Sunday, July 22, 2012

Reading Comprehension: The Basics


Reading comprehension has been defined many different ways.  A simple definition for it is the ability to gain meaning from texts.  Comprehension is not possible without the other essential early literacy skills: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and vocabulary.  If a child has not developed these skills first, comprehension will be nearly impossible. 

Research Findings

The University of Oregon's Center for Teaching and Learning analyzed the National Reading Panel's findings and other studies to conclude that children who comprehend well also have high decoding skills.  Comprehension can be enhanced by developing students' decoding abilities.  Also, comprehension can be increased by allowing readers to actively relate to and engage in correlating what they read with their prior knowledge and experiences.

Additionally, the CTL found several reasons for reading comprehension failure:
  • Inadequate instruction
  • Insufficient exposure and practice
  • Deficient word recognition skills
  • Deficient memory capacity and functioning
  • Significant language deficiencies
  • Inadequate comprehension monitoring and self-evaluation
  • Unfamiliarity with text features and task demands
  • Undeveloped attentional strategies
  • Inadequate cognitive development and reading experiences

Approaches to Instruction

While there are many reasons for reading comprehension failure, the CTL also identified several scientifically-based comprehension strategies based on the NRP study.  These instructional strategies include:
  • Comprehension monitoring
  • Cooperative learning
  • Multiple strategies
  • Mental imagery / mnemonics
  • Graphic organizers
  • Summarization
  • Semantic organizers including:
    • story maps
    • question answering
    • question generation
While many students do acquire comprehension skills informally, research shows that explicit instruction regarding comprehension strategies increases student reading achievement.

In their study, the NRP actually examined sixteen different type of comprehension instruction.  The seven listed above by the CTL were found to be the most scientifically sound approaches.  A breakdown of all sixteen types of instruction including how many studies the NRP examined and how effective each strategy is can be found in this report by the National Institute for Child Health & Human Development.  Page six and seven of the PDF file present a table of the sixteen types of instruction for easy comparison. 

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