Saturday, August 24, 2013

Starting the Year with Self-Monitoring

One of the main challenges of the beginning of the year for me is keeping my focus on reading and thinking. It is easy to get wrapped up in classroom decoration ("I must buy more sparkly fish!") and administrative details ("I must print out at least 10 class lists and set up my substitute folder and make a spreadsheet for intervention groups!").

But I make a conscious effort in these first few weeks to save two slots in my working memory. (It's hard!) One slot I reserve for students--for the kids who are in front of me, right now, at this time. The other slot I reserve for deeper thinking about what the kids are doing and how they are processing. What materials am I giving to students? What do these materials say about the classroom and the work that we will do here together?

So this year I want to begin with really strong instruction in self-monitoring. To me, self-monitoring is the heart of reading comprehension. I love to think about reading as world-building, with readers processing text at various levels--surface, textbase, and situation model--as they read.  (This view of reading is based on work by van Dijk and Kintsch--this website summarizes the theory and provides more references.)

The best way that I have found to help readers self-monitor is to use the "click" and "clunk" strategy. (Here is an article that explains it nicely.) This strategy is perfect for the start of the year because it focuses on micro-level understanding. Do I understand this sentence? If the answer is yes, the sentence "clicks". If the answer is no, it "clunks". Then, readers can try to put together the meaning of the entire passage.

Here is a little graphic organizer that I created to help students think about clicking and clunking. As you can see, every clunk leads to some kind of action on the part of the reader.

Click or clunk from Emily Kissner

The next step is to put this into action with a passage. This year I'd like to try to use the first few paragraphs of The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit. (If you're not familiar with E. Nesbit, find her books online...they are over 100 years old, but so influential in the world of children's fantasy!) After students read it and monitor their clicks and clunks, they will draw and share pictures of the world that they built in their minds.

My husband, who teaches third grade, found the passage to be a little hard for his students, so I wrote a new passage for him. He has a robot/space theme going on in his classroom this year.

Whatever passage you choose, start with something that provides a bit of challenge for students. Talking about their clunks and how they solve they will help students to realize that reading takes risk--but that the risks can be rewarding.

Good luck as you start your school year! Wish me luck as I attend my first rounds of meetings and try to save slots for students and deeper thinking.

News and Notes
This week I finally finished a new September reading homework packet. Four more weeks for October are on their way.

For more texts that focus on visualizing, try out the Visualizing PowerPoint and Activities packet.

If you are finding that your readers are having lots of clunks, try out the Making Inferences with Transitional Readers packet for focused work on inferences and visualizing.


  1. I love this idea and can't wait to try it out! I moved down to third grade this year after teaching fourth where I used many of your resources. I have been hoping that I could still use some of them in this grade level as well. Thank you for all of your thoughtful work.

    1. Thanks for writing! Many of the resources that I write are good for third grade as well as fourth. After all, I'm always happy to write things for my husband's class! Good luck teaching third grade. (I'm working on a new set of nonfiction warm-ups for him, so write to me if you're interested.)

  2. I always learn something to help my students become more successful learners from your posts. Thanks for sharing - I appreciate you!

  3. I love your ideas as always. This post really inspired me. I've read your posts about "click or clunk" before and I feel like this post really explains it well. Helps me see exactly how to implement it. Thank you for the third grade passage! Going to put this in my plans for the near future.