Comprehension Establishers & Question Types/Possibilities

I end up learning at least one thing each year from my student teachers, whether it’s some insight while observing, some reflection when we’re planning, or some new activity or strategy they suggest. Here’s a revelation worth looking into…

When scripting out some questions back in October, one example I gave was asking “class, which word means ‘again?’ Is it aliquid or iterum?” After a few more like this, my student teacher said “oh, it’s kind of like a comprehension check acting as a comprehension…establisher.” I paused for a moment, then realized yes, that’s exactly what that is. She put a name to what I’ve been doing for years, going way back to the 2016 sneaky quizzes when I’d use the T/F statements to establish meaning of words.

Comprehension Establishers establish meaning in the form of a question.

The difference in purpose between comprehension checks and establishers is subtle. Establishers aren’t intended to evaluate student understanding. They’re asked in a way that all but guarantees students make a form-meaning connection (e.g., “What word means ‘obscure,’ nocte or obscūra?”). A comprehension check, however, is often exactly that: to check whether a student understands, and if they don’t, then we establish meaning right away. In that sense, can an establisher bypass the check and then establishing meaning? Absolutely, but then there’s variety to consider. Might as well get some experience with both.

Question Types/Possibilities
Also discovered when scripting out some questions, it became clear to me that there are often too many possibilities. Instead of brainstorming every possible one, it’s probably more beneficial to settle on a couple question types and cycle through them while reading. For example, using one sentence, Mārcus ōrdinārius esse nōn vult, we could ask each of the following:

Contrary-To-Fact Personalized Q: vellēsne esse ōrdinārius?
Comprehension Establisher Q: Which word means “to be,” esse or vult?
Comprehension Checks: What does esse mean?
Content Q: What does Marcus not want?

But should we ask that many questions for one sentence? If so, should we ask all four questions for EVERY sentence in the chapter? I’m thinking “no,” and “no.” While on the one hand it would appear to provide the student with a great deal of support, on the other hand this process would drag out quite a bit. My recommendation would be to ask just ONE of those question types PER sentence and see how it feels. You might find that even one of those questions per sentence ends up being too many while reading. If so, scale it back to a question per section of two-three sentences, and then just cycle through the four question types. For example, if a short chapter has eight sections of sentences, you’ll ask a comprehension establisher q, a comprehension check, a contrary-to-fact personalized q, a content q, and then repeat. My advice is to identify the contrary-to-fact personalized q’s first, since it doesn’t always make sense to ask those. Then, fill in the rest. Print these out, and stick them in the book you’re reading. Remember, unused scripts already served a purpose: to get you thinking of how and what to ask students.

The Problem With Circling & Solutions For Questioning

Circling isn’t an activity (e.g., “OK class, let’s answer some circling questions”) or something you plan to last 20 minutes during the next class. It’s a strategy, and Von Ray was right. In 2017, he told a small room of TPRS workshop participants if there’s no breakdown [in processing the language], we don’t circle. The strategy was developed as part of collaborative storytelling. No wonder that’s the context in which it works best! Sure, any language learner will benefit from getting micro-exposure to a small set of words, which is what takes place during circling and during the TPRS 2.0 update of triangling (i.e., circling with 3rd, 1st, and 2nd verb persons). Yet, there are times when circling falls flat…

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