Sharing for Learning

Comprehension Strategies in All Subject Areas

This workshop will have us examine how we might explicitly teach comprehension strategies in all subject areas. It was held in July as part of the STF Summer Programming.Some workshop artifacts that may help you see the general flow of this day together, you can see the Facilitation Guide, Powerpoint, and Core Handout. You are welcome to use and modify any of the materials on this page.

This web page’s purpose is to share the learning that occurred on that day, as well as make all of the documents and resources available to you, regardless of whether you were able to attend. SensemakingThroughout the workshop and as you read through the information associated with it, learners were encouraged to examine thought processes in order to classify what strategies we are using as we make sense of new information. We emphasized that a teacher will choose a specific tactic for students to work with, but it is the thinking that goes on inside a learner’s head that determines which comprehension strategy they are actually using.

There are many different researchers who write about comprehension strategies. This workshop is loosely founded on the work of Ellin Keene’s seven strategies. A brief  Comprehension Strategy Overview is a good way to begin our thinking. Here is an Anticipation Guide: Comprehension Strategies for you to complete before you go any further in your learning of comprehension strategies.

 Activating Prior Knowledge

There are many strategies that allow learners to activate and connect to prior knowledge. Activating Prior KnowledgeThis comprehension strategy involves you connecting your learning to your experiences, events in the world, and to other knowledge you may have in and out of school. We simply can’t understand what we hear, read, or view without thinking about what we already know.

  • A Snowball is a safe way for learners to share what they know and clarify misconceptions about a concept. It is often combined with a whole group synthesis of answers to questions posed on a page.
  • When teaching vocabulary, it is important that we use Vocabulary Building Strategies that allow students to make connections to words that they already know. One way of doing this is through the use of a Visual Dictionary. A visual dictionary combines a visual, connections, and definition of a word in student language.

File 2015-12-06, 11 46 23 AM File 2015-12-06, 11 45 26 AM File 2015-12-06, 11 44 20 AM File 2015-12-06, 11 43 29 AM File 2015-12-06, 11 42 40 AM File 2015-12-06, 11 41 42 AM File 2015-12-06, 11 40 19 AM

  • Think Aloud is often thought of as an explicit teacher-centred instructional strategy. It can also be used as a student:student tactic where they expose their connections, ask questions, or make predictions in pairs or small groups.

Determining Importance

Learners are bombarded with high volumes of information every day. Determining Importance

This comprehension strategy involves evaluating information, making judgments about information, and identifying key ideas and concepts. When we read nonfiction we are reading to learn, understand, and remember information.

  • One useful way to have students learn to be concise and categorize information into main ideas is using The Frame, which is part of the Content Enhancement Series out of the University of Kansas.
  • A more open-ended note-taking organizer is a tactic called Cornell Notes. Here is a editable template that can be used for any topic.
  • Using a Text Mapping Scroll can reveal text features to students. By asking them to mark up their scrolls, they can see that authors put text features into their books to help students. A useful activity is to have students use markers to note:
    • Things that are important.
    • Things that help you know if you understand.
    • Things that help you understand.


Visualizing is not limited to students making a picture in their heads.

VisualizingThis might also be a body feel, scent, emotion, or sound. This comprehension strategy involves you making mental pictures and/or mind maps of ideas and how they interconnect.

    • Having students visualize mathematics problems can help them to make sense of what is being asked for. In Grayson Wheatley’s Lantern Problem, students can be given a lantern to enable them to solve the task.
    • When learning about historical events, having students role play moments can enable them to make connections that they otherwise would not. For example, when learning about the creation of Canada’s healthcare system, giving students a role as either FOR or AGAINST publicly funded health care prior to learning Canadian History and watching video from that era can help them form a perspective.
  • Consistently asking students what they are thinking, what they are feeling, what they might be saying if they lived at this time, and what their hopes and fears are . This prompting might help them to visualize the state of society in that time period. Moving into an informal debate set in the 1960’s can help them understand our current health care system.

Summarizing and Synthesizing

Sometimes these two ideas are used interchangeably, but they are not the same action.Summarizing and Synthesizing

Summarizing is the breaking down of information into smaller bits, while synthesizing is the ability to bring an idea back to a whole. Thoughtful readers merge their thinking with information to come to a more complete understanding.

  • A Comparison Routine is another Content Enhancement routine that allows students to break down two ideas into those characteristics that are the same and different. The important feature is that the routine also has learners synthesize those similarities and differences into larger statements. An editable version is available to you.
  • Metaphors and analogies allow learners to connect specific characteristics of known ideas to new ideas. This can be done in many ways, including visually and through video.
    • Example: students may be asked “How is one of these images like comprehension strategies?”Slide42
    • Example: students may be asked “How is this video like news media?”


This comprehension strategy involves you predicting, estimating, hypothesizing, interpreting, and making conclusions.

Making InferencesInferential thinking allows learners to grasp the deeper essence of text and information. Readers infer by taking their background knowledge and merge it with clues in the text or visual to draw a conclusion or arrive at a big idea that is not explicitly stated in text.

