11/17/2009

How can we help kids like Tanya?

I was talking to a grad student and former teacher about problems like Tanya's today, and asked her what she would do to help such a child. She told me she taught her 4th grade students to circle the words who/what/when/why/where/how when it appeared, underline key vocab words in the question, and make a note when multiple items need to be mentioned (i.e., the three in "give three examples of traits produced by natural selection"). This reminds me of how I used to circle or underline the word "not" when it appeared so I wouldn't answer a question backward. I wish I had known her other tips as a student.

Here are some benefits of her approach for students like Tanya:
  1. It tells them what sort of words are important for comprehension--the "w" questions, certain sorts of vocab words, and the number of examples to give. For young students just learning to look for these things, it fosters thinking habits needed for reading comprehension. (When they get used to thinking this way, the circling/underlining will be unnecessary and will seem gimmicky).
  2. If they have to circle or underline it, they will be more likely to pay attention to it.
  3. As a result, they are more likely to answer the exact question being asked, and not some tangentially related one (a common mistake).
  4. It slows them down. This in itself should reduce the number of "stupid mistakes."
  5. It prevents them from misreading words (i.e., reading "fovea" instead of "retina").
For the teachers and clinicians among you: have you tried things like this, and have they worked? What else do you do to help students understand test and homework questions as written?

For the rest of you, did your teachers do anything like this, and did it help?