Reading Comprehension

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Logic of English methodically develops reading comprehension skills by introducing students to high-quality information-rich books that require students to read and comprehend from the earliest stages of the curriculum.

In the early lessons students begin by reading simple readers that do not include illustrations. The students then cut out the pictures and glue them to the page with the appropriate text. This completes the reader and gives students a way to demonstrate early comprehension skills, in addition to helping them solidify early decoding skills without guessing.

The readers then transition to include engaging stories. These are followed by high-quality information-rich readers which introduce the student to new topics and information. No one would suspect these playful texts of being carefully controlled phonics readers, yet no phonemes or rules that have not been explicitly taught are included. As a result, students are able to successfully decode every book and focus on learning comprehension skills while continuing to develop their understanding of the English code.

The end goal of all reading instruction is that students would be able to read and comprehend a text. When students comprehend, they are developing models of meaning from the information within a passage (Duke & Pearson, 2002) and are able to combine this information with their prior knowledge to refine their models of understanding and formulate new models (Pearson et al., 1992; Gordon & Pearson, 1983; Hansen & Pearson, 1981). As readers encounter new information, their knowledge base expands (Anderson & Freebody, 1981) and forms the foundation upon which the student is able to further construct meaning. As we have seen, however, comprehension rests upon the student mastering the underlying skills of reading.

Without phonemic awareness, students will be unable to develop strong decoding skills (Moats, 1998) which aid students in recognizing words (Snow et al., 1998). Decoding must be developed to the point of automaticity so that students are able to focus their attention on higher order processing (Sousa, 2006; Tan & Nicholson, 1997). Explicit vocabulary instruction then helps students to develop strong word knowledge which in turn enhances comprehension of increasingly complex texts (Anderson & Freebody, 1991; Nagy et al., 1987; Becket al., 1982; Beck & McKeown, 1991; Durso & Coggins, 1991). With foundational skills in place, students have a strong base on which to build the higher order skills they need for success in reading comprehension.

Once a student knows how to decode and can read high frequency words and common linguistic patterns with automaticity, the difficulty of a given text depends upon the difficulty of the vocabulary and the prior knowledge needed to read the text (Anderson & Freebody, 1981). Even a highly accomplished reader may struggle to access the information in a given text; for example, a reader who is able to easily comprehend a complex legal document may struggle to read and comprehend an advanced textbook on quantum physics. The issue is not that the reader lacks the necessary reading skills but that the reader lacks the prior knowledge and the understanding of physics vocabulary terms necessary to comprehend the information.

Students should be taught explicitly how to access prior knowledge and integrate it with their reading of a text, as well as how to use prior knowledge to form inferences (Hansen & Pearson, 1983). One particularly effective method is to ask students why particular facts are being presented and actions taken (Pressley et al., 1992). It is also beneficial to encourage students to elaborate on what they have read (Pressley et al., 1992). This process has been shown not only to increase student comprehension but also to increase the retention of the material (Martin & Pressley, 1991). Students should be encouraged to read extensively from high-quality, information-rich texts (Stanovich & Cunningham, 1993) as a means of further developing their knowledge base.

As students read, they should be monitoring themselves. This means being aware of what they do understand, aware of what they don’t understand, and able to choose from a variety of comprehension strategies to bridge the gap (NICHD, 2001; Pressley, 2000). Monitoring reading requires that students be fluent decoders so that they are able to focus their attention on meaning and notice when a decoded word does not make sense and should be re-decoded (Anderson and Freebody, 1981). When students know the phoneme(s) that each phonogram or phonograms stands for, they will have access to the linguisitic tools necessary to make sense of the word.

As students master these underlying skills, they are ready to begin learning specific comprehension strategies that will aid them in pulling further meaning from the text. Explicit teaching that includes teachers telling readers why and when they should use strategies, what strategies to use, and how to apply them helps students to further develop into effective readers (NICHD, 2001).

Comprehension research has uncovered a wide variety of strategies that are beneficial to developing further understanding of texts. Strategies can be loosely divided into pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading strategies (Nagy, 1988).

Pre-reading activities should include:

  • Know why they are reading a text (Anderson et al., 1987).
  • Make predictions about what a text will be about based upon the title and prior knowledge (Anderson et al., 1987).
  • Recall prior knowledge about a topic (Martin & Pressley, 1991) so that it is more readily accessed during reading.
  • Introduce new vocabulary terms related to the topic (Pressley, 2000).
  • Identify whether there is a question that needs to be answered (Raphael & Pearson, 1985).

Students must be taught how to use the following skills during reading, applying whichever are applicable for the type of text they are reading:

  • Figure out the meanings of unfamiliar vocabulary based on knowledge of phonology (Nagy, 1988), morphology (Nagy, 1988), and context clues (Pressley, 2000).
  • Monitor their reading for meaning (Pressley, 2000).
  • Reread sentences or passages to clarify or further develop the meaning (Allington, 1983; Dowhower, 1987).
  • Underline key words and topic sentences (Pressley, 2000).
  • Take notes (Cordon & Day, 1996).
  • Paraphrase (Pressley, 2000).
  • Use background knowledge to make inferences (Hansen and Pearson, 1983; Guszak, 1967).
  • Generate questions about ideas in the text (Brown et al., 1981; Kintsch & Van Dijk, 1978; Andre & Anderson, 1979; Brown & Palincsar, 1985).
  • Construct mental images representing ideas in the text (Brown et al., 1981; Kintsch & Van Dijk, 1978).
  • Predict what will occur next (Anderson et al., 1987; Guszak, 1967).
  • Note whether their predictions and expectations about text content are being met (Pressley, 2000).
  • Analyze the setting (Pearson & Dole, 1987; Pearson & Fielding, 1991; Pressley et al., 1989).
  • Identify main characters (Pearson & Dole, 1987; Pearson & Fielding, 1991; Pressley et al., 1989).
  • Identify the problem, attempts at resolution, and final solution (Pearson & Dole, 1987; Pearson & Fielding, 1991; Pressley et al., 1989).
  • Think aloud (Silven & Vauras, 1992).

As students complete the reading of a text they should be explicitly instructed on how to:

  • Review important points (Cordón & Day, 1996).
  • Relocate information within a text (Guszak, 1967).
  • Translate ideas, pictures, metaphors and symbolism into their own words (Guszak, 1967).
  • Consider how ideas encountered in the text might be used in the future (Cordón & Day, 1996).
  • Revise their prior knowledge (Pressley, 2000).
  • Evaluate a text’s quality and reliability (Cordón & Day, 1996).
  • Summarize by selecting or composing a topic sentence that summarizes the reading, giving a word to replace a list of items, and giving a word to replace individual parts of an action (Brown et al., 1981; Kintsch & Van Dijk, 1978).

As students mature and begin to read larger numbers of texts, they need to be taught how to:

  • Sift through large units of text (Dole et al., 1991).
  • Omit unnecessary material (Brown et al., 1981; Kintsch & Van Dijk, 1978).
  • Omit redundant material (Brown et al., 1981; Kintsch & Van Dijk, 1978).
  • Differentiate important from unimportant ideas, and then create a new coherent text that stands for the original (Dole et al., 1991).

As students learn particular strategies, it is beneficial for the teacher to describe the strategy and discuss when it is best used, model the strategy, use the strategy collaboratively, and provide opportunities for independent practice (Duke & Pearson, 2002). It is particularly beneficial for students to think aloud as part of their comprehension training (Silven & Vauras, 1992), as this helps the students to better clarity their thoughts and the teacher to understand the process the student is using.

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