INTRODUCTION TO THE READING COMPREHENSION MODULES
Welcome to the Reading Comprehension modules! They are designed to support teaching children in the primary grades to think and understand as they read, listen to, and view texts. In the 1970s and 1980s, many educators and researchers recognized that reading comprehension was not a set of discreet skills that could be taught sequentially through workbooks and worksheets. They began to study what proficient readers actually do in order to read effectively, and found that they exhibit specific kinds of thinking as they read. (See box below.)
We refer to this thinking – monitoring comprehension, using schema, asking questions, making inferences, determining importance, and summarizing/ synthesizing –as reading comprehension strategies. The Comprehension Lessons modules on this website demonstrate effective ways to teach children to use these research-based strategies as they interact with text.
Meaningful reading is active reading. To teach children to be strategic readers, we teach them to combine their own thinking with the words on the page in order to learn and understand. Kindergarten teacher Irby DuBose, featured in these modules, explains:
“As an adult reader, I think all the time while I read. And I have found, even with kindergarten children, if I’m very explicit in explaining to them the types of thinking I do as an adult reader, and that that’s the same type of thinking they should do as a little reader – I’ve found that when you expose them to that kind of terminology, that kind of thinking, then they get it. And when they get it, it really boosts their comprehension immensely.” (Teacher Commentary, Monitoring Module)
Organization of the Reading Comprehension Modules
Before studying the Comprehension Lessons, we recommend viewing and discussing Engagement and Independence: Creating Classroom Environment, Lesson Structure, and Assessment. (For teachers new to this type of instruction, Assessment may be more beneficial after the first strategy has been studied.) Return to any of these introductory modules over time as questions arise from classroom practice. Below is a brief description of each module.
Engagement and Independence: Creating Classroom Environment: Our goal is to create engaged and independent readers and writers who eagerly use literacy for many authentic purposes, including learning in all subject areas. Our instruction in comprehension occurs in this context, along with guided reading, and writing instruction. This module explores the type of classroom that supports engaged, independent readers, encouraging children to take the risks needed to think for themselves. You may have studied this module in the Guided Reading portion of this website. If so, it will be helpful to review sections of it, especially Part 6: Peer Interactions, in which teachers present their perspectives on Turn and Talk, a critical element in comprehension lessons.
Lesson Structure : This module describes the structure of the lessons you will view on this site. It is based on the “gradual release of responsibility” (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). Through interactive read-alouds, we show children how we - proficient readers - think, support them while they try, and then send them off to use that thinking with texts they are reading or viewing on their own. The lesson structure can be embedded in various overall frameworks, including a reading workshop or other instructional models.
Assessment: This module briefly explains the types of formative assessment appropriate to comprehension lessons and how to use this data to plan ongoing instruction. It also provides suggestions for evaluation.
Comprehension Lessons: In each of six modules, one per comprehension strategy, you will view and discuss a sample lesson taught in a kindergarten, first, or second grade classroom in South Carolina. Each module includes an introduction to the strategy, suggestions for viewing and analyzing the video clips, commentary by the teacher, suggested readings, correlations to South Carolina State Standards, and supporting documents.
Children need explicit instruction in what the strategies are and how to use them. However, strategies should not be taught in isolation, or as ends in themselves. Usually this instruction works best in the context of a unit of study around a topic or genre. For example, in the sample lessons you will see children studying Determining Importance to help them understand what’s important to remember in a unit on Famous Americans. Learning to infer is embedded in a poetry unit. We always keep in mind that proficient readers use a combination of strategies as they need them to support their understanding.
The sample lessons are based, some more directly than others, on lessons described in The Primary Comprehension Toolkit by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, or Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller. References to appropriate parts of these resources are found in the Suggested Readings in each Comprehension Lesson module. Over the past 25 years, these and other educators have carried the research about comprehension strategies into practice in classrooms all across this country. The lessons they have created help make each of these strategies accessible to young children, as well as showing how to teach children to use them flexibly, as they need them, for meaningful purposes. We highly recommend using the works of these educators as guides to comprehension instruction.
We are greatly indebted to Irby DuBose, Melody Blackwell, and Apryl Whitman for opening their classrooms to this project. They represent the tremendous opportunity, despite all the hurdles to teaching in our time, for teachers to fully engage young children in becoming literate.
To learn more about the research, history, and context of teaching strategic thinking, see Overall Suggested Readings.
Harvey, S. and Goudvis, A. (2008). The Primary Comprehension Toolkit, Heinemann First Hand.
Miller, D. (2012). Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades, 2nd ed., Stenhouse.
Pearson, P.D., & Gallagher, M.C. (1983). The Instruction of Reading Comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology 8.
Pearson, P.D., Roehler, L.R., Dole, J.A., Duffy, G.G. (1992). Developing Expertise in Reading Comprehension. In Samuels, S.J. and Farstrup, A.E. (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction, 2nd Ed., International Reading Association.