Handbook of Reading Research - Vol. II

By Rebecca Barr; Michael L. Kamil et al. | Go to book overview

29
COMPREHENSION INSTRUCTION

P. David Pearson and Linda Fielding

In the fast-paced world of educational research, traditions rise and fall with incredible speed. Just a decade ago, there were no existing reviews of research about reading comprehension instruction. But today we can honestly introduce our review as yet another in a rich "tradition" of reviews of research about instruction intentionally designed to improve reading comprehension.

Where that tradition begins depends upon how one chooses to define reading comprehension and how one chooses to define instruction. Most would probably fix its start with the publication, in 1978, of Pearson and Johnson's book, Teaching Reading Comprehension. Teaching Reading Comprehension is allegedly a book about how to teach children to understand what they read; but a careful reading reveals that the only chapter that even comes close to what we have, in the last decade, come to regard as comprehension instruction is Chapter 9, "Interaction Strategies for Teaching Comprehension."

Others would fix the starting point of this tradition with the publication, in 1981, of the Santa and Hayes monograph for the International Reading Association, Children's Prose Comprehension: Research and Practice. Included are two chapters of particular relevance to our topic: a chapter by Levin and Pressley with the relevant title "Improving Children's Prose Comprehension: Selected Strategies That Seem to Succeed" and a chapter by Barrett and Johnson describing the kinds of comprehension skills presented within the leading basal series. This paper is important because it represents one of the earliest attempts in what is now a legitimate line of research in its own right: research about instructional materials (see Chall and Squire, Chapter 7 in this volume).

Still others would point to Durkin's 1978-1979 article in Reading Research Quarterly about the complete lack of reading comprehension instruction in middle-grade classrooms. Durkin's work revealed that there was nothing "instructive" about our instruction. Instead, instruction consisted primarily of giving students opportunities to demonstrate, by answering questions, completing workbook pages, or taking tests, whether they could perform the various comprehension tasks that form the basis of school reading curricula. Durkin found precious little in the way of teachers offering students any sort of advice about how to actually carry out any of the skills included in the curricula. Although others have questioned the severity of her criteria for determining what counts as instruction ( Hodges, 1980; Heap, 1982), Durkin's paper, more than any other single book or article, motivated other researchers to design and carry out research about instruction that was instructive by her, or anyone else's, definition.

And some would take the view that it really all began with the revolution in the way scholars think about language and cognition ( Anderson, 1977; Anderson & Pearson, 1984; Pearson, 1986). This is the revolution that took its toll on behavioral views of language and cognition ( Chomsky, 1959) and spawned the fields of psycholinguistics, cognitive psychology, and cognitive science (see Gardner, 1985). And, in an important sense, this view is absolutely correct. Without changes in the basic paradigm through

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