Can Reading Comprehension be Taught?

I (Clare) recently read in Teachers College Record a fascinating commentary about reading comprehension by Daniel T. Willingham & Gail LovetteCan Reading Comprehension Be Taught?

For those of you who teach literacy in elementary school or teach literacy methods courses in teacher education programs you might find their analysis of why teaching comprehension very interesting. In my local school districts teaching specific comprehension strategies seems to be the latest bandwagon. On one level I think direct instruction on how to comprehend/make sense of text can help struggling readers.

On the other hand, one of my issues is with the way these strategies are taught. These comprehension strategies are listed on a poster and students are expected to use those specific 8 strategies. They are drilled over and over and over on them. If a student does not “get them” the first ten times of drilling will they ever get them?

So I found Willingham and Lovette’s explanation informative on why this approach can work interesting:

The funny thing about reading comprehension strategy instruction is that it really shouldn’t work, but it does. This commentary seeks to provide insight into how it should work and guidance on effective strategies for implementation.

They provide reasons why teaching comprehension strategies work:phone1

Here’s our interpretation. The vague Ikea instructions aren’t bad advice. You’re better off taking an occasional look at the big picture as opposed to keeping your head down and your little hex wrench turning. Likewise, RCS encourage you to pause as you’re reading, evaluate the big picture, and think about where the text is going. And if the answer is unclear, RCS give students something concrete to try and a way to organize their cognitive resources when they recognize that they do not understand.

 RCS instruction may be at its best in telling students what reading is supposed to be. Reading is not just about decoding; you are meant to understand something. The purpose is communication. This message may be particularly powerful for struggling readers, whose criterion for “understanding” is often too low (Markman, 1979). One of us works extensively with struggling adolescent readers who frequently approach the task of reading as getting to the last word on the page.

I think one of the ways to go forward is to provide students with many comprehension strategies. I know that when I read I use many more than 8 strategies. If you want to read the entire commentary (which is not too long) here is the article. I will definitely use this article with my teacher education students.Can Reading Comprehension Be Taught



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