Research by Topic
Below are selected research studies that investigate issues important to comprehension. The resources are listed alphabetically by author and include links to the item or to where it can be purchased.
A Schema-Theoretic View of Basic Processes in Reading
Anderson, R.C., & Pearson, P.D. (1984). A schema-theoretic view of basic processes in reading. In P.D. Pearson (Ed.), Handbook of Reading Research (pp.255-291). New York: Longman.
Questioning the Author: A Yearlong Classroom Implementation to Engage Students with Text
Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., Sandora, C., Kucan, L., & Worthy, J. (1996). Questioning the author: A yearlong classroom implementation to engage students with text. Elementary School Journal, 96, 385-414.
Improving Students' Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology
Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K., Marsh, E., Nathan, M.J., Willingham, D. Improving students' learning with effective learning techniques: promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, January 2013 vol. 14, 4-58.
In this monograph, the researchers discuss 10 learning techniques in detail and offer recommendations about their relative utility. The selected techniques are relatively easy to use and could be adopted by many students. Also, some techniques (e.g., highlighting and rereading) were selected because students report relying heavily on them, which makes it especially important to examine how well they work. The techniques include elaborative interrogation, self-explanation, summarization, highlighting (or underlining), the keyword mnemonic, imagery use for text learning, rereading, practice testing, distributed practice, and interleaved practice.
What Classroom Observations Reveal About Reading Comprehension Instruction
Durkin, D. (1978-1979). What classroom observations reveal about reading comprehension instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 14, 481-533.
This study examined through classroom observations of reading and social studies whether elementary schools provide comprehension instruction. Grades 3 through 6 were selected for the observations. Major findings included the fact that almost no comprehension instruction was found. The attention that did go to comprehension focused on assessment, which was carried on through teacher questions. What they do attend to are written assignments. As a result, time spent on giving, completing, and checking assignments consumed a large part of the observed periods. Sizeable amounts of time also went to activities categorized as "Transition" and "Non-instruction." Other findings indicated that none of the observed teachers view social studies as a time to help with reading comprehension. Rather, they see their responsibility as covering content and having children master facts.
Toward a Model of Discourse Comprehension and Production
Kintsch, W., & van Dijk, T.A. (1978). Toward a model of discourse comprehension and production. Psychological Review, 83, 363-394.
Argues that the semantic structure of texts can be described both at the local microlevel and at a more global macrolevel. A model for text comprehension based on this notion accounts for the formation of a coherent semantic text base in terms of a cyclical process constrained by limitations of working memory. Furthermore, the model includes macro-operators, whose purpose is to reduce the information in a text base to its gist—the theoretical macrostructure. These operations are under the control of a schema, which is a theoretical formulation of the comprehender's goals. The macroprocesses are predictable only when the control schema can be made explicit. On the production side, the model is concerned with the generation of recall and summarization protocols. This process is partly reproductive and partly constructive, involving the inverse operation of the macro-operators. The model is applied to a paragraph from a psychological research report, and methods for the empirical testing of the model are developed.
Realizing That You Don't Understand: Elementary School Children's Awareness of Inconsistencies
Markman, E.M. (1979). Realizing that you don't understand: Elementary school children's awareness of inconsistencies. Child Development, 48, 643-655.
Two factors were proposed to affect awareness of one's comprehension failure: the inferential processing requirements, and the kind of standards against which comprehension is evaluated. These studies investigated elementary school children's awareness of their own comprehension failure when presented with inconsistent information. Study 1 showed that children were more likely to notice explicit than implicit contradictions. However, even 12-year-olds judged as comprehensible a sizable proportion of essays with seemingly obvious inconsistencies. Yet, the children had good probed recall of the information, the logical capacity to draw the inferences, and were not generally reluctant to question the experimenter. In subsequent studies children were (a) asked to repeat sentences in order to guarantee that the 2 inconsistent propositions were concurrently activated in working memory, and (b) warned about the existence of a problem in order to promote more careful evaluation. The results suggest that to notice inconsistencies children have to encode and store the information, draw the relevant inferences, retrieve and maintain the (inferred) propositions in working memory, and compare them. Third through sixth graders do not spontaneously carry out those processes that they are capable of carrying out.
K-W-L: A Teaching Model That Develops Active Reading of Expository Text
Ogle, D. (1986). K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. The Reading Teacher, 39, 564-570.
This simple procedure helps teachers become more responsive to students' knowledge and interests when reading expository material, and it models for students the active thinking involved in reading for information.
Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension-Fostering and Comprehension-Monitoring Activities
Palincsar, A.S., & Brown, A.L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 2, 117-175.
A study in which children with low reading comprehension were taught four study activities: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. Instruction was by reciprocal teaching whereby an adult tutor and children alternately discussed the text. States that students' accuracy on comprehension tests increased significantly and was maintained after the study.
Question-Answer Strategies for Children
Raphael, T. (1982). Question-answer strategies for children. The Reading Teacher, 36, 303-311.
Describes a method for enhancing students' abilities to answer comprehension questions that categorizes questions according to the source of the information required for the answer.
Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts
Adams, M.J. (2011). Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts. American Educator, Winter 2010-2011, American Federation of Teachers.
The language of today's twelfth-grade English texts is simpler than that of seventh-grade texts published prior to 1963. No wonder students' reading comprehension has declined sharply.
Procedural Facilitators and Cognitive Strategies:Tools for Unraveling the Mysteries of Comprehension and the Writing Process, and for Providing Meaningful Access to the General Curriculum
Baker, S., Gersten, R., & Scanlon, D. (2002). Procedural Facilitators and Cognitive Strategies: Tools for Unraveling the Mysteries of Comprehension and the Writing Process, and for Providing Meaningful Access to the General Curriculum. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 17, 65-77.
A solid, emerging research base exists to inform how we provide meaningful access to the general education curriculum for students with learning disabilities (LD). For example, the presentation of challenging content to academically diverse learners can be demystified using content enhancement techniques. Additionally, a range of strategies can be taught to enhance reading comprehension and expressive writing abilities. Examples from several lines of research in comprehension and writing are used to highlight the underlying features of these empirically based approaches and to introduce the reader to the history of this expanding body of research.
What Works to Improve Student Literacy Achievement? An Examination of Instructional Practices in a Balanced Literacy Approach
Bitter, C., O'Day, J., Gubbins, P., & Socias, M. (2009). What works to improve student literacy achievement? an examination of instructional practices in a balanced literacy approach. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 14(1), 17-44.
A core assumption of the San Diego City Schools (SDCS) reform effort was that improved instructional practices, aligned with a balanced literacy approach, would be effective in improving student outcomes. This article explores this hypothesis by presenting findings from an analysis of classroom instruction data collected in 101 classrooms in nine high-poverty elementary schools. The study found a prevalent focus on reading comprehension instruction and on students' active engagement in making meaning from text. Teachers' use of higher-level questions and discussion about text were substantially higher than that found by a prior study using the same instrument in similar classrooms elsewhere. Analyses of instruction and student outcome data indicate that teacher practices related to the higher-level meaning of text, writing instruction, and strategies for accountable talk were associated with growth in students' reading comprehension.
Print Books vs. E-books
Chiong, C., Ree, J., & Takeuchi, L. (2012). Print books vs. e-books. Joan Ganz Cooney Center.
This initial small-scale study explored parent–child interactions as they read print and digital books together. How do adults and children read e-books compared to print books? How might the nature of parent-child conversations differ across platforms? Which design features of e-books appear to support parent-child interaction? Do any features detract from these interactions?
Reading as Thinking: Integrating Strategy Instruction in a Universally Designed Digital Literacy Environment
Dalton, B. and Proctor, C. P. (2007). Reading as thinking: Integrating strategy instruction in a universally designed digital literacy environment. In D.S. McNamara (Ed.), Reading comprehension strategies: Theories, interventions, and technologies (423-442). Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.
As reading content in a digital format becomes more important, a question emerges: how can digital reading environments be created to support all students? Here Dalton and Proctor discuss the variety of supports that could be included in designing a "Universal Literacy Environment" for students "in the margins." In particular, they focus on how to help build learners' comprehension.
Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension
Duke, N. K., & Pearson, P. (2002). Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension. In Alan E. Farstrup & S. Jay Samuels (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (3rd ed., pp. 205-242). Newark, DE: International Reading Association, Inc.
Why have researchers been able to make so much progress so fast when studying how to teach reading comprehension well? Part of this success is due to the lack of controversy around good teaching practices for comprehension, unlike other areas of reading, like decoding. This report outlines effective comprehension strategies, routines, and activities. The authors also include a checklist for assessing the comprehension environment and instruction in the classroom.
3.6 Minutes Per Day: The Scarcity of Informational Texts in First Grade
Duke, N.K. (2000). 3.6 minutes per day: The scarcity of informational texts in first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 35, 202-224.
Although scholars have called for greater attention to informational texts in the early grades for some time, there have been few data available about the degree to which informational texts are actually included in early grade classrooms, and in what ways. This study provides basic, descriptive information about informational text experiences offered to children in 20 first-grade classrooms selected from very low- and very high-SES school districts. Each classroom was visited for four full days over the course of a school year. On each visit, data were collected about the types of texts on classroom walls and other surfaces, in the classroom library, and in classroom written language activities.
Results show a scarcity of informational texts in these classroom print environments and activities there were relatively few informational texts included in classroom libraries, little informational text on classroom walls and other surfaces, and a mean of only 3.6 minutes per day spent with informational texts during classroom written language activities. This scarcity was particularly acute for children in the low-SES school districts, where informational texts comprised a much smaller proportion of already-smaller classroom libraries, where informational texts were even less likely to be found on classroom walls and other surfaces, and where the mean time per day spent with informational texts was 1.9 minutes, with half the low-SES classrooms spending no time at all with informational texts during any of the four days each was observed. Strategies for increasing attention to informational texts in the early grades are presented.
Children's Story Retelling as a Literacy and Language Enhancement Strategy
Dunst, C, Simkus, A, Hamby, D. (2012). Children's Story Retelling as a Literacy and Language Enhancement Strategy. CELLreviews 5(4). Asheville, NC: Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute, Center for Early Literacy Learning.
