Reading and Using Sources

Key Reading Strategies of Good Readers that can be modeled

Reading and Using Sources

Part I: Key Reading Strategies of Good Readers that can be modeled

The observations and suggestions in this section are summarized from:

Dole, Janice A., Gerald G. Duffy, Laura R. Roehler, and P. David Pearson. “Moving From the Old to the New: Research on Reading Comprehension Instruction.” Review of Educational Research 61.2 (1991): 239-64. JSTOR. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

The authors found five key strategies in the research that should be taught in order to develop metacognition in composition:

  1. Telling the important from the unimportant. Good readers find the gist of a source in three ways:

    1. Using both “their general world knowledge and domain-specific knowledge” to evaluate the source (243).

    2. Using what they know of “author biases, intentions, and goals” (243).

    3. Using their understanding of the way sources are organized to locate key points.

  1. Putting together a summary. Writing a summary draws on the student’s understanding of the text, her abilities to sort out the important from the unimportant, and her abilities to put those things together into a new piece of writing.

  1. Making inferences. As we read, we must combine what is on the page with what we can infer. The authors cite several studies by Raphael et al, in which students were able to better comprehend sources when they were encouraged to “decide whether a question must be answered with their prior knowledge alone or with a combination of prior knowledge and text information” (245)

KEY POINT: we cannot separate inferences from “literal comprehension.” In other words, it doesn’t work to say: “you need to get the facts straight before you can reason beyond the text” (246) as in fact the research does not support delaying inferences.

  1. Formulating their own questions. While teacher-based questions are the norm, encouraging students to ask their own questions and modeling the kinds of questions they might ask about a source can help comprehension.

  1. Staying on top of their comprehension strategies. Good readers are able to perform “comprehension monitoring,” “being aware of the quality and the degree of one’s understanding and knowing what to do and how to do it when one discovers comprehension failures” (247). And they have strategies that help them address those failures, such as: focusing more time and energy on a more difficult text or part of a text an looking back at the text. They also display flexibility, trying more than one strategy.

KEY POINT: There are several places when reading comprehension often breaks down:

    1. When what we are reading does not square with what we know (or with what we think we know)

    2. When we do not have enough background information to grasp the text.

    3. Less expert readers also sometimes encounter problems when “they misread words or phrases and become aware of an inconsistency between what they heard themselves say and their emerging model of meaning of the text” (247).

Part II: Notes on Vocabulary Strategies and Using Multiple Sources

The observations and suggestions in this section are summarized from:

Simpson, Michele L., Norman A. Stahl, and Michelle Anderson Francis. “Reading and Learning Strategies: Recommendations for the 21st Century.” Journal of Developmental Education 28.2 (2004). Web. 10 Mar. 2013.


Using a memorization approach focused around vocabulary tests tends to be unsuccessful because students learn the words for the tests but forget them afterwards.

Better approaches encourage students to gain a deeper understanding of the words and to practice using the words:

  1. Vocabulary should be built using additive and generative techniques:

    1. Additive approaches build vocabulary using context and students should be allowed to suggest which words to focus on.

    2. Generative methods focus on helping students learn the tools of mastering vocabulary such as using prefixes, suffixes, and roots, as well as how to both look up a word in a dictionary and how to read a dictionary entry.

  1. Students should be allowed to “experiment with the targeted words in low-risk situations” before they use the words in writing or on tests.

  1. Students need multiple exposures to words so vocabulary should be cumulatively evaluated, not just covered once.

Multiple Sources

Because students are expected to synthesize and analyze more than one source, often bringing together primary and secondary sources that disagree, students need practice working with these sources and their differences.

  1. Faculty may need to bring together their own thematic units by gathering primary sources that show differences so that students can practice noting differences, omissions, biases, etc.
  2. Faculty should explicitly teach how experts read difficult sources. The authors cite Wineberg’s (1998) findings that experts employ three essential tasks: corroboration, sourcing, and contextualization. These three tasks can be fostered in students in the following ways:
  3. Corroboration (comparing/contrasting texts) can be worked on using Burrell and McAlexander (1998)’s idea of “synthesis journals” in which students summarize the sources on one side, their own reactions on the opposite side, and then use the center of the page to write “an overall generalization that summarizes and synthesizes everything they have read and discussed.”

  4. Sourcing (analyzing sources and considering bias) can be tackled using questions about the authority of the author, the reliability of her sources, and the author’s purpose in writing the text.

  5. Contexualization (placing the source in time and space to understand how these contexts affect the author’s approach to the topic) can be addressed by asking students to ACTUALLY read the introductions that preface the readings and by helping them to formulate questions about the time period and attitudes prevalent in that time period.