Description of During Reading Part I
____________________________________________________________________________________When assigning a reading assignment, the objective is not merely the act of reading but the comprehension of the text by the reader. Comprehension can best be described as: "The act of constructing meaning." Comprehension is a verb, an action, an activity. As such, it is something that must be demonstrated to students. During comprehension, connections are formed between information and the student. The great question then becomes: "How do we insure our students comprehend?"
Two good ways are questioning and text structure. In order to ask effective questions, one must be aware of the three states of information. These states are:
Literal: Information that is explicitly stated in the text.
Interpretive: Information that is implicitly conveyed through the text.
Application: Information that is beyond the text.
By formulating questions that address these three types of information, the teacher can gauge the amount of comprehension the student has achieved.
Application in History
Reading is a fundamental part of the study of history. History without text is merely conjecture. In order for history to be relevant subject matter, it must have direct application to current affairs. Merely being associated with the present by being the past is not enough to warrant the study of history. Events and people in history must have a direct application to events and people in the present. It is through the relationships that develop between man and economy or States and gender or commodities and society that we began to see the multiple causality of events. Multiple causality, relationships, the interrelations of time and space are the real lessons of history. When history is reduced to names and dates it becomes irrelevant and thus expendable.
In previous blogs I have explored cotton in the construction and destabilization of the South's economy. A literal question would determine whether or not the student had read the material and could locate information within the text. An example follows:
What did Eli Whitney invent?
This question addresses a key component of the text. The answer, the cotton gin, is one of the main topics of the discussions. If the student has not identified the cotton gin within the text then it is necessary to re-teach, re-read, or at the very least, review the material. Literal questions tend to determine levels of retention, but not high level comprehension.
The next type of question would be interpretive. An example follows:
Did Eli Whitney live in the nineteenth or twentieth century?
The preceding question addresses another key component of the text, the time period. However, the text never explicitly states when Eli Whitney lives. In order to discern this information a student must "read between the lines." Since the text places the invention of the cotton gin before the start of the Civil War and the Civil War was from 1861-1865, the answer would have to be: nineteenth. The purpose of questions like these is that they demonstrate that the student is making connections between various pieces of information in the text that aren't explicitly tied together. Interpretive questions give the teacher the opportunity to explore the level of comprehension the student has achieved and check for understanding.
The third level is application. An application question asks the student to take a concept, derived from the text, and apply it to another piece of information outside of the text and show the relationship. This is the highest level of comprehension and evidence that the student is fully comprehending the text. An example follows:
How is the blockade of the South in 1861 similar to the financial and trade embargo enacted by the United States on Cuba in 1961?
This question asks the student to take both literal and interpretive knowledge from their text and compare it to an outside event, in this case: the embargo of Cuba. The purpose of a question like this is to encourage students to think critically and determine relationships between information and concepts. In the case of this particular question, the ties between economy and political stability is explored. The embargo of Cuba, just as the blockade of the South, greatly destabilized the economy. The ultimate effects of both acts was a reconfiguration of the agricultural sector. In Cuba, the commodity was sugar, in the South, cotton. By asking the students to concentrate on the similarities, rather than the differences, the teacher encourages examination, by the student, of "big picture" thinking.
Ultimately, all three styles of questions are necessary. It is impossible to answer an application question if the literal questions haven't been addressed. By utilizing reading guides that address the three types of comprehension, the teacher can identify and encourage comprehension.