Friday, February 26, 2010

Mental Modeling, Mirror Neurons & ReQuest Comprehension Improvement

Comprehension Instruction, ReQuest Procedure & Mirror Neurons

The Reciprocal Questioning or ReQuest Procedure (Manzo, 1969b) is a well-proven and robust method that introduced the idea of “mental modeling “ to educational intervention. This theory preceded by 30 years the now identified enormous power of mirror neurons in the brain as being the center for learning from modeling. Philosophically ReQuest is a constructivist method designed to permit the teacher to model good questioning and question answering (Ciardiello, 1998). It encourages students to focus on the teacher and competent peers as effective models of question asking and answering. However, while the teacher is the initial focus, ReQuest emphasizes strategy more than mere skill learning by teaching students how to set their own purposes for reading. As importantly, the reciprocal step creates procedural rotation that gives students a good deal of control, and makes a learner of the teacher as he or she grows in understanding of students’ different constructions of what they have read.

ReQuest can be used to introduce an in-class reading activity, or at the end of a class period for a home reading assignment. It has been used from the primary grades to the graduate school levels.

Steps in the ReQuest Procedure

Preparation: Teacher and students should have copies of the reading selection.

ReQuest is best used by directing students to look only at one sentence at a time, without reading ahead. When possible, it is useful to have the first portion of the selection on a PowerPoint or an overhead transparency, so that it can be shown one sentence at a time (title and first sentence together first, then the second sentence, the third, etc., to about the fifth sentence). Ideally, the teacher should prepare at least four questions for each, over: the title and first sentence, and the second through about the fourth sentence. These should be questions that students would probably not ask, since students are given the chance to ask questions first.

Step 1. The first time the method is used the teacher should explain its the purpose; for example, "Before you read this selection, we will look at the first few sentences together and ask each other some questions. The purpose of this activity is to improve your ability to set a sound purpose for reading."

Step 2. The teacher guides the students through as many sentences of the selection as necessary to formulate a logical purpose to guide silent reading. This is done in the following way:

a. Students and teacher read the title and first sentence. Students are told that they may ask the teacher as many questions as they wish about the title and first sentence only (see Figure 4.5). Students are told that they should try to ask the kinds of questions a teacher might ask, in the way a teacher might ask them (this is one way to subtly urge students to mentally note the teacher’s mental processes).

b. The teacher answers each question fully, but without excessive elaboration, and without asking questions back. How much to "tell" in answering a question will be a judgment call in any lesson. The objectives at this stage of the lesson are: to encourage and reinforce questions that activate relevant schema; to fill in needed background information (but only in answer to questions); to stay focused on setting a sound purpose for reading; and to model good question-answering behaviors.

c. Once students have asked all their questions about the title and first sentence, the teacher follows up with a few additional questions. Some question types to consider include: basic information, translation, inference, personal experience, and evaluation. The purpose in this followup questioning is to model the kinds of prereading questions that activate schema and help to set good purposes for reading.

d. The pattern used to review the first sentence--silent reading, followed by student questions, followed by teacher questions--is continued through the second, third, and fourth sentence, and/or continuing until enough information has been generated to form a sound purpose for reading.

Step 3. After about the fourth sentence, the teacher should conclude his or her questions on the sentence by asking students what they think the rest of the selection will mostly be about (few things are written with only one focus and one solitary purpose). Briefly note student responses on the chalkboard, and then ask students to form one or more of these ideas into a question. Write the “purpose” question(s) on the board. If students are to read the remainder of the selection outside class, have then copy the purpose question(s).

Step 4. Following silent reading, the teacher's first question should be "Did we set a good purpose for reading this selection?" If so, discussion can begin with what was learned in answer to this question; if not, a better purpose question should be stated, and then answered (Manzo, 1985).

