I love to read. I love creating the pictures in my mind as the story unfolds, creating my own movie of the story. I never cease to be amazed when I am working with students on mental imaging and encounter students who really seem to have a difficult time creating those pictures in their heads. Being able to mentally create the images and manipulate them in the mind greatly benefits readers in comprehension and is a hugely important skill for our students whether they are reading comprehension about fiction or nonfiction, science texts or math story problems.
I also love to move and am a huge believer in experiential learning. That’s why I was so fascinated to learn about a reading comprehension and intervention developed by Arthur Glenberg of Arizona State University called Moved by Reading Comprehension which was created to help young students embody what they read to aid in comprehension. In an interview Arthur Glenberg explained that not all readers draw upon their life experiences to make meaning from text.
Even if early readers learn to relate the words in the text to the pictures in a picture book the syntax, the “who does what to whom”, may not be understood and that really is the key to comprehension. His approach is to have the students use PM or physical manipulation not only to associate objects with the word that represents the object but also to use the objects to act out the meaning of sentences and aid in comprehension.
Glenberg’s research involved not just PM but what he called CM or computer manipulation so students were manipulating images on a computer screen to experience the syntax of the words in the sentences as they read rather than manipulating actual physical objects. The next step was to have students use IM or imagined manipulation so they were not given actual or virtual objects but merely instructed to imagine manipulating the now familiar objects. When he compared students who utilized PM or CM and IM to those who merely reread text he noted that the comprehension could actually be doubled.
Those who had been trained to act out the sentences in the story with actual and virtual objects and then to translate that to merely imagine the manipulation demonstrated better comprehension. When applied to a math story problem context with older students, those students who utilized PM were much more likely to be able to weed out extraneous information and create reasonable and accurate answers.
Some of you may feel that this is all very obvious but as educators we need to remember to take nothing for granted. We cannot assume that the students before us, regardless of their age, have actually mastered this skill of imagined manipulation. While some readers may have learned this skill very early on, others may not and it is those readers who will experience great difficulty across the curriculum. This is yet another area where research reinforces the effectiveness of Arts Integration.
Visual art skills can be taught so students can create the important objects in a story with materials like clay or paper and paint or they can design the objects on a computer. Performing arts skills can be taught as the students reenact the story using the props, puppets or objects created or computer animation can be taught so students can demonstrate the syntax of who does what to whom.
Once students are rooted in this approach they can intentionally begin to create those images and manipulations in their minds to help them comprehend text and solve problems independently. Any time new ideas and vocabulary are introduced this method of acting out is useful. Models, pictures, and diagrams are helpful but it’s the manipulation that is key. If the students have a visual picture of the objects and concepts then they need practice manipulating them. By guiding students to act out the story, process or problem you actively engage the students, increase every student’s chances of increased comprehension and more accurate solutions and empower them to learn more effectively and independently.