I don’t comprehend.

Comprehension. That’s what we were talking about at a teachers meeting this afternoon. The staff at the high school where I teach was discussing how we can improve the English comprehension of our students.

Somebody thought I had the answer. Of course, they were wrong.

But, being the resident native English speaker, I had some insight to share, and share I did. Having read a little about this subject recently, and having the Internet at my fingertips, I put together a small program for testing the students’ ability to absorb the concept, then reported my findings to this meeting. It was fun to do.

Turns out, the government (that would be the US Federal government) has studied this problem a great deal. See http://dww.ed.gov  for starters. That’s Doing What Works in Education. They suggest we should teach comprehension, not just test for it. How do ya’ do that? They say we should make the students aware of the tools they already use without thinking.

It works this way. Suppose you’re reading an article on a subject you really enjoy. Before you know it, your mind is engaging thoughts about how you could use the information you’re reading; or perhaps if it’s an article about a place, you’re already there in your mind. That’s a phenomenon called reader response in the field of literature appreciation. You’ve experienced it yourself — we all have — as you read a poem you see in your mind’s eye the setting of the poem and you feel the emotion of the character. All I have to do is to type Treasure Island and your brain is already on some sandy beach somewhere with a shovel and several pirates. The trick in increasing comprehension is to increase comprehension of boring subjects. We “get” the interesting stuff right away. The solution is simple: Use on purpose the same tools we already use automatically. Our job is to show the students what they’re doing (actually teach them what they’re already doing) so they can do these things with any material they read.

Reading further, I discovered that the method of teaching is almost exactly the same way I’ve been taught to teach English language skills. With that similarity at hand, I was able to discuss it easily with the other teachers. We’ll see if this process can be accomplished, and with what success.