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Comprehension strategy instruction gets used in the classroom as a research proven technique (Duke & Pearson to improve student understanding of texts. The process involves having students reflect on their use of specific strategies that good readers use when reading a text.

According to the National Reading Panel directly teaching comprehension strategies leads to improvements in comprehension. These gains occur when taught in combination and used flexibly in active, naturalistic learning situations


The research into reading comprehension began in earnest in the late 1970's. The first taxonomies of reading comprehension skills got published by Barret and others. In 1978 John Flavell began to publish work on “thinking about thinking” or metacognition. At the same time Vygotsky's work got translated to English for the first time and the idea of activity and labor mediating language and learning began to enter the lexicon of educational research.

In 1984, bringing these threads together Palinscar and Brown began to publish work around Reciprocal Teaching,Reciprocal Teaching tried to identify common cognitive tasks that cut across all learning. Building off of work coming from sociocultural influences the intervention created a dialogue of strategy use between teacher and student.

These advancement also occurred at time the personal computer and networks entered the workforce and lead to cognitive scientists adopting a more information processing approach to comprehension approach. This lead to problem solving studies to influence reading comprhenesion strategy instruction. Expert studies combined with verbal protocol analysis lead to identification of what good readers do.

We teach comprehension strategy instruction to help students become active readers in control of their own comprehension.

What Do Good Readers Do?

According to Duke and Pearson (2002) Active readers:

  • Set and monitor goals
  • Preview the text using sturcture
  • Make predictions
  • Skim,scan, stop, skip
  • Ask and revise questions
  • Determine meaning to unknown words
  • Utilize Prior Knowledge
  • Evaluate an Author
  • Evaluate a Text
  • Read for Different Purposes
  • Find joy in complexity

Comprehension Strategy Instruction Routine

The teaching of comprehension requires the following routines (Duker and Pearson, 2002, Pressley & Afflerbach, 2001; National Reading Panel, RRSG, 2000)

  1. Explicit description of strategy and how it can be used
  2. Model the strategy in use
  3. Collaborative use of strategy in discussion
  4. Guided Practice of Strategy Use
  5. Independent Strategy Use
  6. Reflection on Strategy Use

Classroom Environment

  • Rich in academic vocabulary and environmental print
  • Authentic reading tasks and texts
  • Time spent reading
  • Wide range of genres and texts available to students

Classroom Instructional Ideas

Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers help students create mental models of text structure and to connect ideas (Ambrsuster et al., 2001). The steps used in comprehension strategies such as summarizing get complex. Graphic organizers provide to tool to help readers internalize the process.

Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal Teaching, and modern strategy insteuction asks students to take on specific roles related to comprehension strategies in a repeated small group reading and discussion guided by the teacher. Reciprocal Teaching has consistently demonstrated moderate to large effects when measuring gains on comprehension assessments.


I verbal protocol analysis, or think alouds the teacher or student verbalizes their actions and thoughts at fixed structural locations to think aloud (Afflerbach, 2002) while read. A reader explain, “What ami I thinking?” at key decision points when using a strategy instruction.

Cooperative Learning

Comprehension strategy research has long recognized reading as the result of a mediational process (Pearson, Roehler,Dole, & Duffy,2992). The RSSG (2002) place understanding at the mediation of text, activity, and reader within a large historical context. Cooperative learning tasks (Slavin, 1980) require students to mediate meaning with each other. This creates opportunities to use and pick up strategies from peers.

Responding through discussion

Participating in text based discussions increase the opportunity for strategy mediation. Rosenblatt (1978) demonstrated that a students attitude towards the aesthetic of a text can impact meaning as much as strategy use,

Giving students the chance to respond to a text, through text based discussions increases comprehension.

Responding through writing

The majority of comprehension assessment occurs through writing. Students must both construct meaning and organize thoughts (Rapheal et al., 2004).

When using writing to assess comprehension make sure to to conflate writing ability with textual understanding.

Comprehension Strategies


Recent theorists (Lemov, Willingham) have suggested we put to large of an emphasis on strategy instruction at the demise of increasing background and shared cultural knowledge (Hisrch, 1991). These researchers suggest a much larger role for oral language development in early literacy classes and a focus on a shared canon of knowledge.

They also cite criticism of comprehension strategy research. While Rosheshine fund reciprocal teaching to have moderate to large effect sizes these studies varied in population and effect. Overall advanced and good reader benefit little from strategy instruction. The strongest gains are among students with special education services.

For most students comprehension strategy instruction may have limited efficacy. The interventions have a low ceiling. Meaning learners reach maximum growth quickly and then flatten out. Strategy instruction also suffers from transfer problems. Moving from a text about baseball to volcanoes leads to the strategies not being used. The early studies also utilized many researcher created instruments which may have lead to larger differences in mean scores and thius bigger effect sizes.

FORT Study Guide Activity

Look at the text structure of the articles on each comprehension strategy like summarize. Create a graphic organizer and then research a strategy. Write an article summarizing the strategy. Then share a reflection on your strategy use. Tip: keep a metacognitive notebook as you work.

comprehension_and_strategy_instruction.txt · Last modified: 2021/02/20 16:32 by jgmac1106