Overview of Comprehension Instruction
Reading comprehension can be defined narrowly as instruction that promotes the ability to learn from text or more broadly as instruction that gives students access to important domains of knowledge and provides a means of pursuing affective and intellectual goals (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002). From either perspective, reading-comprehension instruction necessarily entails multiple teaching procedures designed to promote students' acquisition of numerous comprehension skills and strategies.
The critical state of reading comprehension among our nation's middle- and high-school students was captured in this description by the RAND Reading Study Group (RRSG):
One of the most vexing problems facing middle and secondary school teachers today is that many students come into their classrooms without the requisite knowledge, skills, and dispositions to read the materials placed before them. These students are, for one reason or another, poor comprehenders. Poor comprehenders are students who can neither read nor demonstrate satisfactory understanding of texts appropriate for their grade level. Many teachers are frustrated by what they see as an ever-increasing number of students who are poor comprehenders. (2002, p. 34)
In response to a charge from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education to study pressing literacy issues, RRSG chose to focus on comprehension. That focus was motivated by a number of factors, including the following:
- High school graduates are facing an increased need for a high degree of literacy, but comprehension outcomes are not improving.
- Students in the United States are performing poorly in comparison with students in other countries as they enter the later years of schooling when they encounter discipline-specific content and subject-matter learning.
- Unacceptable gaps in reading performance persist between children in different demographic groups despite extensive efforts to close those gaps.
- Not enough attention has been paid to helping teachers develop skills they need to promote reading comprehension, ensure content learning through reading, and deal with the differences in comprehension skills that their students display.
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