Blog Reading Between the Lines - Teaching Comprehension Through Explicit and Implicit Analysis

Reading Between the Lines - Teaching Comprehension Through Explicit and Implicit Analysis

15/03/2024


Naturally, since I teach English to First Language English Students, one of my primary goals is to help my students to develop deep reading comprehension skills. Surface level understanding will not crack it in the real world because we need to know how to interact with the world.  Most of our communication is text based, especially when it comes to our professional lives.  So when I work with my teenage students, I am building their reading comprehension so they may have some clue as to what is going on in life. I want my students to analyse texts from multiple angles, grasping not just the explicit meanings but also the implicit themes, perspectives, and nuances woven throughout texts — whatever that text may be.

In a recent lesson, we tackled this concept using the ReadWorks passage "Mrs. Smither's Piano" as our text. We began by closely reading an excerpt, as one should generally do with a text, we continued to identifying whether the provided comprehension questions were asking about implicit or explicit ideas. Explicit questions are those that can be answered from the information that is clearly stated in the text, whereas implicit questions would require you to make inferences and read between the lines.

This is where I would like to park my metaphorical car for now. Before answering the questions, we analysed the questions —this is what I do.  I analyse things, and I get my students to analyse things.  When I say things, I mean absolutely everything! We live in a world that speaks to us from so many different angles that we will not know how we are being influenced if we do not develop the habit of analysing absolutely everything!

While working through the questions like "What does the word 'empathetic' mean in this context?" and "How does Elaine's attitude change over the course of the story?", my bumblebees demonstrated their growing ability to parse explicit versus implicit inquiries. So that they can feel as though I think exams are relevant to long term success, I told them that both strengths are crucial as exams will require the use of both.

Beyond the categorisation of questions, we dug deeper into the narrative's core by analysing Elaine's emotional journey and perspective shifts.  What prompted her initial anger towards her mother? Why did her feelings eveolve into "empathetic curiosity" as she watched her mother tend to the piano? Unpacking these implicit character arcs unlocked richer understanding of the text's deeper themes around socioeconomic struggle, generational bonds, and the resilience of dignity.  

The purpose of this was two fold — most lack the awareness to see both sides.  Firstly, the analysis allowed for deeper critical thought, but secondly, and more important (to me at least) was that it transformed a simple comprehension with which students sometimes get punished at schools, into a source of curiosity as they now had launching points to explore generational bonds, socioeconomic struggle and the resilience of diginity both reflectively in their own lives (bringing personal growth) but also in reflecting on society, history, the future, and ethics. My students left our lesson with new curiosity, new points from which to grow and new points from which to serve the world with their magnificence.

I also tasked my students with formulating their own implicit questions about a passage excerpt, forcing them to practice inferential analysis. "Why did the author use the metaphor of looking into men's eyes to find himself?" one student insightfully wondered. Identifying where implicit meaning-making was required demonstrated comprehension mastery. Comprehension mastery is not determined by the symbol mark for the comprehension answers — it is rather evidenced through the ability to meaningfully interact with a text.  You need to understand a text (comprehend) in order to interact meaningfully with it.  So even missing the marks on a question or two is not indicative of comprehension thereof.

To further reinforce these skills, I assigned a lengthier 4500-word ReadWorks text for them to read outside of class time.  My students will need to deeply engage with implicit and explicit content as they navigate the literary mechanics and thematic landscapes embedded throughout.

Ultimately, my goal with these reading lessons is to produce critically aware readers — students who understand that texts contain both surface meanings and deeper undertones to unearth.  By practising explicit and implicit analysis in our Discord classroom, we are building vital comprehension muscles. For whether analysing literature or encountering information in their daily lives, my bumblebees have to realise that true understanding lies not just in what is clearly stated, but in what reading between the lines can reveal.

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