The Problem With Reading
The uninspiring growth in reading scores becomes even more evident when one looks beyond the mean scores and examines how scores are distributed throughout the past years.
The bars for math in the figure above when combined start to look like a parallelogram while the bars for reading look very much like a rectangle. Over the past twenty years, the percent of students reaching basic level in math has grown from 48 to 82 percent. In reading, the growth is much less spectacular, from 60 to 67 percent. In 1990, only 12 percent of students have reached proficiency in math. In 2013, 42 percent are now proficient. On the other hand, in reading, over twenty years, the percentage of students reaching proficiency grew from 27 to only 34 percent. Looking at these numbers, one may reasonably infer that we may be doing something right in teaching math. Conversely, we may not be doing something right in reading.
Since reading, like math, is one of the subjects in high-stakes standardized tests, there is no doubt that schools are paying close attention and extra effort on teaching students how to read. There are several "reading comprehension strategies" that should now be quite familiar especially to those who have children enrolled in elementary schools. The following graphic from TeachThought shows some of the popular ones:
These strategies are not new. An article published in 1991 in the journal Review of Educational Research mentions several of these strategies. The article, "Moving from the Old to the New: Research on Reading Comprehension Instruction", lists the following strategies:
- Determining Importance. This is no different from separating the important from the unimportant. This could be achieved by (as suggested in the graphic above) locating key words, activating prior knowledge, and using context clues.
- Summarizing Information. This one is actually in the graphic above.
- Drawing Inferences. This likewise is in the above poster.
- Generating Questions.
- Monitoring Comprehension. This is basically equivalent to evaluating understanding.
We have learned much about the reading comprehension process and about comprehension instruction in recent years, but even more awaits our study. For example, regarding the issue of what to teach, which of the strategies we have identified are necessary and sufficient for the improvement of comprehension abilities? What has been left out? How do strategies develop over time? Even though strategies look similar at different levels of sophistication, should they be introduced differently? Most strategy training work has been completed in the middle and secondary schools. Should strategies be emphasized at the very beginning reading stages, and, if so, which ones can young children be expected to understand and make use of? We also do not know how much of the comprehension curriculum should be spent on the teaching of reading strategies versus other types of activities. How, for example, should strategy instruction time be balanced against such things as decoding skills, free reading, authentic reading and writing activities, and teacher-led discussions of stories?
- Inference making
- Executive functions
- Attention allocations
- Interpretation of vocabulary in context
- Making sense of sentences
- Sustained silent reading
"The idea of having students practice answering test questions is ubiquitous and ineffective in raising test scores. Consider focusing instruction on those things that actually make a difference in test performance. Teach kids how to figure out the meanings of words on the basis of morphology and context. Teach them to figure out the meanings of complex sentences by breaking those sentences into parts. Teach them to sustain their concentration during the silent reading of challenging and extensive texts. Teach those things well, and you will see improved test performance; the side benefit to be derived from this kind of test prep would be that your students would become better readers to boot."