Harvard Expert Dr. Louisa Moats Introduces Educators to the Reading Rope at the Windward School
The Windward School under the expert leadership of Dr. Jay Russell recently held its annual conference. Dr. L,ouisa Moats spoke at the Windward School in White Plains, N.Y. and presented “Reading like a Detective: The Essence of Comprehension.” The new Common Core Standards for Reading and Language are not likely far removed from a collective anxiety over upcoming September lesson plans, Dr. Moats said to the audience of approximately 500 educators and parents.
The deep understanding the Common Core is aiming for means students must be able to analyze and synthesize complex texts and summarize the central ideas fluently. “A lofty expectation,” she said, “but how do you get there by high school.” She referred the audience to Scarborough’s Reading Rope as a primer. “It scientifically analyzes measurable areas of deficiency and allows teachers to develop strategies to address them,” she said.
In this, the Vanderbilt and Harvard educated teacher, psychologist and author elevated the importance of being able to fill in the gaps between the actual words and the ideas the writer expects the reader to infer. She used a Stuart Little passage to demonstrate the deficiency poor readers have in distinguishing between what’s referred to as the “surface code” and the “text base.”
The troublesome mouse “laces up his skates” after a long indoor bound bout of “bronchitis” and hits the sidewalk but “doesn’t get far” before being faced down by an “Irish Terrier.” He then must “shinny” up for his life, landing in a garbage can using a “celery grove” as cover. A weak reader might not know what Bronchitis is — thus missing the eager abandonment Stuart has for setting his sights on a nearby pond. She then may misinterpret “not getting far” as a measure of distance rather than the obvious threat an “Irish terrier” presents and the urgency demonstrated in a “shinny.” Finally, not catching how a leafy “celery grove” suits the mealy mouse as camouflage paints the full picture of Stuart’s desperate situation. “How much meaning would be lost if you don’t get reference from the text base,” she asked.
The same question arises when a child’s background knowledge is taken into account. “The less you bring to a text, the less you get out of it,” she said. Conversely, knowledge serves as a framework in which new information can be slotted in among the old. As a result, she says, “A mental web of facts and ideas are constructed as we read.”
Nonetheless, common core recommends that time shouldn’t be wasted on background. “Don’t listen to that,” said Dr. Moats.
Making time, as might be expected, means that your lesson plan must read like a detective. In other words, lose the workbook and be an active reading guide by providing an ongoing Q&A with students. “I get it, we’re supposed to understand what we teach before we teach it,” was the epiphany Dr. Moats recalled from a 35 year teaching veteran upon getting with the Reading Ropes program.
In the end, being able to construct the mental image required to become an engaged reader becomes a skill that emerges from repetition. “It’s a habit of a reflective, purposeful approach to each word, sentence, paragraph and chapter,” she concluded. #