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WHAT AM I READING?
HOW COMPREHENSION AFFECTS
READ 6707: Reading and Literacy Growth, Grades 4–6
24 January 2016
■ Reading comprehension is a person’s ability to understand
the meaning that a text is trying to communicate.
■ Ah! But there are complications!
– Reading comprehension involves a mutual relationship between the reader
and the text, in which the reader brings their own purpose for reading as well
as their life experiences to meet with the author’s purpose for writing and his
former experiences (Wilhelm, 2016).
– Do students understand the purpose for their reading? How can teachers
encourage this process?
– How can teachers provide direction to support student background
Why should I care
about a student’s
■ If a student is unable to understand what they
are reading, they might as well be staring at a
blank page.They are gaining no information
from the text.
■ Studies indicate that most children who
struggle with reading rarely catch up with their
classmates (Kelly & Campbell, 2012).
Do not fret!There are many ways that teachers
can support students who are struggling with
reading comprehension! Here are a couple of
1. Graphic Organizers
■ When used in a whole group setting, GraphicOrganizers can be a great resource for
teachers to guide student reading comprehension.
■ They provide a visual representation of key points in a text (Reutzel & Cooter, 2016).
– They can also help readers see underlying relationships within a text that may
otherwise go unnoticed.
■ Researchers agree that using graphic organizers is a valuable tool to teach children
text structure, which supports comprehension (Reutzel & Cooter, 2016).
■ Graphic organizers can also be helpful tool for correcting misunderstood text.
– By asking students to contribute to the visual aide through a class discussion,
students learn from each other as well as the teacher.
■ By modeling how to use Graphic organizers teachers are providing students with a
life-long tool that will improve their reading comprehension.
2. Activate Prior Knowledge
■ Research demonstrates, when students have appropriate prior knowledge, they can
connect to the text they are reading - as a result, student reading comprehension
improves (Costley &West, 2012).
■ Studies show evidence for the role of domain-specific prior knowledge in exceptional
performance (Neuenhaus, Artelt, & Schneider, 2013).
- Students who have background knowledge on what they are about to read will
have a stronger understanding of what the text is trying to communicate.
■ Teachers can help students activate their prior knowledge before reading by
– holding class discussions
– showing visual representations of a topic before reading
– having students write a reflection of what they know
(Costley &West, 2012)
■ Prior knowledge allows students to have that “Aha!” moment because they are able to
make sense of a new idea by connecting it to an old idea
Absolutely!There are strategies that students can utilize
to increase their comprehension skills as they read.
Graphic organizers are a great example of a strategy
that can be used by teachers and students.
■ Summarizing is the ability to take what you are reading and write a shortened version
■ This is an excellent strategy for students to practice, as it strengthens their ability to
apply what they have read, incorporating higher order thinking skills (Kirmizi &
– This is harder than it sounds!
■ Students must be able to locate key information and communicate it in their own
words (Kirmizi & Akkaya, 2011).
■ Summarizing is also a great tool for taking what students comprehend and storing it in
their long-term memory.This will add to their prior-knowledge and continue the cycle
of strengthening their reading comprehension abilities.
2. Generate and
■ Students are naturally curious beings.When they learn to ask
questions about text, they can become more purposeful and
■ Encouraging students to ask questions can lead to deeper levels of
text processing (Dole, Duffy, & al, e., 1991)
■ This strategy can foster comprehension as well as teach students
how to self-regulate their thinking (Rosenshine, Meister, &
■ The act of asking questions help students focus their attention on
content (Rosenshine, Meister, & Chapman, 1996)
How can teachers inform
their instruction of
■ There are two types of factors that affect reading
– Non-cognitive (aka Affective)
What are the
■ Cognitive factors include:
– Text difficulty
■ This is measured by how hard it is for a student to read a text (Reutzel & Cooter,
2016). If a text uses too many unfamiliar words, or is set in an unfamiliar context, then
students will not be able to read it.
– Background knowledge
■ The knowledge that students have before they start learning about a topic will
greatly influence how many connections they will make to the new topic, which will
consequently affect their understanding.
■ The larger the vocabulary a student has, the more text they will be able to
■ This is a student’s ability to be aware of their thinking process. Students who know
how to keep themselves engaged in reading become stronger readers.
What are the
■ Affective factors include:
■ A student’s ability to stay focused on a text will determine a great deal of how
much of the message they understand.
