Who hasn’t been to a Halloween party where one of the costumed characters puzzle everyone. Who is that? we think, rummaging through a list of possibilities in our mind, using the process of elimination and what we know about who we expect to attend the party. If we’re lucky (and good at inferencing), the correct answer dawns on us. With perfect confidence, we shout out the name of the mystery guest. When he unmasks and proves us correct, we feel justifiably proud.
“Effective Teaching of Inferencing Skills”, a Literature Review by Anne Kespal, reviews research that indicates the importance of developing inferencing skills and classroom activities teachers can use to develop these skills in their students. The literature reviewed in this study also highlights the impact of inferencing skills on comprehension with one study suggesting that “poor inferencing causes poor comprehension, not vice-versa.”
Years of teaching reading convinces me that the ability to make inferences is one of the most important skills a student can possess. We are constantly making inferences, but if we cannot support our thinking, then we are merely jumping to conclusions. Today, I’d like to offer a few ways that you, as a parent, can help develop and reinforce your youngsters ability to make inferences when they read.
- Play games, view art work, read cartoons, point out signs and generally find opportunties to help your kids practice inferencing. For example, today I saw a sign on the back of a van used to install custom blinds. It read: CAUTION – Blind Driver. Because I knew two meanings for the word blind, I got the joke. Helping kids hone their inferencing skills can actually be a lot of fun.
- Remind your child to activate his background knowledge before tackling a text. When I work with kids, I share this equation when teaching inferencing: Background Knowledge + Author’s clues = Inference When readers routinely look at the title, pictures, and text features and think about what they already know, it can boost the ability to make inferences while reading.
- When you are discussing a text, ask Why? or How do you know? These kinds of questions prompt kids to support their thinking and determine if their conclusion is accurate. Inferencing is a higher-level thinking skills. We need to make children aware of why and how they are using their background knowledge and the clues in the text and help them determine if their thinking makes sense.
- Suggest that your child “chunk the text”, reading a few pages and then stopping to think about what has occurred. The ability to make inferences depends on working memory. Particularly in a long text, students need to monitor their thinking so that as the text proceeds, they can remember what has previously happened and put information together to make insightful inferences. Active reading supports accurate inferences.
- If you preview texts before sharing them with your child you will know what clues the author provides and what the author hopes the reader will infer. With a little forethought, you can tease out the inferences from your child and provide a rich reading experience.
Support the development of your child’s inferencing skills in any way you can. Kids need lots of practice. Reinforcing inferencing skills is sure to pay off in deeper and more meaningful comprehension. I’ll post some great books for practicing inferencing in a future post. For now, please share any helpful hints you may have.