Notes On ReQuest: Tips on Implementation

· The first time you use ReQuest with a group, it is quite likely that when you direct them to ask questions over the title and first sentence, they will respond with blank stares. Be calm. Count to 10. Take confidence from the fact that you know why you are making this seemingly strange request, and you know where the lesson is going. You know that the purpose of spending time at the beginning of a difficult reading selection is like initializing a computer disk: it helps the brain to recognize and process the information that is coming. You also know that while there are only a handful of fact questions that can be asked about a single sentence, there are many more inference and beyond-the-lines questions that would be helpful in recalling prior knowledge and experience in order to set a good purpose for reading. Most importantly, you know that pupils have been conditioned not to ask questions in the classroom, and that you are willing to try to counter this conditioning. Much of this counter-conditioning is accomplished simply by setting up the game-line ReQuest situation, in which students are procedurally rotated to the position of asking as many questions as they can over a single sentence at a time. So, don't despair in waiting for that first question. If wait time isn't enough, you can say something like, "This is a different kind of lesson, I know. Any question you can come up with is fine. It will help to try to think of the type of questions teachers might ask. You’ve heard a few questions asked, I take it." When the first question or two come, answer them respectfully: another important element in counter-conditioning students' reluctance to ask questions is the way the teacher responds to the questions that are raised--discussed next.

· When students take you up on your offer to answer any questions on a sentence, in ReQuest, you can expect a few "unexpected" questions: ones for which you do not know or cannot quickly formulate answers. Be ready for this. It's your chance to show students that you aren't threatened or frightened by questions you can't answer, and that you won't respond with sarcasm or by asking a question back. Instead, you will give the question a thoughtful, measured response. If it is a relevant, schema-activating question, you will say so, and give an honest explanation as to why you can't answer it, if only to say you just can't remember: "That's exactly the kind of question we're trying to bring up here. It is information the author assumes the reader knows. And, do you know, I can't remember that fact myself." At this point, another student may know the answer. Since it's not your turn to ask questions, turn to the person who asked the question, and tell him or her that another student is willing to help you out...a wonderful and practical way to build toward the ideal of a community of learners. If on the other hand, the question that "stumped" you is clearly off the subject, the teacher might say something like, "Because of the way the title was worded, I didn't think the author was going in that direction, so I haven't tried to remember what I might know about that. It's an interesting point, but I don't think I'll get myself off the subject with it right now." This too can demonstrate the concept of a community of learners.

· When calling on students to ask you questions, keep an eye on students who typically do not participate in discussion. With the ReQuest structure, you've given all students, even the most shy and reticent a much more possible situation for involvement. They don't have to answer a question -- they only have to ask one. Call on them, and be supportive in your answers.

· When it is your turn to ask questions, you will need to have several questions prepared for each sentence that students probably won't ask. Prepare four or five such questions for each sentence, even though you may not use them all. How many questions you ask on each sentence will depend on how many and what kind of questions the students ask. In general, you should ask at least two questions when it is your turn, trying to ask questions of different types than the students have asked. Basic facts will probably be covered by student questions. In fact, the reason ReQuest uses single sentences for questioning is that this places a natural limit on the number of fact questions that can reasonably be asked. Once these are covered, both teacher and students are challenged to ask schema-connecting beyond-the-lines questions.

· While it is somewhat "gamelike" in the back-and-forth rotation of questioning, ReQuest shouldn't take on a "stump-the-teacher"/"stump-the class" tone which tends to get off the track of a clear focus on setting a sound and sensible purpose for reading a specific selection. This can happen if the teacher asks questions that the class clearly cannot answer -- students will begin to ask the same types of questions back. Be careful to ask questions that can be answered by prediction, inference, judgment, evaluation, and experience.

· ReQuest should move along briskly, taking no more than about 15 minutes. If it is extended too long, it can become tedious and to lose focus. This can be difficult to keep in mind. While student questions can be intimidating at times, it also can feel satisfying to finally be asked the questions by students to which we are obliged to teach them the answers. Careful, though it is easy to go into too much detail in answering; or in technical terms to extend beyond their zone of proximal development (ZPD).

· The questions generated from the first three or four sentences usually yield enough context for students to form a sound purpose question or two. When preparing your own questions, you usually can predict a good stopping point. You should have a possible purpose question in mind, in order to help guide students' suggestions.

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