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Topics: Educational psychology, Reading, Reading comprehension Pages: 10 (1418 words) Published: September 23, 2013
Developing Comprehension Skills

Dr. Scott Paris
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Comprehension is a
fundamental purpose
of reading
From beginning readers who
struggle to decode print to
skilled readers with fluent skills,
understanding the meaning
motivates readers to interpret
and analyze the text. What is
comprehension? It includes
making sense of words,
connecting ideas between
text and prior knowledge,
constructing and negotiating meaning in
discussions with others, and much more.
Comprehension in this context is difficult to
define because it involves so many aspects of
thinking. According to Kintsch (1998), readers
have two tasks. One is constructing a “text
model” of the literal meaning of words as
they read, and the other is building a broader
representation, or “situation model,” of the
meaning implied by the text. Skilled readers
learn to decode words automatically so they
can devote time and thinking to these two
kinds of constructive activities.

Foundations for Comprehension
How do children learn to comprehend text?
The answer is slowly during K-6 school years,
with lots of practice reading a wide variety
of texts, and with explicit teaching about
comprehension (Adams, Treiman, & Pressley,
1998). Here are five important foundations.

1.Conceptual knowledge.
Children need familiarity with
the topics they read and some
understanding of the main
concepts in narrative and
expository texts. For example,
children in K-1 who understand
the ideas in narrative picture
books, such as the story plot
and characters’ thoughts,
develop good reading
comprehension one to two
years later (Paris & Paris, 2003).
2. Language skills. Effective oral language
skills, both expressive and receptive,
predict later reading comprehension. For
example, children with good vocabulary
skills who understand many words in
text have better reading comprehension
(Dickinson & Tabors, 2001).
3.Text features. Beginning readers need to
know how titles, pictures, captions, and
headings relate to the meaning of text. They
develop concepts about print, concepts
about genres, and concepts about text
structures that help them construct meaning
from different types of text (Duke, 2004).
4. Strategies. Comprehending text requires
readers to use a variety of strategies such
as making and checking predictions,
asking and answering questions, looking
back in text to monitor understanding,
and occasionally stopping to paraphrase
or summarize the important information
(Block & Pressley, 2002).


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5. Fluent decoding. Comprehension is difficult
when children focus all their energy and
cognitive resources on saying the words
correctly. Comprehension is easier when
decoding is automatic so young readers
must learn to recognize words quickly and
accurately (Kuhn & Stahl, 2003).

not recruit and apply strategies effectively
(Gersten, Fuchs, Williams, & Baker, 2001)

Assessment Reinforces Instruction

Assessment is a natural complement to
good instruction. Teachers can assess
comprehension through informal observation
and questions. The questions should be
Explicit Instruction
challenging so that children construct implied
and conceptual meaning as well as literal
Research has shown that teachers who
meaning. Reasoning about text meaning
model and explain effective comprehension
and making text-based connections can be
strategies help students become strategic
observed in children’s retellings, summaries,
readers (Almasi, 2003; Pressley, 2002). The
and writing in response to reading. These
National Reading Panel (2000) identified
informal observations can be used to diagnose
many important strategies including:
children’s developing comprehension
monitoring comprehension, using graphic
skills. More formal measures...

References: Adams, M.J., Treiman, R., & Pressley, M. (1998).
Almasi, J.F. (2003). Teaching strategic
processes in reading
Block, C.C., & Pressley, M. (Eds), (2002).
Carlisle, J. F., & Rice, M. S. (2002). Improving
reading comprehension: Research-based
Duke, N. K. (2004). The case for informational
Kintsch, W. (1998). Comprehension: A
paradigm for cognition
Kuhn, M. R., & Stahl, S. A. (2003). Fluency:
A review of developmental and remedial
National Reading Panel (NRP) (2000). Teaching
children to read: An evidence-based assessment
Paris, S.G. (2002). Linking reading assessment
and instruction in elementary grades
Paris, S.G. (2005). Re-interpreting the
development of reading skills
Paris, A.H., & Paris, S.G. (2003). Assessing
narrative comprehension in young children.
Paris, S.G., Wasik, B. A., & Turner, J.C. (1991).
Pressley, M. (2002). Reading instruction that
works: The case for balanced teaching, 2nd
Whitehurst, G. J., & Lonigan, C. J. (1998). Child
development and emergent literacy
Paris, S.G. (2002). Measuring children’s
reading development using leveled texts
Paris, S.G., & Carpenter, R.D. (2003). FAQs
about IRIs
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