  • Sometimes it is important that students are able to make ‘risk free’ predictions. It is useful to have mini white boards or scrap paper available for students to put their guesses on, and then check to see their accuracy after the ‘answer’ is revealed.
  • Using visuals may be a good entry point for students to make inferences. Prompts such as “what is happening here?” will allow students to look at details and create a story about what they believe its context is.


    1910 United Church of Canada, Archives, 93.049P/1368N

Asking Questions

This strategy involves learners actively wondering about topics, and questioning facts and information.

Asking QuestionsQuestioning is the strategy that propels learners on and is at the heart of inquiry- based learning. Humans are driven to make sense of the world, and questions open the doors to understanding.

  • It is important to both provide students with skills for Questioning, it is also important to set up Opportunities for Wonder. By setting up situations in the learning environment such as a demonstration, reading, video, or other experience, you can prompt wonder in an area of learning that meets curricular outcomes.

Monitoring Comprehension

This is often considered to be the most powerful comprehension strategy, and often uses other strategies in tandem.

Monitoring ComprehensionThis comprehension strategy involves you recognizing and acting on your own confusion, and self-questioning to determine understanding. We monitor our comprehension and keep track of our thinking in a number of ways. We notice when text makes sense and when it doesn’t. We ask questions, infer, activate background knowledge, and make connections, all in the effort to promote understanding.

  • Card sorts are a useful tactic when having students make sense of either new or existing concepts. This can often be done in combination with a gallery walk, where students from different groups come together and discuss the ideas that they had generated separately.
  • An Anticipation Guide can be used at the beginning of a learning experience, and again at the end of that concept. It is a check to see what learners know before and after, and can guide instruction, review, and reteaching.

Take a moment and recheck your anticipation guide. What has been your greatest area of growth? What more do you need to learn about? What are your strategies to find out more? Other useful resources for you to consider accessing are:

So… My wonder is, would posts similar to this one be useful to you as a professional learner? Would it be useful to have access to something in this form before, during and after a workshop? Or available to you if you cannot attend in person? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Every Teacher Needs a Champion

Whether we are teachers of teachers or teachers of students, we need to build relationship with our learners in order to understand and know our learners. I am reminded of Rita Pierson’s talk.

Through relationship with our learners, we can figure out WHAT they need to learn and HOW they learn best. Relationships also help learners and their teachers understand WHY they are learning something. Without having a ‘why’ that links what learners want and need to learn with the learning expectations of curriculum, administration, or school division leadership, it is less likely that learning will be authentic and meaningful. We know this for student learning. What about adult learning?

In her talk, Rita Pierson says, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”. Is this not true for us as adults? Is it not difficult to pause and open our minds up to new possibilities when the person speaking is someone we don’t like, respect, or trust? I would argue that adult learning must be built on relationship as well, and refer to the mindset of facilitators in Wonder #7: What Does it Mean to Be a Community Facilitator. Rita quotes Stephen Covey’s idea that “We need to seek first to understand, not seek first to be understood.” This is the premise of Jim Knight’s Partnership Principles, where facilitators approach colleagues as partners in learning, and actively believe that we will gain knowledge from our peers rather than expecting that we as experts have nothing to learn from the teachers we serve.

Know LearnerRelationship is built on listening. Listening is possible when you have relationship. Relationship and listening allow us to know what our learners need. In Rita’s talk, she asked herself, “How do I raise the academic achievement and the self esteem of a child at the same time?”. We need to ponder this question as facilitators of adult learning as well. We need to ensure that we build (or at least not damage!) the self esteem of the teachers we work with, and at the same time allow them the opportunity to learn in the area they need. Rita encouraged children to have the mantra of “I was somebody when I came, I will be a better somebody when I leave.” This needs to be the mindset of professional development facilitators as well – that our teacher learners are good and know how to teach, and our only role is to support them in becoming ‘better’, remembering that ‘better’ needs to be defined by the teacher themselves.

Without relationship, it is hard for adult learners to feel safe to discuss their foundational fears, worries, and issues they face. Without that deep and honest conversation, facilitators and leaders cannot support teachers authentically. Through relationship, facilitators and teachers hold joint responsibility for learning and making changes that students most need us to make. At the end of her talk, Rita said that teaching and learning should bring joy. To requote her statement in the context of adult learning, replacing ‘kids’ and ‘students’ with ‘adults’ and ‘teachers’…

“How powerful would our world be if we had teachers who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion. Every teacher deserves a champion, a leader who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Is this job tough? You betcha. But it is not impossible. We can do this, we are educators. We were born to make a difference.”

Learning Together – SUM 2014

The ability to share wisdom at SUM Conference 2014 through twitter allows me to go back and reflect on my own and others’ learning. Looking back at the storify I am able to see how others’ synthesis of the days together was the same and different than my own, offering me new insights into keynote and session presentations. Contributors to the reflection and sharing of learning were:


While most of the presentations will be posted on the SMTS website, the following is a reflection of my own and others’ tweets throughout the two days. As David Coffey would say, this reflection is helping me to consolidate my learning so that I can use it moving forward.