■ This is a student’s desire to accomplish a task.There are many ways for students to become
motivated to read:
Let’s look at some
This week I reviewed the lesson Two Bad Ants by Sharon Morris (International Literacy
Association and National Council ofTeachers of English, 2014).This lesson examines the
concept of point of view by looking at the world through the eyes of ants. My favorite aspect of
this lesson is that Morris is encouraging teachers to use a collaborative teaching strategy with
the students. Morris suggests that teachers start the lesson by looking at a book from the
“Look Once, Look Again” series by David Schwartz. Schwartz’s books in this series use
photographs to show how looking at something from different angles can change the way you
see it.This teacher-lead activity provides students with background knowledge about point-
of-view before they look at the main text.
Morris (International Literacy Association and National Council ofTeachers of English, 2014)
recommends reading Two Bad Ants by ChrisVanAllsburg (1988) to teach point-of-view. After
reading the story, Morris provides questions for the students to consider.The questions are
focused on helping students think about what it would look like to see through the eyes of an
ant.When teachers ask open-ended questions like these, it can support student
comprehension of the story. It encourages students to think about the story beyond the text on
the page (Reutzel & Cooter, 2016).The questions also serve to help students with the checking
aspect of metacognition (Laureate Education, Inc., 2014).This is an opportunity for the
students to acknowledge any challenging aspects of the book.
After the class discusses possible answers to the questions, Morris (International Literacy Association
and National Council ofTeachers of English, 2014) asks for students to be paired up.With their
partner, students will examine the book again.This time the students will look for illustrations that
support the text. Illustrations can be a great way to support student comprehension, especially for
visual learners (Carney & Levin, 2002). In terms of metacognition, opportunities to reread the book
and double check understanding is an application of repairing metacognition (Laureate Education,
Students will work in small groups as they fill out a Point ofView Chart (International Literacy
Association and National Council ofTeachers of English, 2014).This form of graphic organizer, helps
students make comparisons of objects as people view them versus how ants view them.This can be
used as a formative assessment to check that students (as a class) understand the concept of
different points of view.
At the end of the lesson, Morris (International Literacy Association and National Council ofTeachers
of English, 2014) has the teacher reread Two Bad Ants.The goal is for students to be able to follow the
book with a new level of understanding this time.
I would enjoy using this lesson in my own classroom if I ever teach intermediate learners. I would
probably addThink, Pair, Share to the time allotted for students to revisit illustrations with a partner.
Think, Pair, Share will provide students with a conscious purpose to look for evidence of how ants
see the world.This should help students stay on task.
The next step is up to you!
Instructional strategies are only as good as the teachers
who use them! Find a technique (or two…) that will
benefit your classroom and teach your students how to
use it. Reading comprehension improvement will come
with time and practice.
Afflerbach, P., Cho, B.-Y., Kim, J.-Y., Crassas, M. E., & Doyle, B. (2013). Reading:What else matters besides strategies and skills? The Reading
Teacher, 66(6), 440–448. Retrieved from theWalden Library databases
Carney, R. N., & Levin, J. R. (2002). Pictorial Illustrations Still Improve Students' Learning fromText. Educational Psychology Review, 14(1), 5-26.
Costley, K. C., &West, H.G. (2012).Teaching Practice:A Perspective on Inter-Text and Prior Knowledge. SRATE Journal, 21(2), 21-25. Retrieved
January 20, 2016, from ERIC database
Dole, J. A., Duffy, G.G., & al, e. (1991). Moving from the old to the new: Research on reading comprehension instruction. Review of Educational
Research, 61(2), 239. Retrieved January 22, 2016, from ERIC database
International LiteracyAssociation (ILA) and NationalCouncil ofTeachers of English. (2014). ReadWriteThink. Retrieved from
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Reutzel, D. R., & Cooter, R. B., Jr. (2016). Strategies for reading assessment and instruction in an era of common core standards: Helping every
child succeed (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Rosenshine, B., Meister, C., & Chapman, S. (1996).Teaching students to generate questions: A review of the intervention studies. Review of
Educational Research, 66(2). Retrieved January 22, 2016, from ERIC database
Susar Kirmizi, F., & Akkaya, N. (2011). A Qualitative Study on the Use of Summarizing Strategies in Elementary Education. Hacettepe University
Journal Of Education. Retrieved January 22, 2016, from ERIC database
Van Allsburg,C. (1988). Two Bad Ants. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Wilhelm, J. (2016). Understanding reading comprehension: what it really means to comprehend text – and why reading comprehension and
teaching it are more complicated than most of us think!. Retrieved January 24, 2016, from www.scholastic.com.