Paying close attention to what clothes their peers wear, which cell phones they have, who has the best hair, and who is dating whom are ways high school students show awareness.
When it comes to monitoring their reading habits, however, many students aren't willing to put in the extra work. In fact, a lot of young adult readers simply skip over the hard parts paying little attention to their own comprehension. As an English teacher, one of my goals is to show them there's more to reading than what is on the surface.
When teaching students to practice positive reading habits, I try to look for strategies that will not only help them improve as readers, but will create optimal engagement as well. One of the strategies I use throughout the school year, which offers amazing results to any level reader is Question-Infer-Clarify (or Q-I-C for short). By modeling all of the steps involved in this strategy with a variety of texts (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc.), I can ensure my students are adopting awareness of what good readers do as they encounter difficult excerpts in what they're reading. For a visual representation of the Q-I-C cycle see Figure 1.
When Q-I-C Works Best
Most often, we use Q-I-C when we come across challenging parts of texts. Many of my students blow right through difficult parts, which is why modeling what good readers do when they're faced with such challenges is important in my instruction. While Q-I-C works well with any genre, I often find that this is my go-to strategy when we're working with non-fiction, classics, and poetry.
Poetry itself is pretty engaging for students because the rules for reading and understanding poetry are different than any other genre. Often, students struggle in finding the message the author wants us to know, or they can't determine the meaning behind figurative language (or other literary devices used by the author), or they can't determine who the speaker of the poem is. Because of the length and format, poetry lends itself well to introducing Q-I-C to my students.
Monitoring Our Comprehension
To begin with, I pick out challenging poems that I believe my students will struggle with. Anything by Edgar Allan Poe, Pat Mora, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, or Rita Dove usually does the trick. I display a poem by one of these authors via LCD projector on my white board (with the screen up) and read the poem out loud to my students.
When I finish, above the text, I ask them to, "Write one sentence stating what you think the poem means. There's no penalty for guessing." I give them a couple of minutes to write their guesses down and then ask for four or five students to share what they've written with the entire class. Often, their responses are different, and the only feedback I give them is, "Thanks for sharing."
We then spend the next five to seven minutes phrase breaking the poem. One of the things I have to remind them about poetry is that the end of a line doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a phrase. Sometimes phrases are carried across multiple lines.
As we phrase break the poem, I draw slashes after each phrase denoting where the phrases end. This helps slow our reading down to a comfortable pace, breaks up challenging text, and gives us smaller parts to work with. Using phrasing with poetry is especially important because the design and format of poetry is much different than other texts we read. Phrasing definitely helps make reading poetry (or any text for that matter) more manageable.
Phrasing is something we work on early in the school year and by the time we've hit poetry, my students are very familiar with the steps required in phrase breaking text. For a more complete understanding of phrasing, see Reading Allowed: Making Sure the "R" Comes First by Steve Peha.
Questioning What We Read
Once we’ve finished phrasing, we move on to step two in the Q-I-C strategy where I list Questions (Q) students have about the poem on the left side of the text (under a column called Questions). I challenge my students to ask why and how questions because these types of questions force them to think deeply about what they’re reading, providing for really strong inferences which we'll use in the next step.
Students always ask, “How many questions do we need?” I always respond with, “Keep asking questions until you think you’ve created a question for everything you don’t understand in the poem. If we only ask a few questions, we might only have a basic understanding of a poem. If we create a question for every part we don’t understand, we will have a richer, deeper understanding of the poem. If you were playing a video game, would you need a basic understanding of what you need to do to beat the game, or would you need a rich understanding?”
Inferences Worth Checking
After we have a solid list of questions, we move on to the next step of the Q-I-C, Inferences (I). We have a quick discussion about what an inference is, why it’s important we make them when we’re reading, and how we can check them to make sure we’re right.
I model answering some of the questions we’ve created by making some of my own inferences. I then check those against the parts of the poem they apply to. By checking my inferences against the text, I’m applying what I already know about what’s happening in the poem (the first guess students and I wrote down after first reading the poem) to what I know now after jotting down questions for parts where I'm confused, phrase breaking, and re-reading. I write my inferences down under the Answers column on the right side of the text.
Once I feel like kids have a grasp on what they should do, I begin calling on them to make their own inferences, and I write them in as well. By the time we’re done, we’ve gone back and re-read the poem several times; we’ve checked our inferences to make sure they’re right, and we’ve had a thoughtful discussion about this challenging poem we’ve read. Often, my students notice things that I’ve overlooked or didn't consider, which shows me they’re thinking deeply, too.
Clarifying is the Clincher
The final step in the Q-I-C strategy is Clarify (C). In this step, we go back and take a look at our original guesses and we revise what we think is going on in the poem based on all of this work we’ve done. Again, I model this for students by writing my own revised response below the poem.
Because this step requires students to re-read our inferences, the poem, and think about the work we’ve done, I give them five to seven minutes to write their clarify statement, sometimes longer depending upon the length and difficulty of the poem.
They always ask, “How long does it need to be?” And, I respond, “As long as it needs to be. You need to show me that you have a deeper understanding of the poem now versus when we first read it together.” After that, we share our responses again. Like before, we often end up with a variety of answers/interpretations.
Because of this, I remind students that unlike a math problem, there’s not always going to be one right answer. As long as they can prove how they've created their revised response using our work from before, that they've followed the steps within Q-I-C, and as long as it fits within the context of the poem, I’m okay with what they’ve written. It’s when their clarify statements are off-topic that I have them go back and re-read, or re-do the steps from before.
Practicing on Their Own
After modeling this process for my students, and after we’ve had a chance to work as a class, students are ready to try this out independently with a poem of their choice. I like to have a variety of poems, on a variety of topics and reading levels to choose from. I steer away from any student written poetry (initially) and encourage them to choose poems that are confusing to them, but that they have some idea of what the topic of the poem is.
The first time through, I require them to use the Q-I-C graphic organizer (Figure 2). Once they’ve gone through the process a couple of times, they can copy the format in their reading journals and use it for other challenging texts they come across throughout the year. Some of my students prefer to use the Q-I-C graphic organizer all year long, which helps keeps them organized and focused.
As students work independently, I walk around the room checking to see they're using the Q-I-C correctly and checking their comprehension. I try to spend 2-3 minutes with each student over the course of a couple of days to insure their success.
Results That Matter
While there are many strategies available for teaching kids how to monitor their comprehension, Question-Infer-Clarify is a complex strategy worth spending the time on. There’s no doubt that when first introducing it to students I spend a couple of class periods covering all of the steps, but by rinsing and repeating throughout the year, students will learn to create awareness in monitoring their own comprehensive comprehension.
As I've adopted this strategy into my practice, I've noticed kids make stronger inferences, they pay closer attention to what they’re reading, and they have deeper understandings of what they read. Equally important, I like it because I can use it with any student who enters my classroom (ESP students, ELL students, below grade level readers, on grade level readers, above grade level readers, etc.). By providing my students with tools like this, I believe students will be well equipped to face any reading task, as they become more confident, successful, independent readers.
*Figures 1 and 2 © 1995-2011 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc. Used by permission. For more free teaching materials, visit Teaching That Makes Sense.
**An earlier version of this post was featured in Intrepid Media from April 2010-May 2010 improving reading comprehension with qic a strategy that really fits.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at email@example.com.