Think Aloud Analysis

The “think aloud” will be an entirely new experience for most students. It begins when I present an unfamiliar poem to a group of three students. I ask the group to formulate an interpretation of their poem, verbalizing every thought that occurs to them while they figure out the poem — the “think aloud” part of the exercise. I film two such sessions, both lasting about ten minutes. The next step involves every student in the class watching the video and analyzing the think aloud process, outlining its core parts, annotating moments of confusion, negotiation, or understanding, and devising a rubric that accounts for the different reading strategies the group members used.

The project is a rather open-ended investigation. While students will generate a written analysis, there is no concrete end-product I envision; rather this project is about process and discovery. That said, I do want students to proceed deliberately, guided by the concepts we have encountered in our discussions on expert and novice learners, the question of difficulty, and the “protocols of reading” that we rely upon when faced with unfamiliar or challenging texts.

1. To get started, watch one of the online videos of the “think alouds” we did in class: Group One (Alica, Maggie, Abbie) reading Louise Gluck’s “Gretel in Darkness” or Group Two (Susanna, Susan, Beth) reading William Carlos Williams’ “Between Walls.” Remember you only need to study one for this project.

2. Upon your first viewing simply jot down your impressions. Note which specific moments are interesting to you or catch your eye. Use the video’s time code to keep track of these points.

3. Watch the video again, this time trying to describe what makes those moments you noticed interesting. Is it a moment of deepening understanding? A moment of frustration or confusion?

4. Either building upon the previous step or focusing upon other spots in the video, begin to analyze the specific reading strategies (“reading protocols”) used by the students. What techniques do the readers — either individually or collectively — use to negotiate meaning? Do they fixate on certain words or patterns? Do they ignore others? What do the readers gravitate towards? What other strategies advance or hinder understanding?

5. Here is the meta-moment: what kinds of knowledge come into play during the interpretation? Broadly speaking, we can think about experts having several types of “knowledge” at work in any given situation*:

  • Formal Knowledge (Content-based knowledge in a specific field of expertise, say American poetry, or even more generally, knowledge of poetic terms and techniques)
  • Informal Knowledge (Knowledge outside a specific field, what we might think of as “common sense” or “intuitive” knowledge)
  • Procedural Knowledge (Skill-based knowledge, familiarity with relevant methodology or approaches; if formal knowledge is “knowing about…” then procedural knowledge is “knowing how…”)
  • Self-Regulatory Knowledge (Awareness of the limits or gaps in one’s own knowledge; knowledge that guides the application of other knowledge)

Exactly how you write up this analysis is up to you. As a more traditional paper, it might be 5-7 pages long. If it makes sense, you might want to incorporate visual elements, such as a timeline or chart, or even a concept map. Whatever your approach, the goal is both (1) to highlight specific reading strategies and their deployment, and (2) to synthesize your findings about knowledge and the process of the reading. This analysis is due in class on February 10.

* These categories of knowledge are adapted from Carl Bereiter, Surpassing Ourselves: An Inquiry into the Nature and Implications of Expertise, Chicago: Open Court, 1993.