Working Memory: Familiarity vs. Fluency: Hide Reveal Tool

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The true purpose of online tutorials should be getting students familiar with the tools that will appear on tests, but it won’t work unless they use the tools for a particular purpose. It’s therefore important to become fluent with how the tools aid in their success. Here, Dr. Shona starts with the hide/reveal tool.

The Problem with Online Tutorials

Online tutorials. It’s a thing folks recommend kids experience before the big day. But have you watched the kids when they have to do the tutorial? It should be called a click through instead of a tutorial. Reminds me of what my credit recovery kids do: play the video because you have to, but listen to music instead. Then you click the answers randomly and fail the quiz. Then have your teacher reset your test. Retake until you know all the wrong answers and get a passing score. Waste of time. Gaming the system.

Well, that was embarrassing. Remember when we proved how taking a tutorial on any assessment platform is not going to be enough exposure to screen complexities? It’s true that the kids aren’t really learning with the tutorials. It’s just something they have to do because we make them. It’s not a bad thing to be familiar with the testing platform. We certainly don’t want them going in there cold like I did on the math portion of the GRE before grad school. I’d never seen problems like those before and could have made a less embarrassing score had I known.

But being familiar with the tools really doesn’t matter until you need to use the tools for a particular purpose. And, honestly, who would think they needed a tutorial to click on multiple-choice stuff? We need to go beyond familiarity with what the tools are and become fluent with how the tools aid our success.

Questions First?

Each tool was designed with a purpose: the user experience. The tools are designed to help the user. By using the tools in our instructional modeling and activities, we show the purposes and uses of the tools to enhance comprehension. By adding purpose, utility, we trigger the hippocampus and allow the instruction to stick because it is useful and relevant.

The Hide/Reveal tool is a great example. Many students are told to read the questions first and then to skim and scan the passage as if it were a seek and find to pick out the answer as if it were some kind of tree trunk in a haystack. The test isn’t designed like that. And, our memories don’t work that way.

Test design: Psychometricians figured out a long time ago that folks were teaching the kids to find key words in the question and then match them to places in the text. Some teachers even had kids tallying how many times the key words or ideas showed up for each answer choice. The one with the most tallies was supposed to be the right answer. Questions now are written to avoid that kind of false thinking. Many times, the stem begins the answer and the answer choices complete the focus of the item. Most of the time, the answer cannot be found by matching terms to the passage. The questions are written to show a complete understanding of the passage as a whole and preponderance of evidence combined with reasoning based on genre characteristics.

Memories: Remember how our short-term memories work? We have plus or minus seven spaces to hold ideas until our brains are full. Most passages have more than seven questions. Most questions have at least five parts—the stem plus four answer choices. That’s 35 pieces of information to keep in the working memory. Struggling readers are already overwhelmed before they’ve read a word of the passage. Asking kids to read the questions before reading the passage in order to search for particular information is a bad idea.

Purposeful Use: Hide/Reveal Tool

The Hide and Reveal tool can be used with a purpose: to hide the questions until the thinker is ready to consider them. Hiding the questions may be less distracting for some students. Yet, the tool also has some side effects that are best left up to the learner’s preferences.

Look at what happens to the text before and after the right-hand arrow is selected. Before the arrow is selected, the text is long and skinny. The scroll bar is pretty long because there is a lot of text not seen in the window. When the right arrow is clicked, the text is now fat and short. The scroll bar is short because most or all of the text is visible in the window.

Now the reader has a decision to make. How do I read best? What kind of text is less intimidating to me? Do I read better with short lines? Does it bother me that the text seems longer this way? Do I read better if the lines are longer and the text seems shorter? Do I like it better when I can see more of what I still have to read?

No one but the reader can make this decision. But the teacher is the one that can show them the implications, benefits, and drawbacks of using each tool. Another benefit comes from student decision making. As students have more control over their individual reading needs, they engage more and feel better equipped to persist through difficult tasks. Choice is a powerful motivator. Turns out that choice with reading tools also increases reading comprehension because readers use the tools for a specific purpose related to their reading needs.

TEKS Commentary

Foundational Language Skills: Fluency: A
Foundational Language Skills: Self-Sustained Reading: A

Both fluency and self-sustained reading play key roles in familiarity and fluency as well as the use of the line reader tool. Students make key decisions about what is most comfortable and engaging for setting up their screens. The key portions of fluency for reading are rate, prosody, and accuracy. The length of the line can greatly impact students who are struggling with tracking or decoding. The shorter line lengths can help students chunk the texts into smaller units that are easier to process and can feel less overwhelming. For students that struggle with tracking the return sweep from one line to the next, a shorter line just makes more of those annoying instances. A longer line length can feel less frustrating to a student that struggles with this type of reading difficulty. And, honestly, sometimes students think the reading tasks are a lot longer than they are. They can use the hide and reveal tool to help them understand and prepare for the amount of reading they must complete. The hide and reveal tool functions a bit like a mental health tool to help with despair and managing energy.

Comprehension Skills: A, B, C, I
Multiple Genres: Genres: F

Establishing purposes, asking questions before reading, making predictions with text features, and monitoring comprehension are essential elements of reading digitally. The format of the screen changes the user experience. Managing the screen for the reader’s benefit and ability to monitor the reading act before, during, and after reading by considering line length, the scroll bar characteristics, and text length are bonuses in digital text not available in print texts. Understanding the components of digital texts and tools is the very metacognitive tools mentioned in the knowledge and skills statement that students use to develop and deepen their comprehension. When we do not teach the text features of digital text and the platform and how they are used to aid comprehension, we aren’t fully teaching for success in an online world.

Inquiry and Research: A, B, C

Essentially, students set up a research scenario to collect data from the reading. They adjust their process to make the best of what needs to happen at that time, for them, and with that particular text.

Next Up:

Now that we’ve discussed how students can better benefit from online tutorials, we’ll talk about how to use the scroll bar and line reader tools with purpose.

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About the Author

Dr Shona Rose

Shona Rose

Dr. Shona Rose, passionate about literacy and improving student experiences, researches and presents solutions to cause displays of learner growth. These displays become tools for teachers to provide support and intervention to accelerate the impact on student performance.
Dr. Rose uses her experiences as a baker at Kind House Ukraine Bakery, gardening and music, and budding interest as an outdoorswoman and overlander to make concrete connections to literary processes. Her rescue mutt, Joy, and ugly Cornish Rex cat, Youglie, often appear in her writings and activities.
When not researching and reading, Dr. Rose revels in being a “Nona” to her three grandchildren. 
Connect with Shona: 
Or by email to shonarose67 at gmail