Current Issues in Reading Comprehension
Over the past decade, there has been an increased focus nationally on the development of literacy for all students. This increased focus has spawned several important documents to assist teachers in providing effective reading instruction to prevent reading difficulties (National Research Council, 1998) and to improve overall reading performance (National Reading Panel [NRP], 2000). Each of these documents identified reading comprehension as an essential literacy outcome for students and the ultimate goal of reading instruction. However, these national panels also acknowledged a need for more research on reading comprehension. In comparison to existing research on the code-based components of reading (i.e., phonemic awareness, alphabetic understanding, automaticity with the code), research on reading comprehension, including vocabulary development, is less extensive, rigorous, and current. This conclusion was echoed by the RAND Reading Study Group (2002) which determined that “evidence-based improvements in the teaching practices of reading comprehension are sorely needed” (p. xxiii). As a result, a number of important research initiatives, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, are currently underway that could significantly add to our understanding of ways to support reading comprehension for all students.
Perfetti, Marron, and Folz (1996) divided the factors that contribute to reading comprehension into two general areas: processes and knowledge. Processes involve decoding, working memory, inference-making, and comprehension monitoring. In contrast, knowledge factors include word meanings and domain knowledge related to the content of what is being read. These factors provide a framework for thinking about current trends in reading comprehension instructional research. Much of the research over the past several years has focused on the teaching of specific comprehension strategies that reflect those used by good readers (Pressley, 2000) and this continues to be an important focus for researchers. However, there is renewed interest in other aspects of reading comprehension. For example, an area of interest in contemporary reading comprehension research relates to the importance of individual word knowledge and decoding and its contribution to text comprehension. Another current issue is how strategic processing interacts with specific domain knowledge in content area reading.
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