Strategies for Constructing Meaning

Strategic readers use a variety of strategies to construct meaning. Extensive research over the past two decades has shown that some of these strategies seem to be more significant than others (Dole, Duffy, Roehler, & Pearson, 1991).

Research indicates that the following strategies are important in helping readers construct meaning:


Inferencing, the process of judging, concluding, or reasoning from given information, has been described by some researchers as the heart of the reading process (Anderson & Pearson, 1984). Researchers have found that readers improve their abilities to construct meaning when they are taught how to make inferences (Hansen, 1981; Hansen & Pearson, 1983; Raphael & Wonnacott, 1985). Inferencing is the process that is involved as students make predictions before and during reading.


Monitoring, the process of knowing when what you are reading is not making sense and having some means for overcoming the problem, is an important part of students' metacognitive development (Baker & Brown, 1984a, 1984b; Brown, 1980). Expert constructors of meaning -- strategic readers -- are able to anticipate problems in their understanding and correct them as they occur (Paris, Lipson, & Wixson, 1983); these strategies for correcting problems are often referred to as fix-up strategies. Researchers have found that teaching students to monitor their reading improves their abilities to construct meaning (Palincsar & Brown, 1984a, 1984b, 1986). Strategies for monitoring include such things as asking oneself whether the reading is making sense, rereading, reading ahead, looking up words in the dictionary, or asking someone for assistance (Paris, Wasik, & Turner, 1991).


Summarizing, pulling together the important information in longer texts, has been shown to be an important strategy in helping readers improve their abilities to construct meaning (Brown & Day, 1983; Bean & Steenwyk, 1984; Rinehart, Stahl, & Erickson, 1986; Taylor & Beach, 1984). This strategy must be developed with students over time and, because narrative text structure differs from expository text structure, should be taught differently for narrative texts and expository texts. In narrative texts, it involves focusing on the elements of story grammar (Mandler, 1984) or the story map. In expository texts it involves identification of main ideas (Baumann, 1986).

Question Generating

The support for these four strategies is significant. In addition, a fifth strategy, called question generating, is also supported by some researchers as being valuable for helping students construct meaning (Singer & Donlan, 1982; Davey & McBride, 1986). In using this strategy, students generate their own questions to be answered as they read. Brown and Palincsar (1985) demonstrated how effective student-generated questions can be in helping students improve their abilities to construct meaning. However, much research also shows that there may be difficulties in teaching the strategy (Pressley, Johnson, Symons, McGoldrick, & Kurita, 1989; Denner & Rickards, 1987). Therefore, question generating should be used cautiously.
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