Theme Editors' Introduction

By Caccamise, Donna; Snyder, Lynn | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, April 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Theme Editors' Introduction


Caccamise, Donna, Snyder, Lynn, Perspectives on Language and Literacy


For many years, specific instructional techniques for reading comprehension did not exist because it was assumed that once a student could decode the words and read fluently, comprehension would be virtually automatic. Today we know better, and in fact, the National Reading Panel Report (2000) underscored the driving need for research directed to the nature of underlying comprehension processes and its translation into effective classroom instruction. In the decade since the publication of that panel review, researchers have developed a body of knowledge that is now being brought to bear on the development of instructional practices and products to promote reading comprehension in the classroom.

One of the key issues that still requires more attention is the heterogeneity of students with comprehension issues. These students include those who have been slow to develop decoding skills and who read less fluently, such as students with dyslexia and other specific or general learning disabilities. It also includes students with underlying semantic language impairments who can decode adequately, but have difficulty making sense of what they read, such as students with specific comprehension deficits. Further, there are significant numbers of students in the general population who comprehend only at or below basic proficiency for any number of reasons. With this heterogeneity, educators are faced with the problem of finding appropriate instructional practices that will engage and improve all of their students' reading comprehension skills.

In this issue of Perspectives on Language and Learning, we bring you a sampling of some of the latest research and applications in reading comprehension. This work has been guided by the evidence-based approach to instruction in which laboratory findings are followed up by extensive implementation and assessment in actual classrooms.

In her article, Dr. Cain gets things rolling with a very straightforward description of how comprehension works in general, based on the latest theories, and how it applies to narrative text. She identifies the 10% of the population of "unexpected" poor comprehenders who probably have some sort of underlying language deficits.

Dr. Albro and her co-authors discuss the state of the reading research field from their unique position as program officers in the Department of Education, whose job it is to set and manage the agenda of research funded by this government agency. They touch on some of the latest findings and introduce the reader to the What Works Clearinghouse, an on-line resource at the Department of Education to provide information on what does and doesn't work in the classroom, based on scientific, evidence-based methods of assessment.

In our article, we make a case for reading comprehension instruction to be embedded in content area coursework, instead of stand-alone reading or language arts classes. We provide a few classroom examples of effective practices, including one computer-based summarization tool that is delivered via the Internet.

Dr. McKeown and her co-authors provide a compelling model of how reading comprehension instruction has evolved to focus either on reading comprehension strategies or text content comprehension as a pedagogical approach. While their initial research finds some advantage to the content approach, it surfaces some interesting and important questions that await further research.

Finally, Dr. McNamara provides a nice summary of several years of research into teaching reading comprehension strategies. She describes her computer-based strategy instruction tool, iSTART, which has shown positive results in improving user's comprehension skills.

On the surface, the positions taken across authors may at times seem contradictory. …

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