Steve Leinwand started us off by laying the responsibility for student achievement squarely on our shoulders. As teachers, if we notice that kids can’t do something, it is our responsibility to figure out how to teach them how. Accessibility for children is not an achievement gap, it is an instruction gap. If children forget, we need to review. If they see things differently than a standard algorithm we need to encourage multiple representations. Teaching by telling is no longer good enough – if it ever was. From this learning, I then make the leap to professional development. Teaching teachers by telling is no longer good enough, as well. And if teachers who participate in professional development are not able to do something, it is our responsibility as leaders of professional development to take on that responsibility and figure out how to reach our adult learners. Hmmm this is big and important both.

As mathematics teachers, we were encouraged through our two days together to think about how we encourage active struggle in our students. To have them reflect on their learning, and not let them off the hook when they think they don’t know. The phrase “If you did know, what would you say,” rang through the twitterverse. As educators, we need to do less of what doesn’t work and do more of what does – and know the difference! As one tweeter observed “If most kids in class are not ‘getting it’, maybe it’s not the kids. We teachers need to take the responsibility for kids learning.” and “If we care about kids’ learning, we need to stop with power trips and MAKE SURE they learn. Give them what they need.”


There was some discussion in our days together about the importance of collaboration and trust. Noting that we can achieve more together, one tweeter wondered “How can we get innovative educators to share so they become the norm?” This is a good question, and a discussion about building trust and being trustworthy ensued, where you not only need to be trustworthy yourself, but show your colleagues and students that you trust them as well.


Learning about instruction is what we love most as math teachers! While Steve Leinwand pointed out that we may get aggravated when kids ignore us and do what makes sense to them, isn’t instruction really about trying to have best first instruction so that our classrooms are open enough to allow students to generate their own ways of thinking? We need to support the active struggle of students within our math classrooms, and move our focus away from rigid rules to encouraging reasonableness in student thinking. Lisa Lunney Borden reminded us that while Math concepts are universal, it’s the numbers that is the language. For our First Nations and Metis learners, one tweeter observed that “The characteristics of how FN kids learn are just straight up good teaching practices. Collaboration, logic, hands on, connections.”  Lisa Lunney Borden has her framework and teaching ideas on her website, Show Me Your Math.

Some ways that were shared via twitter in sessions to achieve this were:

Suggested Strategies

There were many Classroom Structures for Differentiation shared in sessions that help teachers to individualize instruction. These included Math Workshop created by David and Kathy Coffee, an adaptation of Daily 5 in Math created by Sandi Neufeld and Jennifer Brokofsky, Explore +4 created by Kira Fladager, Sharia Warnecke, and Lori-Jane Dowell-Hantelmann, and Responsive Stations to Build Readiness created by Terry Johanson, Sharon Harvey, and Michelle Naidu. As well, Strategies for Differentiating Math in whole class instruction, including Parallel Tasks, Open Questions, and Games were shared.


Assessment is a huge part of instruction. Some shared wisdom was the idea that you should not ask for formative feedback unless you have a plan to do something with it. We were also cautioned that assessment often implies a test – feedback for learning is the important part. The evaluation of the assessment to diagnose learning levels is crucial in order to plan for instruction.

Goal Setting

One important task for educators and administrators is to have goals for student learning. Without classroom-based goals, school and division goals will not move. Teachers and students need to identify their areas of strength and growth and map them out. This process is summarized in a Developing a Math Goal Powerpoint. Starting with a process of ‘dream student, dream teacher, what do we need to learn’, you can identify what is most important.

Dream Student 1

A Math Goal Logic Model Blank is a useful tool to jot these ideas down, referring to an Exemplar. As one tweeter observed “Once we have a logic model, assessment becomes a piece of cake – focus on the observable indicators.” One participant reflected that Goal setting was a useful consolidation of two days of learning. You can learn more under ‘Wonder #2“.\

Where to from here? A new SMTS executive that is energetic and raring to go, beginning preparations for next year’s Saskatchewan Math Challenge in March, and SUM Conference in May. And who knows, maybe other adventures in between.

Building Trust or Being Trustworthy?

We often hear about the importance of building trust within a community of learners. Community members need to trust each other, they need to trust their facilitator, and a facilitator needs to trust their community members. How does this occur? As I reflect on the qualities of a leader, I re-watched a TED Talk that helped me differentiate between increasing trust and increasing trustworthiness.

So, how do facilitators of professional learning show that they find their community members trustworthy? How do we show trust?

Showing Trust

And then there is being trustworthy ourselves – how are we make ourselves worthy of the trust that community members place in us as facilitators?

Being Trustworthy

Building trusting relationships is imperative to building strong communities of learners. Showing trust and being worthy of trust as a facilitator are foundational steps.

What makes a leader?

Posted in Leadership,Learning Community,Professional Development by iwonderstand on March 29, 2014

Listen, listen, listen. I am inspired to rewatch a TED Talk that I watched a number of years ago. If we don’t listen, then we don’t honour local wisdom and can’t possibly meet the vast needs we are faced with in mathematics education. Taking a program or prescriptive plan from one place and transplanting it into a new classroom will not work. It is only by accessing the expertise of a community that real change can occur.