So here is the second install on our series on how to improve a student reading comprehension.
Ask questions to the child which get them to justify their understanding of the text.
In VCE, students need to critically analyse the way language has been used to persuade a given target audience. Students need to clearly justify how and why the language used results in the reader being persuade or not dissuaded from a given issue.
So how do we foster critical analytical skills in the lower year levels so we can better prepare them for the older year levels?
Once again, questions which facilitate the students to justify why they think what they think help to assist the students in developing these more critical analytical skills. Following on from the example above, the question “How do you know Peter Rabbit is sad?” will help the student to justify their opinions. Naturally answers would be “he is sad because he is ‘crying’ and has ‘given himself up for lost’, and only someone who is sad would act and think in such a despairing manner.”
Recently I had a parent ask me about some hints and tips to help improve some her children’s literacy skills to best prepare them for high school English and VCE. I thought that this was a great question to help parents who want to best prepare their kids for learning in the older year levels. Here are three hints and tips you can use with your child while they read a given comprehension text which will ultimately help them to achieve a better understanding of it, but also to foster in them skills which would be of great benefit to them for studies in later years.
Ask questions about the text which get the child to infer meaning from the text.
In VCE students must analyse a text. Plot-based analyses usually do not receive the highest marks for the “Knowledge of the Text” criterion in the text response marking rubric. Generally speaking, students that are able to analyse more subtle aspects of the text (by this I mean they are able to infer meaning from the text which is not understood through a superficial explicit understanding of the text) tend to score higher for “Knowledge of the Text” criterion.
So the question is, how do you have our students develop the skill to read and infer conclusions from the text which are not stated explicitly?
What I recommend you do, and what staff are trained to do at BSLC, is to ask students’ facilitative questions about the text after they have finished reading it. Such facilitative questions are designed to evoke deeper, more profound understanding of the text. Their function is to have students make educated guesses about the text, based on the evidence provided in the reading passage. One example of a simple facilitative question is “Do you think that Peter Rabbit was feeling happy or sad?”. Even though the text may not explicitly state that Peter Rabbit was sad, we can infer that he was as he was “crying” and had “given himself up for the lost”. Here, the student is to look around for evidence which supports the idea that Peter Rabbit was happy or sad and to make an educated guess, based on the surrounding evidence in the passage, that Peter Rabbit was sad. Naturally, inferring aspects of the text is not always so easy. But getting students to think more profoundly through a string of thought-provoking questions is certainly going to assist that child along the way to develop the skill to independently draw conclusion about the text which are not stated on the surface.
Next blog will deal with the second hint you can employ to assist students in their understanding of the text; that of asking questions which assist children to justify the conclusions they have drawn. Please leave comments below.
Having worked in the scholarship and select entry exam preparation field for six years now, I have gained a reputation in the industry as an effective mentor in helping student achieve superior results for creative writing. Here are five simple techniques which your child can apply to better their grades on the creative writing section of the select entry or scholarship exam.
- Use figurative language.
Figurative language is language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation. Some examples of figurative language include metaphors, similes and personification. Firstly, similes refer to when you compare one thing, to another thing, using the words “as” or “like” (i.e. she had eyes as blue as sapphires). Also, metaphors refer to when you compare one thing with another thing WITHOUT using the words “as” or “like” (i.e. she had sapphire blue eyes). Finally, personification relates to when you give human traits to non-human things (i.e the wind sighed through the trees).
- Show, don’t tell.
If you were to say, “she was angry” this does not tell you how angry she was. If you were to show what she looked like when she was angry, then this would help the reader to visualise exactly how angry she was. “Her face went a violent shade of red. She roared like a lion.”
Note that you do not have to stick to the completely visual senses when showing. You should also show with consideration to all the five senses (i.e. sight, sound, taste, touch and smell).
- Have an orientation, dilemma and resolution. The time limit for the Edutest creative writing section is only 15 minutes. Given this very short time limit, it would be very difficult to have a complex plot. Students are encouraged to have a simple plot with a modest orientation (i.e. show the who, what, where and when of the piece), dilemma (i.e. show a problem or difficulty which the character must overcome) and resolution (i.e. show your character overcoming the problem with which they were confronted).
- Pre-write a setting, character, and characters’ emotions.
Given the highly timed nature of select entry and scholarship exams, students should consider pre-writing some of their characters, settings and their emotions before they enter the examination room. This would be beneficial as children would not have to waste time generating original, innovative content on the spot.
- Pre-write the plot.
Students will generally be given a worded or visual prompt to respond to in the exam. The child is advised to have a plot that they like decided upon before going into the examination (one, preferably with a twist as this demonstrates a more complex understanding of plot development).
Let’s say the prompt is a picture of a vase. The plot could be about a mother telling her son not to play ball inside the house as she thinks he will kick the ball and brake the vase. The son arrogantly states that he is a pro at ball and therefore could never brake the vase. The mother leaves and he continues kicking the ball about the house. Suddenly he brakes the vase. He starts getting more and more anxious and crying thinking of how he was going to explain this debacle to his mother. As he is disposing of the remains of the vase, his mother walks in and catches him red-handed. Here, he becomes frantically apologetic. His mum laughs. Confused, the son learns that his mother was certain that he was going to brake the vase and replaced it with a decoy vase which meant nothing to her.
This same plot could be reused if the topic is a picture of a coat. The plot could be about a mother telling her daughter not to wear her coat, and the daughter does it anyway. She ends up ruining the coat. The twist is that the coat was a decoy planted by the mother.
Say the scholarship or select entry exam depict a visual prompt of X (where X represents absolutely anything the scholarship or select entry people have depicted in the prompt). Say Mr Smith tells his son not to play ball inside as he is worried that his son might ruin his beautiful hand painted portrait of X. The son then plays inside and accidentally ruins the painting. The twist is that the painting was decoy as the father was certain that the son would disobey his wishes.
Notice how the above plots are essentially the same with minor material differences. In this way, a child can quickly plan a sophisticated story plot in an ACER or Edutest examination context.
For more in depth hints and tips on how to improve your child’s chances of scoring a high mark on ACER and select entrance exams, please contact us.