Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies
Reading comprehension is fundamental to ultimate educational success. Yet elementary students struggle with it on a daily basis. In order for students to comprehend their reading materials, it is helpful to explicitly teach comprehension strategies. (Check out this list!) I will be looking at two aspects of human cognition to be of assistance in this task: metacognition and activating prior semantic knowledge. As an educator, it is important that I help my students reach as much of their potential as I can. Testing different strategies on my students can help me, but even more importantly, can help my students identify the best ones for each of them.
Effective classroom instruction includes four elements. These are: the quality of the instruction itself, teaching at levels appropriate for the students, incentive and motivation on the part of the students, and the right amount of time spent on the task at hand. These elements are multiplicatively related: ineffectiveness in any one of the four elements renders the whole model ineffective. However, improvements in two or more areas provide greater gains than improving only one. (Slavin, 1994)
When students attempt to read new material, whether it be narrative or expository, it is a good idea for them to ask themselves to think about the content of this material. They can take a picture walk through the text, look at headings and chapter titles, and make predictions about various events or words highlighted. Good readers are active in their reading. They ask questions about new words and concepts, make comparisons, and draw on their prior knowledge to assist them in comprehension. (Duke and Pearson, 2002) Developing good reading comprehension is more than just thinking about how to comprehend. Students must also be taught specific skills that are essential to good comprehension. These include phonological skills, knowledge of the structure of the text, fluency, and vocabulary. (Gersten, et al., 2001)
Students taught in a more direct and explicit fashion on decoding skills improve faster than students taught in a more implicit fashion. (Foorman & Torgesen, 2001)
Students learn more and better when they have previous knowledge or experience with a topic under study. This helps them use top-down processing to extend their neural networks in semantic memory. They use bottom-up processing to connect to the former nodes and links in their networks. (Matlin, 2005) The more knowledge they gain, the greater their semantic networks will be. The use of graphic organizers can greatly enhance students’ ability to access prior knowledge and bring it to the fore.
Fluency instruction is imperative to good reading comprehension. It takes energy for students to sound out words. If students stumble and are unable to produce a word quickly, they lose momentum and forget what the context of the sentence is. This obviously has a negative effect on comprehension. Fluency must be practiced over time, requiring plenty of both time and practice! Researchers have not found evidence that silent reading has a positive effect on student achievement, but they have found evidence that repeated oral reading positively impacts word recognition, comprehension, and fluency. (Watkins, 2007) Repeated reading is a cost-effective way to help children improve fluency. Materials on hand are more than acceptable to use, especially since any type of text will do.
Questioning techniques on the part of the teacher are also a vital component of teaching students to comprehend text well—what are “wait-time” and “think-time”? Not only do students need time to think of answers, but the questions they are being asked should be higher-level questions—not just yes/no, true/false, or simple detail questions. There is power in “Why?” questions. Asking questions that require elaboration on the part of students helps them to comprehend, teach, and practice new knowledge. (Pressley, 2000) Get more ideas from Will Thalheimer.
Specific comprehension strategies are needed to build skills, but metacognition is important so that students will monitor their own understanding and areas of confusion and frequently evaluate the text with which they are working. (Duke and Pearson, 2002) (Read some effective practices.) Metacognition is the study of thinking about one’s thinking. (Read about metacognition.) Improving students’ thinking and helping them to learn to think about their own thinking are useful skills.
Combining explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies, building on prior knowledge, and utilizing metacognition should help me determine the most effective strategies for reading comprehension improvement in my classroom.