Deep Reading: Is Comprehension Enough?

Patricia E. Reynolds

When a teacher considers the ideas behind the concept of deep reading often they default to the idea that this provides students with a more robust way to comprehend a difficult text. Yet, upon further examination of this way of viewing deep reading of text, the teacher working in a second language classroom has to be aware that because of a student’s lack of control of the vocabulary a “deep reading” of any text requires an enormous amount of preparation and development before the total comprehension of the text is even possible. When we ask students to “read like a detective” we have to be sure that they have all the clues in place to be able to solve the puzzle.

The Information Process of Deep Reading

In order for students to be able to engage in deep reading, they must have control over the six types of information that are essential to the comprehension task we set them to accomplish. Second language learners require these skills to be able to comprehend any text whether they are deep or surface reading and often it is the case that while these skills are initially instructed so students can begin to acquire information and knowledge in the second language, the development of the six types of information processing are not fully processed and practiced so that deep reading can occur.

To accomplish any reading task, the six types of information that have to be actively processed are sound knowledge, semantic and lexical word knowledge, syntactic or word order knowledge, prior knowledge and pragmatic knowledge. For a second language reader, there may or may not be a complete development of these systems depending on the amount of time in the language as well as the quality of the development programs they have been exposed to as they learn a second language. It then becomes the responsibility of the teacher to assess and determine the ability of the student to use these skills to accomplish a deep reading task. Teachers focus on the Semantic and Lexical word knowledge and seem to forget that the other systems may not be in place for effective deep reading in a second language. If the metalinguistic knowledge is not in place in all of the six areas of information processing, then deep reading is hindered and students are unable to fully comprehend the text.

One technique that is showing some great promise and providing second language learners with a means of putting the reading clues in place is cognitive classroom questioning. Numerous research studies indicate that classroom questioning is essential to deep understanding (Cotton, 1988; Berci and Griffith, 2005; Myhill and Dunkin, 2005; International Center for Leadership in Education, 2001-2006). Yet the reality exists that most teachers default to the practice of questioning for recall of events or basic understanding due to time constraints, authoritarian teaching styles, and student insecurities (Dillon, 1978; Levin and Long, 1981; Piazza, 2001; de Jesus et al., 2004; Wells and Arauz, 2006). While effective to allow the teacher to get the information they require to grade, this does not provide the student with the deep understanding that they need to process the text effectively.

Noticing and Wondering

One strategy that holds promise to move students to a higher cognitive level in a more rapid order is called Noticing and Wondering (Reynolds, 2013). The technique known as Noticing and Wondering or I Notice, I wonder has been effectively applied in Math instruction for a long time and has been made very popular by Annie Fetter in 2012 as a strategy of how to use questions in the mathematics classroom. In my own praxis, I have applied this same strategy to second language learners with a high rate of success in developing their reading skills and understandings. My work with English Language professional educators has also demonstrated that this strategy can help them to not get caught in the trap of just asking recall questions to students when deep reading is the goal. But deep reading is not an escape, or a skim but a discovery. Deep reading provides a way of discovering how we are all connected to the world and to our own evolving cognitive information bank. Therefore, students assume that their own reading difficulties stem from their lack of expertise in the language, which makes the text ‘too hard for them.’ Consequently, they don’t allot the study time needed to read a text deeply. Noticing and wondering about the text can give them a pathway to developing a deeper reading strategy.

Reading teachers will often go through the Bloom’s taxonomy for the development of their classroom questioning leaving some of the higher level thinking questions unable to be answered by lower proficiency level students. This leaves the student trying to make sense of the text with an incomplete knowledge that leads to incomplete comprehension. But the strategy of Noticing and Wondering goes immediately to the higher order by asking students to make value judgements, discover inferences and notice things that may not be evident to them in the normal course of taxonomic questioning.

When students notice and wonder they also gain control of the information they have to process. This strategy allows them to notice the six types of information in the context of the reading and not only question this information for themselves but frame the questions so that deeper meaning can be accessed by others who hear the question. In addition, asking students what they notice can be less threatening than asking them what they know.

Wondering provides students with an outlet for asking about aspects of the reading that may not be immediately comprehended. All too often students are asked to predict or infer about something in a reading but that has proven to be difficult for second language learners to be able to do when they have an incomplete comprehension of exactly what they are reading in the first place. Wondering allows not only students but the teacher to ask relevant questions about areas that may be problematic, idiomatic in nature and provides students with prior knowledge they may not have right at their fingertips.

If the goal is deep reading, we have to provide students with the tools to establish a climate for deep reading. Teachers have to give them the tools to discover and uncover the elements of the text that will reward them with a deeper understanding. Noticing and Wondering is a scaffold as well as a strategy the gives all proficiency levels the opportunity to develop the clues so they can “read like a detective” and establish a deeper reading of any text.


Berci, M. E., & Griffith, B. (2005). What does it mean to question? Interchange 36(4), 405-430.

Cotton, K. (1988). Classroom questioning. School Improvement Research Series SIRS. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

de Jesus, H. P., Almeida, P., & Watts, M. (2004). Questioning styles and students’ learning: Four case studies. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology 24(4), 531-548.

Dillon, J. T. (1982). The effect of questions in education and other enterprises. Journal of Curriculum Studies 14(2), 127-152.

International Center for Leadership in Education, Inc. (2001-2006). Instructional strategies: How to teach for rigor and relevance: Teacher Handbook.

Levin, T., & Long, R.. (1981). Effective instruction. Washington: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Myhill, D., & Dunkin, F. (2005). Questioning learning. Language and Education 19(5), 415-427.

Piazza, R. (2002). The pragmatics of conducive questions in academic discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 34, 509-527.

Reynolds, P. (2013). Noticing and wondering: Making reading detectives. Presentation to the Virginia ESL Supervisors Association, Richmond.VA March 2013.

Wells, G., & Arauz, R. M. (2006). Dialogue in the classroom. The Journal of the Learning Sciences 15(3), 379-428.



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