All About Adolescent Literacy

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Cognitive Strategies Toolkit

This article describes eight cognitive strategies — including monitoring, tapping prior knowledge, and making predictions — to help readers develop their comprehension skills.

Cognitive strategy instruction develops the thinking skills that will make students strategic, flexible learners. People use such strategies all the time, like writing a note to remember an important fact. For some students, cognitive strategies must be explicitly taught so they will be able to consciously think, "This is the information I want, and this is the tool I can use to get it." Students must also have multiple opportunities to practice cognitive strategies. Thus, strategies become power tools, with greater flexibility.

The following toolkit was developed for teachers of English Language Learners participating in a California Writing Project study of the Pathway Project. It describes eight tools that every adolescent and adult reader should have at hand.

Cognitive Strategies: A Toolkit for Readers
Planning and Goal Setting
  • Developing procedural and substantive plans
  • Creating and setting goals
  • Establishing a purpose
  • Determining priorities
Tapping Prior Knowledge
  • Mobilizing knowledge
  • Searching existing schemata
Asking Questions and Making Predictions
  • Generating questions re: topic, genre, author/audience, purpose, etc.
  • Finding a focus/directing attention
  • Predicting what will happen next
  • Fostering forward momentum
  • Establishing focal points for confirming or revising meaning
Constructing the Gist
  • Visualizing
  • Making connections
  • Forming preliminary interpretations
  • Identifying main ideas
  • Organizing information
  • Expanding schemata
  • Adopting an alignment
Monitoring
  • Directing the cognitive process
  • Regulating the kind and duration of activities
  • Confirming reader/writer is on track
  • Signaling the need for fix up strategies
Revising Meaning: Reconstructing the Draft
  • Backtracking
  • Revising meaning
  • Seeking validation for interpretations
  • Analyzing text closely/digging deeper
  • Analyzing author's craft
Reflecting and Relating
  • Stepping back
  • Taking stock
  • Rethinking what one knows
  • Formulating guidelines for personal ways of living
Evaluating
  • Reviewing
  • Asking questions
  • Evaluating/assessing quality
  • Forming criticisms
Note: From Olson, 2003, p. 8. Adapted from Flower and Hayes (1981); Langer (1989); Paris, Wasik and Turner (1991); Tierney and Pearson (1983); and Tompkins (1997).

Following is a list of sentence starters to help students access the strategies. The author of Pathway Project study explains,

In addition to declarative knowledge, students need also to develop the procedural knowledge of how to implement the strategies on their own as well as the conditional knowledge of when, why, and for how long to access the strategies in their tool kits as independent readers and writers. To foster such knowledge and to provide students with practice in using the cognitive strategies during teacher assigned and, especially student-selected reading, Pathway teachers also supplied students with the sentence openers shown to use in dialectical journals and in marginal notes in response to texts. These sentence starters later became guidelines for students as they met in writing groups to comment upon each other's writing.
Cognitive Strategies Sentence Starters
Planning and Goal Setting
  • My purpose is…
  • My top priority is…
  • To accomplish my goal, I plan to…
Tapping Prior Knowledge
  • I already know that…
  • This reminds me of…
  • This relates to…
Asking Questions
  • I wonder why…
  • What if…
  • How come…
Predicting
  • I'll bet that…
  • I think…
  • If, then…
Visualizing
  • I can picture…
  • In my mind I see…
  • If this were a movie…
Making Connections
  • This reminds me of…
  • I experienced this once when…
  • I can relate to this because…
Summarizing
  • The basic gist…
  • The key information is…
  • In a nutshell, this says that…
Adopting an Alignment
  • The character I most identify with is…
  • I really got into the story when…
  • I can relate to this author because…
Forming Interpretations
  • What this means to me is…
  • I think this represents…
  • The idea I'm getting is…
Monitoring
  • I got lost here because…
  • I need to reread the part where…
  • I know I'm on the right track because…
Clarifying
  • To understand better, I need to know more about…
  • Something that is still not clear is…
  • I'm guessing that this means, but I need to…
Revising Meaning
  • At first I thought, but now I…
  • My latest thought about this is…
  • I'm getting a different picture here because…
Analyzing the Author's Craft
  • A golden line for me is…
  • This word/phrase stands out for me because…
  • I like how the author uses to show…
Reflecting and Relating
  • So, the big idea is…
  • A conclusion I'm drawing is…
  • This is relevant to my life because…
Evaluating
  • I like/don't like because…
  • This could be more effective if…
  • The most important message is…
Note: From Olson, 2003, p. 8. Adapted from Flower and Hayes (1981); Langer (1989); Paris, Wasik and Turner (1991); Tierney and Pearson (1983); and Tompkins (1997).

References

References

Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

Olson, C.B. (2003). The reading/writing connection: Strategies for teaching and learning in the secondary classroom. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Flower, L., & Hayes, J.R. (1981a). A cognitive process theory of writing. College Composition and Communication, 32, 365-387.

Flower, L., & Hayes, J.R. (1981b). Plans that guide the composing process. In C.H. Frederikesen & J.H. Dominic (Eds.), Writing: The nature, development, and teaching of written communication (Vol. 2, pp. 39-58). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Langer, J.A., & Applebee, A.N. (1986). Reading and writing instruction: Toward a theory of teaching and learning. In E.Z. Rothkopf (Ed.), Review of research in education (Vol. 13, pp. 171-179). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Paris, S.G., Wasik, B.A., & Turner, J.C. (1991). The development of strategic readers. In R. Barr, M.L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P.D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research, (Vol. 2, pp. 609-640). New York: Longman.

Tierney, R.J., & Pearson, P.D. (1983). Toward a composing model of reading. Language Arts, 60, 568-580.

Tompkins, G.E. (1997). Literacy for the 21-century: A balanced approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Excerpted with permission from the National Council of Teachers of English. Olson, C.B. and Land, R. (2007). A Cognitive Strategies Approach to Reading and Writing Instruction for English Language Learners in Secondary School. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(3), http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/rte/articles/126617.htm.

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