The "RAP" on Reading Comprehension

By Hagaman, Jessica L.; Luschen, Kati et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 2010 | Go to article overview

The "RAP" on Reading Comprehension


Hagaman, Jessica L., Luschen, Kati, Reid, Robert, Teaching Exceptional Children


Mrs. Brown is the special education teacher for the third-grade team at Casey Elementary School. Recently, the team realized that some of their students had problems with reading comprehension. As a part of their response to intervention (RTI) program, the team assesses students' reading fluency every 2 months using Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS; Good & Kaminski, 2002) to ensure students are improving and meeting district benchmarks. The team noticed that the majority of the third graders were meeting their fluency benchmarks and could decode at grade level, thus meeting their instructional goals. However, they also noticed that a few students were well behind their peers in reading comprehension skills despite the fact that their fluency was at or above district benchmarks. This came as a surprise to the team because they had always thought comprehension of text automatically followed fluent reading. They knew they had to address this issue immediately so these students wouldn't fall behind their peers; however, they weren't sure how to improve the comprehension skills of these students. Mrs. Brown suggested teaching the students a reading comprehension strategy. She suggested that they look for a simple and flexible comprehension strategy. They needed a strategy that could be taught individually or in small groups in the general education classroom or resource room. The strategy should also be one that students can master quickly. In addition, Mrs. Brown suggested teaching the strategy using the self-regulated strategy development (SRSD; Harris & Graham, 1996) model because she knew that how a strategy is taught is a critical factor in its success or failure (Reid & Lienemann, 2006).

Many teachers have encountered similar issues with reading comprehension in their classrooms. In fact, reading problems aie one of the most frequent reasons students are referred for special education services (Miller, 1993) and the disparity between students with reading difficulties and those who read successfully appears to be increasing (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). As a result, there is now an emphasis on early intervention programs such as RTl. In many cases, early intervention in reading instruction focuses primarily on foundational reading skills, such as decoding. These foundational skills allow the reader to read fluently (i.e., with speed and accuracy; National Reading Panel, 2000). However, with much of the focus on fluency, reading comprehension may be overlooked. It's true that reading fluency is necessary for comprehension. Students who are able to decode and recognize words effortlessly are able to devote more of their cognitive resources to reading comprehension. As a result, readers who are fluent are more likely to have better comprehension skills (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, & Jenkins, 2001). This link between fluency and comprehension can lead teachers to assume that if students can read fluently they should also be able to comprehend what they read.

For many students, this assumption is correct; however, there are students who are fluent readers who experience difficulties with reading comprehension. Up to 10% of students are fluent readers who struggle to understand what they read (Meisinger, Bradley, Schwanenflugel, Kuhn, & Morris, 2009; Shankweiler, Lundquist, Dreyer, & Dickinson, 1996). These students are able to successfully decode text in specific content areas, such as sciences and social studies, but are unable to process and comprehend what they read (Caccamise & Snyder, 2005). One way to improve these students' comprehension skills is by teaching them effective comprehension strategies. Research shows that explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies can significantly improve students' comprehension skills (Gajria, Jitendra, Sood, & Sacks. 2007; Pressley, Brown, El-Dinary, & Allferbach, 1995). Unfortunately, research also shows that comprehension instruction is often rudimentary and instruction in actual comprehension strategies (i.

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