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The Research Base for Read for Real

Introduction

During the last three decades of the twentieth century and continuing into the beginning of the twenty-first century, ideas relating to reading comprehension have changed dramatically. This change has brought about a new paradigm in which reading is viewed as more than just a set of discrete skills. The new paradigm is a hybrid that weds some of the principles of integrated instruction and authentic texts and tasks with some traditions of earlier eras (e.g., explicit attention to skills and strategies, controlled vocabulary, and lots of early emphasis on the code). This new paradigm is sometimes referred to as a balanced approach for teaching reading (Pearson, 2001; Pressley, 2000; Rummelhart, 2004; Uhry and Shepherd, 2000).

The new paradigm reflects findings in both reading and cognitive psychology that reading is an interactive process that occurs between the reader and the text. Researchers found that comprehension is not a static process; it is a transactional construct in which the reader matches information in the text with his or her existing understanding. The interaction varies from reader to reader and is affected by the purpose and the setting for reading (Anderson and Pearson, 1984; Bloom and Green, 1984).

Strategies for Reading Comprehension

These findings led to an investigation of what good readers do—and struggling readers fail to do—in order to construct meaning. The belief was that if the strategies of good readers could be described, then perhaps these strategies could be taught to all readers to help them develop needed expertise. The ensuing research clearly showed that thoughtful and expert readers

  • search for connections between what they read and what they know
  • monitor their understanding while they read
  • take steps to repair faulty comprehension when they realize a problem exists
  • learn to distinguish important from less important information
  • synthesize and make connections within and across texts
  • make inferences while reading and after they read
  • ask themselves questions

(Pearson and Dole, 1987; Pearson and Fielding, 1991; Pressley, Johnson, Symons, McGoldrick, and Kurita, 1989).

Researchers also found that excellent readers do not use these strategies one at a time, nor do they use them simply when under strong instructional control. Hence, the researchers moved on to the idea of teaching students to use individual strategies together, articulating them in a self-regulated, metacognitive fashion. This research lead to the understanding that changed the way comprehension instruction is viewed and taught. According to Pressley (2000), the good news is that strategies can be taught, and, when they are learned, they do lead to improved reading comprehension.

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