This article explores four evidence-based comprehension reading strategies and one comprehension routine relevant to improving reading comprehension for struggling readers. The four research based comprehension routines discussed will be as follows: visual representation-mental imagery, summarization, and strategies used by good readers. The comprehension routine will discuss inferring and/or drawing conclusions. All of these research-based strategies and comprehension routines are important to the effectiveness of teaching reading and being a child in a classroom.
“ There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to comprehension, this saying might be paraphrased, “a visual display helps readers understand, organize, and remember some of those thousand words.” (as cited in Duke and Pearson, 2002, p. 218). Visual representation and mental imagery are very important to the reader. When children see an image, it helps put things in a different perspective in reference to what is occurring in the story. The right comprehension strategy can mean the start or the end to a wondrous relationship with reading.
Children of all ages, grade levels, and those with disabilities can use mental imagery to digest what has been read as it provides them with a mental picture in their head. Early readers rely a lot on picture books to tell a story. They build upon their reading strengths by following sequential images. As they get older, the picture books are combined with text; as they age and get closer to middle school, text is primarily the sole provider of information.
A study done by Gallagher and Pearson concluded that fourth grade students that used both content and structural features such as matrix and flow charts, allowed them to significantly learn better. The children were composed of mainly poor readers and the study took place over a series of several weeks. They held discussions of short books about different social insects such as ants, bees, and termites.
They read, in order, a passage about a fourth social insect, the paper wasp, a passage about a human society, and a passage about geographic formations such as gulfs, capes, peninsulas, and the like. As the conceptual distance between original set of books and the testing passages increased, the effect of the intervention (compared with a group who read the same texts and answered questions and with a group that only read texts) decreased in magnitude, but was still statistically significant, suggesting that students were learning something about (a) insect societies, (b) social organization in general, and (c) how to unearth the structure of an informational text. (Gallagher and Pearson, 1989, p. 217).
This study speaks volumes about the importance of content knowledge and text structure, and especially why it is important to use visual charts (matrix and flowcharts) to better understand reading content. The students were taught information in an organized way and intertwining the lesson with the use of two different types of flowcharts, provided students with another informed way to digest information.
When someone walks into a school, they can immediately see the flooding of visual imagery such as televisions, computers, illustrated texts and smart boards. All of these tools are necessary for laying the foundation for successful students, but are they helpful in terms of reading comprehension?
“Unfortunately this bombardment of visual images does not necessarily transfer to students’ ability to create mental images that support reading comprehension.” (Hibbing and Rankin-Erickson, 2003) As Hibbing and Rankin-Erickson had noted, children need more than just an overload of visual representation. Students need to be able to have pictures included in their textbooks to show them what’s going on. I feel that visual representation and mental imagery provide support for children that experience comprehension problems. It is an informative, necessary tool that aids students in the understanding of what is being discussed whether it be something stated inside of a text, or written in a novel. Children can close their eyes while a book is being read to them and use mental imagery to explore the author’s ways of representing the story. This not only proves to be effective, but enlightening.
Another comprehension strategy that is useful for reading comprehension is summarization. “ The ability to summarize information requires readers to sift through large units of text, differentiate important from unimportant ideas, and then synthesize those ideas and create a new coherent text that stands for, by substantive criteria, the original. (Dole, Duffy, Roehler, and Pearson, 1991, p. 220).
Having taught students how to do this, I have seen that it is hard for children to accomplish this task. Teachers have to provide examples and lots of student practice before children really catch on how to summarize effectively. Summarization helps students understand the material that they are reading. Students are able to put what is read into their own words. Students need to learn how to omit unnecessary material within a chapter of a book that they are summarizing. They also need to replace words in a text or novel with their own vocabulary.
When children can put into their own words what is happening inside of a book or a section of a text, they enhance their reading comprehension. The strategy of summarization through practice and teacher instruction, allows a student to better understand what it is that they are reading. Summarization forces students to look at the criteria, identify what is important and what is not, turn a writers words into their own, and truly pull out only necessary information to form a summary of their own. Summarization also helps students recall what has happened within text and apply it to several different avenues of teacher instruction.
Strong readers not only use effective strategies such as summarization, visual or mental imagery. They also use predictions, rereading, make inferences on what is read, draw conclusions, compare and contrast what they are reading with what they already know, and successful readers take the time to figure out unfamiliar words.
“The quickest and best thing you do to boost the reading abilities of all students is to increase the amount of time they spend reading.” (Gunning, 2006, p. 99). The more time students spend on reading inside and outside of the classroom, the better equipped they will be at using effective reading strategies. If poor readers do not read continually, they will drastically decrease their ability to make progress. Children that are struggling with reading need to devote time to reading daily. In my opinion, reading aloud is an extremely helpful tool. Hearing oneself pronouncing words enhances a child’s ability to decode, therefore to read effectively.
Struggling readers will most likely have difficulty making inferences. Teachers need to guide students and ask them to go over the information to look for important facts and supporting details. Teachers should model an example of inferencing by referencing things in their life to what was read. This learning model should be followed by asking students to do the same. Forming these relationships brings higher meaning to text, and a broader understanding of conceptual thinking. By making inferences on what is read, a student can successfully incorporate the joy of reading into the knowledge of learning strategies that can make them insightful readers.
Drawing conclusions is also an important comprehension based reading strategy. It is part of making inferences. Readers come to conclusions after looking at details and facts within text. In accordance with making inferences, teachers should use guided practice with their students and instruct learners on how to pay attention to details in a story and form conclusions. Students should use supporting details when doing this due to the implication that conclusions are based on facts and details from stories.
Comprehensive reading strategies are essential to the productivity and growth of all readers and grade levels. As educators, if we can combine our own teaching techniques with research-based information, we can offer all of our worthy students a positive establishment for effective reading. Providing these methods and learning from research-based knowledge will ensure continuous growth. A well-skilled student is not only the foundation of our future, but they are the dreamers of tomorrow, and the educational constitutes of our emerging world. As teachers, we can create a solid platform for our students to walk on, and be fundamentally successful.