The effects of children's story retelling on early literacy and language development was examined in a meta-analysis of 11 studies including 687 toddlers and preschoolers. Results indicated that children's story retelling influenced both story-related comprehension and expressive vocabulary as well as nonstory-related receptive language and early literacy development. Findings also showed that the use of the characteristics that experts consider the important features of retelling practices was associated with positive child outcomes. Implications for practice are described.
Beyond Comprehension: We Have Yet to Adopt a Common Core Curriculum That Builds Knowledge Grade by Grade, But We Need To
Hirsch, E.D., Jr. (2011). Beyond Comprehension: We Have Yet to Adopt a Common Core Curriculum That Builds Knowledge Grade by Grade — But We Need To. American Educator, Winter 2010-2011, American Federation of Teachers.
Most of today's reading programs rest on faulty ideas about reading comprehension. Comprehension is not a general skill; it relies on having relevant vocabulary and knowledge.
Increasing Young Children's Contact with Print During Shared Reading: Longitudinal Effects on Literacy Achievement
Piasta, S.B., Justice, S. B., Justice, L. M., McGinty, A. S., & Kaderavek, J. N. (2012). Increasing young children's contact with print during shared reading: Longitudinal effects on literacy achievement. Child Development, 83(3), 810-820.
This study examined the impact of Project STAR (Sit Together and Read) on literacy skills of preschool students. Project STAR is a program in which teachers read books aloud to their students and use instructional techniques designed to encourage children to pay attention to print within storybooks. Results of the study indicated a causal relationship between early print knowledge and later literacy skills.
Comprehension Instruction: What Makes Sense Now, What Might Make Sense Soon
Pressley, M. (2001, September). Comprehension instruction: What makes sense now, what might make sense soon. Reading Online, 5 (2).
There are a variety of well-validated ways to increase comprehension skills in students through instruction; these are summarized in this article. In addition, new hypotheses about effective comprehension instruction are emerging, and these are also summarized. Although too little comprehension instruction is now occurring in schools, much is known that would enable such teaching to be done with confidence; more will be known as the emerging hypotheses are evaluated in the years ahead.
Scaffolding English Language Learners and Struggling Readers in a Universal Literacy Environment with Embedded Strategy Instruction and Vocabulary Support
Proctor, C. P., Dalton, B., and Grisham, D.L. (2007). "Scaffolding English language learners and struggling readers in a universal literacy environment with embedded strategy instruction and vocabulary support." Journal of Literacy Research, 39, 71-93.
Today teachers are charged with including all students in literacy instruction, even those who have previously struggled in traditional school environments. One group that has struggled in the past is English Language Learners (ELLs). Proctor, Dalton, and Grisham discuss a 4-week study that used supported digital text to assist ELLs with reading comprehension. They found that embedding features did help promote learners' use of comprehension strategies.
Early Executive Function Predicts Reasoning Development
Richland, L. E., & Burchinal, M. R. (2013). Early Executive Function Predicts Reasoning Development. Psychological Science, 24, 87-92.
New research findings from the University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill demonstrate that children begin to show signs of higher-level thinking skills as early as 4.5 years of age. Using large-scale longitudinal data from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development study, the authors examined tests children took at age 4.5, when they were in first grade, third grade, and at age 15. Findings showed a strong relationship between high scores among children who, as preschoolers, had strong vocabularies and were good at monitoring and controlling their responses (executive function) to later ability on tests of understanding analogies. Research suggests that executive function may be trainable through pathways such as preschool curriculum, exercise, and impulse control training.
Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade
Shanahan, T., Callison, K., Carriere, C., Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Schatschneider, C., & Torgesen, J. (2010). Improving reading comprehension in kindergarten through 3rd grade: A practice guide (NCEE 2010-4038). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from whatworks.ed.gov/publications/practiceguides.
This Practice Guide focuses on three areas that current research on reading indicates are critical to building a young student's capacity to comprehend what he or she reads: knowledge and abilities required specifically to comprehend text, thinking and reasoning skills, and motivation to understand and work toward academic goals. Five recommendations: (1) Teach students how to use reading comprehension strategies; (2) Teach students to identify and use the text's organizational structure to comprehend, learn, and remember content; (3) Guide students through focused, high-quality discussion on the meaning of text; (4) Select texts purposefully to support comprehension development; and (5) Establish an engaging and motivating context in which to teach reading comprehension.
Repeated Book Reading and Preschoolers' Early Literacy Development
Trivette, C. M., Simkus, A., Dunst, C.J., Hamby, D.W. (2012). Repeated book reading and preschoolers’ early literacy development. CELL reviews, 5 (5).
The effects of repeated book reading on children's early literacy and language development were examined in this meta-analysis of 16 studies including 466 child participants. Results indicated that repeated book reading influenced both story-related vocabulary and story-related comprehension. Findings also showed that the adults' use of manipulatives or illustrations related to the story, positive reinforcement of children's comments, explanation concerning the story when asked, and open-ended questions to prompt child verbal responses were associated with positive child outcomes. Implications for practice are described.