Overview of Comprehension Instruction (page 2)
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.
Studies conducted across the last 30 years suggest that inadequate time and attention to comprehension instruction is a factor that contributes to the state of poor comprehension among our students. In the late 1970s, Delores Durkin (1978–79) found that only 2% of the time designated for reading instruction was used to actually teach students how to comprehend what they read. Recent studies by Pressley (2000) and Taylor, Pearson, Clark, and Walpole (1999a) indicate that this situation has not changed much in the last 20 years despite a growing base of knowledge supporting the value of comprehension instruction. We now know that effective comprehension instruction is complex; adequate time and attention to the details of that instruction will be required to reverse the trend of increasing numbers of poor comprehenders. It goes without saying, however, that additional time and attention to comprehension instruction is likely to accomplish little unless the instruction is in accord with what research tells us about effective comprehension instruction.
Good instruction is the most powerful means of promoting proficient comprehension and preventing comprehension problems (RRSG, 2002). What we already know about comprehension instruction was summarized by RRSG. That summary converges with NRP's research-based conclusions about comprehension instruction to produce a solid base of information on which educators can rely.
Both reports emphasize that effective comprehension instruction includes the teaching of specific comprehension strategies. Four important components of effective strategy instruction are:
- Explicit teaching in which the teacher explains the comprehension strategy clearly, models the strategy, guides the students as they learn and apply the strategy, and provides practice with the strategy until students can apply it independently.
- Explicit teaching of how to use multiple strategies in combination.
- Explicit teaching of how to apply strategies flexibly to different types of text.
- Integration of strategies into content area instruction.
© ______ 2004, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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