Are We Teaching or Testing Reading Comprehension?

Article excerpt

For years, publishing companies have been printing comprehension worksheets. Teachers often use these traditional resources because they are unaware of new approaches for teaching reading comprehension. There are many reading comprehension strategies alternative to worksheets, which, when applied explicitly, greatly support children's development in the area. When completing a comprehension worksheet, how many of our students can answer the questions they present without even understanding the text? How many of our students can answer some of the questions without actually reading any of the text? And, do children develop reading comprehension strategies through such an activity? A prime example of a text that, without full comprehension, can be decoded, and from which literal questions can be answered, is shown in Figure 1.

Reading Comprehension Strategies

Keene and Zimmermann (1997) suggest that reading comprehension strategies should be taught explicitly. Some effective methods that can be used to explicitly teach comprehension strategies include Read Alouds, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, and Literature Circles. Reading aloud to children daily is an effective way to demonstrate how competent readers use various strategies to help them engage with and comprehend a text. Likewise, Shared Reading is a valuable method by which the teacher can demonstrate to children the internal thinking and processing which goes on as a competent reader focuses on reading for meaning. Guided reading, another important strategy, allows teachers to instruct a group of children in a specific comprehension strategy. Literature circles, as based on Harvey Daniel's (2002) model, provide an excellent opportunity for teaching comprehension strategies and for children to practise applying these strategies as they read and discuss a text. Independent reading and specifically designed learning centres provide the opportunity for children to practise and refine previously taught strategies.

In order to develop children's reading comprehension competency, it needs to be ensured that the following strategies are taught:

* Activating prior knowledge

* Visualising

* Making connections

* Questioning

* Inferring

* Determining important ideas/summarising

* Fluency

* Vocabulary

* Self-monitoring

* Synthesising

Through some classroom experiences, these strategies are often inadvertently taught. However, to ensure comprehension is well covered, the various strategies need to be modelled or demonstrated daily by the teacher. Strategy knowledge needs to be carefully developed through explanation. Children need to be given the name and the purpose of each strategy. As they progress through school, they need to been shown how to apply the different strategies to a variety of texts.

One way to ensure these comprehension strategies are integrated during the reading process, and not used in isolation, is through the use of a chart whereby the teacher can highlight the comprehension focus for the lesson. This is exemplified in Figure 2. By designating the strategy on which the lesson will be based, the teacher also emphasises the practice of using many strategies simultaneously as a good reader.

It is important to constantly remind children, and to demonstrate how, these strategies are used simultaneously.

Following are suggestions of ways in which children can be taught the important comprehension strategies of activating prior knowledge, visualising, making connections and asking questions of the text.

Activating Prior Knowledge

Clay (2005) has long emphasised the need for children to activate prior knowledge. If we want children to read successfully with good comprehension, it is essential to assist them, before reading, to think about what they already know about a topic and which words might be contained in the text. …