What Is It?
The K-3 reading content in this spotlight is based on the recommendations of the National Reading Panel (NRP), The Partnership for Reading (PFR), the International Reading Association (IRA), the U.S. Department of Education's Reading First Program, and the Northeast and Islands Regional Technology in Education Consortium (NEIRTEC).
Reading comprehension--deriving meaning from text--is dependent on active and thoughtful interaction of the reader with the text. For the more effective teacher, reading comprehension instruction is not simply a matter of asking students questions after they have read a passage--a practice which may only help to assess a student's reading comprehension.
Instead, effective teachers focus reading comprehension instruction on developing strategic readers. Laura Robb describes strategic readers as "readers who know how to activate prior knowledge before, during, and after reading; decide what's important in a text; synthesize information; draw inferences during and after reading; ask questions; and self-monitor and repair faulty comprehension" (Teaching Reading in Middle School: A Strategic Approach to Teaching Reading That Improves Comprehension and Thinking, 2000).
Although Robb's work focuses on strategic reading at the middle school level, it is important for elementary school teachers to introduce similar and precursor comprehension strategies to their students. Using these strategies in combination and in contexts that generate high levels of student involvement and engagement can have positive effects on reading comprehension (Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: Reports of the Subgroups. April 2000, Chapter 4, pp. 94, 95, 114, 125).
The National Reading Panel (NRP) meta-analysis of studies identified eight effective strategies for developing reading comprehension:
In addition to using the strategies that are listed above, it is essential for teachers to help readers to grow in their ability to read increasingly difficult text and to succeed in comprehension by providing instruction and reading materials at an appropriate level of difficulty. In reading, a student's optimal level of difficulty, called his/her "instructional level," is adequately challenging--not too hard and not too easy. It is a level of difficulty--in the vocabulary and syntax of the print material--that gives the learner opportunities for teacher-directed guidance, for needed practice, and for new learning without becoming hopelessly frustrated.
The following technology recommendations for reading are direct excerpts from "Technology and Teaching Children to Read," published by the Northeast and Islands Regional Technology in Education Consortium (NEIRTEC) in 2004. The complete NEIRTEC report can be downloaded as a PDF file from the link provided at http://knowledgeloom.org/elemlit.
"There are several ways in which technology can provide direct instruction in comprehension strategies, including the ability to:
Implications for ELLs
An individual student's reading comprehension varies from text to text. One important variable is prior knowledge of the topic. When students read about familiar topics and cultural contexts, they comprehend and retain information better than when they read about topics of which they have little or no background knowledge.
Other factors that affect students' ability to comprehend are the presence of unknown vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, complex sentence structure, and an unfamiliar style such as a regional dialect. Texts vary in the degree to which they provide background information or require that readers have the knowledge necessary to "fill in the blanks." This is especially true for English language learners (ELLs).
The following eight types of instruction identified by the National Reading Panel (2000) are highly appropriate for ELLs but may require additional scaffolding and practice.
The National Reading Panel (NRP) meta-analysis of studies found eight effective areas of instruction for developing reading strategy:
Strategies for Supporting ELLs
Teachers can help English language learners (ELLs) increase reading comprehension in a number of different ways.
Effective teachers examine reading selections ahead of time for linguistic features and cultural material that may require explanation prior to reading. Often, teachers assess, activate, and build students' background knowledge through the use of pre-reading discussion of illustrations, titles, or issues. It is beneficial to precede nonfiction readings with demonstrations or experiential activities related to the topic. Students are more successful readers when they have a framework for understanding the new information presented in the text.
It is important to find reading material with settings, characters, problems, and topics that are familiar or meaningful to students. When teachers help students to select their own reading materials, teachers promote students' motivation, enjoyment, and sense of efficacy.
Graphic organizers and story maps provide support to ELLs who may tend to get lost in the words and not see organizing ideas or patterns. Effective teachers are aware that these devices work best with repeated explanations of their purpose and demonstrations of use. They introduce graphic organizers and story maps by applying them first to easy or familiar texts. This enables students to focus on learning why and how to use these organizers before applying them as tools for comprehending more demanding texts.
Summarizing is a valuable and surprisingly difficult skill that teachers must model and explain. Teachers explicitly discuss their decisions about what constitutes the main points in a summary. To become effective summarizers, ELLs need instruction in combining sentences and in the use of superordinates, so that they can use category words (e.g., relatives, hobbies, injuries, mammals, countries) rather than enumerating lists.
Learning to answer and generate questions about the text can be very productive for ELLs. Teacher modeling and guided practice help students gain an understanding of how to ask productive questions in various linguistic forms (e.g., Why John went West?/ Why did John go West?/ Why do you think John went West?).
When teachers ask students to provide evidence from the text to support their opinions, students read and reread more closely.
Effective teachers say things like:
Glimpse of the Classroom
Mrs. N.'s English language learners' class has finished reading Thomas' Snowsuit. Today, she plans to have her class retell the story. She works with the entire group to demonstrate and scaffold the concepts of retelling and the specifics of the assignment that they will later do in pairs.
She has prepared three "Go Charts" with graphic symbols that depict the beginning, middle, and ending of the story. Students will retell the story, take five pictures from the book, and place them in the correct order. Her "beginning" chart uses the words characters, who, what, when, where, and setting, which she encourages her students to discuss. The "middle" chart uses the words problem and solution. In this activity, students eagerly share their ideas about the structure of the story and their appreciation of its humor.
Mrs. N. has combined three research-supported strategies in her "story retelling" lesson with her English learners' class. She uses (1) graphic organizers; (2) mapping of story structure (beginning, middle, and ending of the story; elements of the story problem and solution; and who, what, when, where, and setting); and (3) cooperative learning, which she calls "buddy work."
Questions to Think About