Author: Edwin S. Ellis
Source: Reprinted, with permission, from Teaching Adolescents with Learning Disabilities Second Edition

The paraphrasing strategy (Schumaker, Deshler, & Denton, 1984) has been demonstrated to increase significantly the reading comprehension skills of adolescents with LD. Although the strategy contains only three major steps (read a paragraph, ask yourself questions about the main idea and details, put the main idea and details into your own words), and seems to be a simple strategy to teach, teachers need to know that it is deceptively more complex than the three steps suggest.

STAGE 1: Pretest

To pretest the student, teachers collect two types of information in the form of permanent products: product measures and process measures.
Product measures concern the actual level of the student’s comprehension of specific reading passages. Thus, product measures are attained by evaluating the student’s comprehension of main ideas and details presented in the previously read passage. A rough estimate of comprehension can be attained by having students respond to a set of written comprehension questions that address the content read by the student.
Process measures concern how well students are able to follow the strategic process to be taught. Process measures of paraphrasing ability are determined in part by evaluating students’ verbalizations about each paragraph in relation to performance criteria. The performance criteria for evaluating students’ paraphrases developed by Schumaker, Deshler, and Denton (1984) are:

  • Must be in the student’s own words
  • Must contain only one main idea per paragraph
  • Must contain two details
  • Information in paraphrase is meaningful
  • Complete sentence
  • Information is new

To attain this measure, students are asked to read text passages from mainstream textbooks written at their grade-placement level. Each passage should contain a minimum of five paragraphs. Students are asked to read one paragraph at a time silently, to turn on a tape recorder, then to tell the recorder what the main idea and two details were for the paragraph just read, and finally to turn off the recorder. This process is repeated for each subsequent paragraph in the passage. Later these statements can be analyzed and compared to the performance criteria to produce a “paraphrasing score.”

Teachers should interpret both the product and process scores with caution. Being able to discriminate correctly among a set of possible main ideas on multiple-choice questions provides only the most rudimentary indicator of comprehension. Likewise, analyzing what students say during their paraphrases reveals only the result of their cognition and tells little about what students actually are thinking during the reading process. For example, it does not tell us how well students are able to activate and use their prior knowledge, to what extent they form predictions about their reading and modify them as they learn more about the passage, how well they monitor their comprehension, how well they are synthesizing the specific information with the overall topic of study, and so forth. These kinds of insights can come only from the dialogue between the student and adult associated with the reciprocal teaching (RT) model. Thus, teachers should also read with students and converse with them about their thinking to informally gain insight into this domain.

STAGE 2: Describe The Paraphrasing Strategy

During this stage the teacher describes the situations and setting students encounter in which being able to identify main ideas and important details from reading materials will help them attain their goals. Students have to understand why and when expending the mental energy to paraphrase main ideas is important, as well as when and under what circumstances a reader should not bother. After listing and describing situations and reading materials in which paraphrasing is desirable, students should be encouraged to identify and discuss others as well. The teacher also will describe the steps of the strategy, provide a rationale for the steps, and discuss how the steps are to be used to cue important thinking behaviors when reading. Thus, during this stage, the teacher already will have begun to discuss the parameters of generalization and the process of enabling students to understand what the strategy is and how it works. Although these discussions begin during the Describe stage, the teacher should continue to discuss and explore related ideas throughout the instructional sequence.

STAGE 3: Model The Paraphrasing Strategy
During this stage the teacher performs the paraphrasing strategy using think-aloud, dialectal, and scaffolding techniques. The teacher’s initial modeling of the strategy should be simple and straightforward. It should focus mainly on the surface features of the strategy (e.g., self-cueing performance of the strategy steps). Subsequent modeling of the strategy will involve the students gradually (e.g., as the teacher reads a passage aloud, students tell him or her what to do, and the teacher does it) and gradually will reveal to students more sophisticated cognitive processes (e.g., activating prior knowledge, generating different types of questions, monitoring comprehension and initiating comprehension repair strategies, and so forth). Likewise, teacher modeling should become dialectal (done in collaboration with students). Even though the teacher’s modeling of the strategy begins in this stage, the teacher should continue to model the strategy as necessary throughout the remainder of the instructional sequence. These models should focus increasingly on the cognitive processes associated with performing the strategy and less on the overt strategy steps.

STAGE 4: Verbally Elaborate and Rehearse
This stage is intended to help students develop an in-depth understanding of the overt and covert features of the strategy. Having students use their own language to describe these processes facilitates understanding and comprehension. Elaboration activities such as asking students to compare steps or processes associated with the paraphrasing strategy to strategies or processes they use already will facilitate understanding. Likewise, the more students know what is expected of them, the more likely they will be to meet that expectation. Thus, students also should elaborate on the critical features of an effec-tive paraphrase presented earlier.

