictionaries were opened. That one word – read – represents a whole series of distinct cognitive, or critical thought, processes. Read is a loaded word – as it should be.
Our opportunity as teachers is to help students re-define the term read. Assume less and coach more. Another way is to find a more precise word for the learning task. The synonyms for read include recite, deliver and speak while the synonyms for comprehend include know, realize, and follow.
Next time you begin the discussion, consider the question, “Did you comprehend the text?” Even better, consider a question that requires more than a yes or no answer.
What’s in a name? A terrible lot as it turns out – just ask Juliet & Romeo.