Explicit Reading Comprehension Instruction in Elementary Classrooms: Teacher Use of Reading Comprehension Strategies

Article excerpt

The purpose of this observational study was to identify the frequency of reading comprehension instruction in elementary classrooms. Additional objectives were to determine which reading comprehension instructional strategies were most employed by teachers in elementary classrooms. In 3,000 minutes of direct classroom observation in 20 first- through fifth-grade classrooms, a total of 751 minutes (or 25% of instructional time) was allotted for reading comprehension instruction. The highest amount of reading comprehension instruction occurred in 4th-grade classrooms, with the least amount occurring in 3rd grade. Question answering, summarization, and predicting/prior knowledge were the most frequently occurring reading comprehension strategies. Finally, implications for teachers' professional development and training are provided.

Keywords: reading comprehension, reading instruction, elementary reading programs, classrooms


In the past three decades, reading researchers and cognitive scientists have made significant strides in understanding the mental processes that readers employ in comprehending text. With its prolific research base from multiple fields, reading comprehension comprises a variety of tasks. Comprehension involves recalling information from text, extracting themes, engaging in higher order thinking skills, constructing a mental picture of text, and understanding text structure (van den Broek& Kremer, 2000). The importance of constructing meaning from text has led researchers to conclude that "the most important thing about reading is comprehension" (Block, Gambrell, & Pressley, 2002, p. 3) and that comprehension is the ultimate goal of proficient literacy (Pressley, 2006). For the purpose of the current study, the RAND Group's definition of reading comprehension will be used: "the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language" (Snow, 2002, p. 11).


Perhaps the best way to build students' understandings of text is through explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies, during which teachers teach students to "use specific cognitive strategies or to reason strategically when they encounter barriers to comprehension" (National Reading Panel [NRP], 2000, pp. 4-39). Through explicit strategy instruction, teachers intentionally and directly teach comprehension strategies in efforts to help students monitor and build their understanding of text (Duffy, 2002). In providing modeling and think-alouds, scaffolding, guided practice, direct instruction, and independent practice, teachers encourage students to become proficient and self-regulatory in their use of such strategies (Block & Lacina, 2009; Block & Pressley, 2002). A key foundation of this process is the gradual release of responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983), in which the teacher gradually transfers the responsibility of a task from himself or herself to the student.

The academic benefits of explicit reading comprehension instruction in elementary grades are well-documented (Baumann, 1984; Baumann & Bergeron, 1993; Block, 1993; Brown, Pressley, Van Meter, & Schuder, 1996; Collins, 1991; Dole, Brown, & Trathen, 1996; Paris, Cross, & Lipson, 1984; Pressley et al., 1992). More specifically, researchers (Duffy & Roehler, 1989) provided 3rd-graders with mental modeling of reading comprehension strategies, explanations of how to apply such strategies, teacher monitoring and feedback about the use of the strategy, and reinstruction and reexplanation when needed. On standardized measures of reading, students who received the direct explanations of reading comprehension strategy instruction outperformed their peers who received no such instruction. Additionally, students who are taught comprehension strategies, such as predicting, questioning, and summarizing, improve their reading comprehension scores on experimenter-constructed and standardized tests (Pressley, 1998; Rosenshine, Meister, & Chapman, 1996). …