Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is the ability of an individual to understand information in a text. Literate people usually keep in their memory 60 percent of what they read, according to Jacqueline Comas, the professor of literacy at George Washington University. Sometimes people are not able to read effectively and cannot remember the main information in a text as they do not have sufficient knowledge of the subject matter. The knowledge that readers have and use when necessary helps them read texts on a subject they are acquainted with faster than readers who do not have that background.

Reading comprehension comprises two elements: listening comprehension and word decoding, which makes it clear that people may have a different ability to comprehend or decode words. A number of researchers have found that there are children facing problems in decoding words, but with good listening comprehension skills. Other children have good decoding skills, but weak listening comprehension. The first group has difficulties comprehending as it takes longer time and an effort to decode letters and words in case of a less clear meaning.

Decoding words is a necessary ability, but it is not sufficient for reading comprehension and one needs to develop language comprehension skills. At the same time, children with good decoding skills and weak listening comprehension are struggling with language difficulties that are an obstacle to reading comprehension.

Many educators have realized that there is a close relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. Under the main scientific theory of reading and listening comprehension, people build and integrate meaning from one text to another. This process is considered automatic as long as the reader is able to make a consistent representation of the text he or she is reading.

Background knowledge plays an important role in reading comprehension. A reader with insufficient background knowledge will find it difficult to draw inferences between information read in a text and information in the long-term memory. Readers with good background knowledge will have no difficulty as they use comprehension strategies. Some of these strategies are reproducing the information in their own words, finding the main information, setting questions about the main idea, making graphic and semantic organizers. By using such comprehension strategies good readers expand their knowledge background and are capable of deep comprehension and learning, including other thinking processes such as abstraction, generalization, and application.

Good readers with missing background knowledge are involved in the same comprehension processes as they first build up their knowledge. Good readers need to use their background knowledge strategically when reading difficult texts. To comprehend such texts readers have to make an effort and use comprehension activities such as drawing inferences between background knowledge and information read in the text, reading the text several times by using strategies for a backward and forward search to find information to confirm or change an interpretation, setting questions to get missing information, summarizing, making a choice between a literal and a figurative interpretation of the information.

America's Choice, a U,S, educational organization, has developed a teacher-led program, Literacy Navigator, aimed at improving reading comprehension skills in grades four to 10. The program is meant for students who are able to decode texts, but have difficulty comprehending information. America's Choice used Kintsch's Construction Integration (Cl) theory of reading comprehension as a basis for the program. Each lesson has a single topic and texts differ in difficulty starting from an easy one and progressing to more difficult ones. Each lesson is designed to require the use of reading strategies.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Reading Comprehension: Developmental Processes, Individual Differences, and Interventions
Johnston, Amber M.; Barnes, Marcia A.; Desrochers, Alain.
Canadian Psychology, Vol. 49, No. 2, May 2008
Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read
Frank Smith.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004 (6th edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Comprehension and Knowledge"
Children's Reading Comprehension and Assessment
Scott G. Paris; Steven A. Stahl.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Reading Comprehension: From Research to Practice
Judith Orasanu.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986
Handbook of Reading Research
P. David Pearson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "A Schema-Theoretic View of Basic Processes in Reading Comprehension"
Embedding Comprehension within Reading Acquisition Processes
Scull, Janet.
Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Vol. 33, No. 2, June 2010
The New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension
Leu, Donald J.; Zawilinski, Lisa.
New England Reading Association Journal, Vol. 43, No. 1, January 1, 2007
Motivating Reading Comprehension: Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction
John T. Guthrie; Allan Wigfield; Kathleen C. Perencevich.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Effects of eBook Readers and Tablet Computers on Reading Comprehension
Connell, Caroline; Bayliss, Lauren; Farmer, Whitney.
International Journal of Instructional Media, Vol. 39, No. 2, Spring 2012
Reading at the Frustration, Instructional, and Independent Levels: The Effects on Students' Reading Comprehension and Time on Task
Treptow, Megan A.; Burns, Matthew K.; McComas, Jennifer J.
School Psychology Review, Vol. 36, No. 1, March 2007
Repeated Reading versus Continuous Reading: Influences on Reading Fluency and Comprehension
O'Connor, Rollanda E.; White, Annika; Swanson, H. Lee.
Exceptional Children, Vol. 74, No. 1, Fall 2007
Developing Reading Comprehension: Combining Visual and Verbal Cognitive Processes
Woolley, Gary.
Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Vol. 33, No. 2, June 2010
The Effects of the Reap Reading Comprehension Technique on Students' Success
Tasdemir, Mehmet.
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Vol. 38, No. 4, May 2010
Meta-Analysis of Reading Comprehension Interventions for Students with Learning Disabilities: Strategies and Implications
Sencibaugh, Joseph M.
Reading Improvement, Vol. 44, No. 1, Spring 2007
Veeravagu, Jeyamahla; Muthusamy, Chittra; Marimuthu, Rasaya; Michael, Angelina Subrayan.
Canadian Social Science, Vol. 6, No. 3, June 3, 2010
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