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Self-Explanation

Self-explanation consists of a collection of strategies for solidifying one's own understanding of a text or of the ideas it contains by (mentally or verbally) rehearsing what it says in one's own words. It presupposes the ability to summarize the gist of a text, but goes beyond that; self-explanation may introduce significant additions to what a text says explicitly, and may organize the material in ways that depart from the explicit organization of the source. Such additions increase the coherence of self-explanation, because they accurately represent the mental model the reader has constructed from the text and thus capture inferences and elaborations that increase the overall coherence of ideas. Self-explanation includes freewriting methods for generating ideas in writing as well as the use of self-explanation as a method of improving reading comprehension. This capability helps support, among other things, the Common Core State Standards for inference and evidence from text for Reading and of planning, editing, and revision for Writing. The hypothesized development of these skills is presented in Development Table 9.

Literature Note - Freewriting and Self-Explanation


Development Table 10. Hypotheses about the Development of Self-Explanation Skills


Level
Interpretation
Deliberation
Expression
Preliminary
(oral to sentence)
Can evaluate whether a partially produced sentence is on target, or off, relative to the idea one has in mind.
Can apply generate-and-test strategies, in which one generates part of what one has in mind, pauses, considers alternatives, and selects the one closest to the intended meaning.
Can produce a running commentary on a text, with production of commentary interpolated between reading individual segments.
Foundational
(sentence to paragraph)
Can evaluate whether an explanation of the content of a text is complete or incomplete.
Can apply closed-loop idea-generation strategies by rereading text as one produces it.
Can apply iterative self-explanation strategies in which one attempts to freely interpret and explain what some portion of a text means, without worrying too much about overall accuracy, and then adds a bit more explanation if the first attempt does not seem adequate.
Basic
(paragraph to text)
Can determine on-the-fly which of several freely-associated ideas seems most promising and interesting.
Can apply reflective strategies in which self-explanation is focused on clarifying one's own thoughts and understandings in an ambiguous situation.
Can apply freewriting strategies in which one produces text very quickly, with very little overall strategy, focusing on explaining what one thinks. The results of freewriting can then be mined to extract them most useful ideas and phrasings.
Intermediate
(text to context)
Can determine on the fly which of several freely-associated ideas seems most appropriate to a particular purpose and audience.
Can apply reflective strategies in which one imagines a range of alternate situations and uses self-explanation to explore conceptual parameters for a chosen topic.
Can apply freewriting strategies in which one imagines different purposes and audiences (variants from the actual task one wishes to do), produces text suited to each combination, and mines the results for materials that can be adapted to the actual task.
Advanced
(text and context to discourse)
Can determine on the fly which of several freely-associated ideas is most related to ideas that have been advanced in an ongoing discourse.
Can apply reflective strategies in which one uses self-explanation to explore the options logically available to the participants in a discourse.
Can apply freewriting strategies in which one assumes one or more roles that imitate other participants in a discourse and produces text consistent with the persona one has adopted, and then mines the result for materials that can be adapted to the actual task.



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