STAGE 5: Practice Acquisition
The main purpose of this stage is to enable students to acquire skills for paraphrasing main ideas and relevant details from paragraphs they have read. Because this form of reading requires most students to engage in different, unfamiliar ways of thinking dur-ing the reading process, the reading materials that students use are controlled for difficulty. Essentially, reading materials should be relatively easy for students to read. Ellis and Graves (1990) concluded that an ideal level to begin practicing the paraphrasing strategy would be material that students can read already at a rate of 100 to 135 words per minute while maintaining a 97% accuracy in decoding. Practically speaking, these materials usually are a grade level below their tested ability level.

During acquisition practice, scaffolded and dialogic instruction is used extensively and then is faded gradually as students become confident and competent at paraphrasing. As students master the skill on easier reading materials, they are presented gradually with ever more challenging text to read so the material begins to approximate the material that the students encounter normally in general classes.

As students begin reading materials that contain numerous words that cannot be de-coded or have unknown meanings, the effectiveness of the paraphrasing strategy diminishes. Thus, the teacher’s goal should be to enable students to paraphrase effectively and efficiently any reading material they can decode with relative ease.

STAGE 6: Undertake Advance Practice
Learning to apply the paraphrasing strategy to a host of different reading materials under conditions where instructional support is still available is the distinguishing feature of advanced practice. Scaffolded and dialogic instruction is used as needed when students attempt to use the strategy with a variety of information sources that have not been controlled for difficulty (e.g., mainstream textbooks, encyclopedias, magazines, news-papers). The teacher’s role during this stage is to help students analyze reading materials to determine whether the strategy should be applied, to help students determine goals for reading the material, and to anticipate how the strategy can be used and modified to meet these goals. For example, the goals for textbook reading might be to answer study guide questions. Here the teacher’s role is to help students understand how the paraphrasing strategy can be used to meet this requirement. At other times the goal might be to glean information from a magazine article to compose an oral social studies report. Here the teacher’s role would be to help students understand how they can modify the strategy to meet this task requirement. Thus, during advanced practice, the teacher must provide students with a variety of reading tasks that simulate those that students encounter in their mainstream classes.

STAGE 7: Posttest and Celebrate
The purpose of this stage is (a) to ensure that students can perform the strategy effec-tively and efficiently, and (b) to officially recognize attainment of a milestone in learn-ing the strategy. The posttest can be designed similar to that used during the pretest. Students then can compare their skills prior to learning the strategy with their present levels. Likewise, students appreciate teachers’ celebrating with them the completion of the first major phase of learning the strategy (acquisition). Last, teachers should note that efforts now will be directed toward generalizing the strategy in earnest.

STAGE 8: Generalize
Although the focus of this stage is on facilitating generalization of the paraphrasing strategy, all of the previous instruction should have been couched in terms of generalization. Students should know from the first day of instruction that the goal of strategy instruction is generalization. Teachers should have been encouraging students to experiment with generalizing the strategy and sharing the results and their perceptions with the teacher and other students. Instruction during this stage differs only in that generalization now is targeted intensively and extensively.

To ensure generalization, the teacher should engage in four types of generalization activities: orientation, activation, adaptation, and maintenance. Orientation activities consist primarily of efforts to make students highly cognizant of the need to generalize the strategy, to communicate the expectation that they do so, and to ensure students are aware of the situations and circumstances in which the reading strategy can be used.

During activation activities the teacher should review with students situations where the strategy is applicable, discuss using the strategy flexibly, and discuss cues that may signal appropriate times to apply the strategy. The objective is to ensure that students begin engaging in generalization behaviors and that they receive feedback on their efforts to use the strategy independently. Students are given (a) specific assignments to use the strategy in settings other than the one in which the strategy was learned originally, and (b) nonspecific assignments in which they are required to recognize appropriate opportunities to use the reading strategy independently and apply it to meet personal goals. Following these assignments, the teacher should conduct debriefings with students to discuss how they used the strategy (e.g., difficulties encountered decisions made about using it, any adaptations), to check their comprehension of the text to which the strategy was applied, and to provide them with feedback regarding their use of generalization.

Adaptation activities are designed to facilitate student adaptation of the strategy to other problem domains. For example, during these activities students might practice using the paraphrasing strategy as a class participation strategy to become more involved in discussions.

Maintenance activities are designed to ensure that students maintain their knowl-edge of what the strategy is, how it is performed, and when it should be used. Periodic review sessions (e.g., every 2 weeks) are recommended.

Note: For in-depth training in how to teach the paraphrasing reading strategy, teacher manuals, videotapes, and other instructional resources for this intervention, contact the University of Kansas Center for Research in Learning.