Content Area Teaching and Learning

An Examination of Low-Level Questions in Informational Read Alouds

Elizabeth Hale and James S. Kim, Providing Platforms: An Examination of Low-Level Questions in Informational Read Alouds, The Elementary School Journal 120, no. 4 (June 2020): 555-579.

This study examined teachers’ spontaneous low-level comprehension questions in script-supported informational read alouds, with a secondary analysis on the relationship between low- and high-level comprehension questions. Participants included 34 teachers and 824 third-grade students. Results revealed notable variation in the type and function of low-level questions, with some offering support for high-level questions or content learning. Although the predominance of low-level questioning patterns continues to be a challenge in many elementary classrooms, this study’s findings suggest some low-level questions play important, complementary functions in text discussions, particularly with informational text.

How Much Knowledge Is Too Little? When a Lack of Knowledge Becomes a Barrier to Comprehension

Tenaha O’Reilly, Zuowei Wang, John Sabatini. How Much Knowledge Is Too Little? When a Lack of Knowledge Becomes a Barrier to Comprehension. Psychological Science, 2019; 095679761986227 DOI: 10.1177/0956797619862276

Previous research has shown that students who lack sufficient reading skills, including decoding and vocabulary, fare poorly relative to their peers. However, this study suggests that a knowledge threshold may also be an essential component of reading comprehension. A sample of students took a background-knowledge test before working on a reading-comprehension test on the topic of ecology. Results revealed a knowledge threshold: Below the threshold, the relationship between comprehension and knowledge was weak, but above the threshold, a strong and positive relation emerged. Further analyses indicated that certain topically relevant words (e.g., ecosystem, habitat) were more important to know than others when predicting the threshold, and these keywords could be identified using natural-language-processing techniques. The findings underscore the importance of having reached a basic knowledge level to be able to read and comprehend texts across different subjects:

STEM Starts Early: Grounding Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in Early Childhood

McClure, E. R., Guernsey, L., Clements, D. H., Bales, S. N., Nichols, J., Kendall-Taylor, N., & Levine, M. H. (2017). STEM starts early: Grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in early childhood. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Tomorrow’s inventors and scientists are today’s curious young children — as long as those children are given ample chances to explore and are guided by adults equipped to support them. This report aims to better understand the challenges to and opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning as documented in a review of early childhood education research, policy, and practice and encourages collaboration between pivotal sectors to implement and sustain needed changes. The report provides key recommendations for education leaders, researchers, and policymakers across the country to improve opportunities for children to become confident learners in science, technology, engineering and math.

Web-Based Text Structure Strategy Instruction Improves Seventh Graders' Content Area Reading Comprehension

Wijekumar, K. (K.), Meyer, B. J. F., & Lei, P. (2017). Web-based text structure strategy instruction improves seventh graders’ content area reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109 (6), 741-760.

Reading comprehension in the content areas is a challenge for many middle grade students. Text structure-based instruction has yielded positive outcomes in reading comprehension at all grade levels in small and large studies. The text structure strategy delivered via the web, called Intelligent Tutoring System for the Text Structure Strategy (ITSS), has proven successful in large-scale studies at 4th and 5th grades and a smaller study at 7th grade. Text structure-based instruction focuses on selection and encoding of strategic memory. This strategic memory proves to be an effective springboard for many comprehension-based activities such as summarizing, inferring, elaborating, and applying. Results from this study showed that ITSS classrooms outperformed the control classrooms on all measures with the highest effects reported for number of ideas included in the main idea. Results have practical implications for classroom practices.

Improving Content Area Reading Comprehension of Spanish Speaking English Learners in Grades 4 and 5 Using Web-based Text Structure Instruction

Kausalai Wijekumar, Bonnie J. F. Meyer, Puiwa Lei, Anita C. Hernandez, and Diane L. August. Improving content area reading comprehension of Spanish speaking English learners in Grades 4 and 5 using web-based text structure instruction. Reading and Writing (December 2017).

The text structure strategy has shown positive results on comprehension outcomes in many research studies with students at Grades 2, 4, 5, and 7. This study is the first implementation of instruction about the text structure strategy expressly designed to accommodate the linguistic and comprehension needs of Spanish speaking ELs in Grades 4 and 5. Strategy instruction on the web for English learners (SWELL) was designed to deliver instruction about the text structure strategy to Spanish speaker English learners. Results show moderate to large-effects favoring the students in the SWELL classrooms over the control classrooms on important measures such as a standardized reading comprehension test and main idea and cloze tasks. This research has practical implications for the use of web-based tools to provide high-quality and supportive instruction to improve Spanish speaking ELs reading comprehension skills.

Job One: Build Knowledge. ESSA Creates an Opportunity— and an Obligation — to Help Every Child Become a Strong Reader

Hansel, L., Pondiscio, R. (May 2016) Job One: Build Knowledge. ESSA Creates an Opportunity— and an Obligation — to Help Every Child Become a Strong Reader. Knowledge Matters, Issue Brief #4.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), policymakers have the flexibility to incentivize districts and schools to make long-term investments in building students’ knowledge and vocabulary. This brief offers seven flexible, adaptable recommendations that will lead to better reading comprehension. With ESSA, states have the flexibility to rethink how reading test results are used, and to support schools in developing children with both strong word-reading skills (e.g., decoding) and a substantial foundation of academic knowledge and vocabulary. Given the large knowledge and vocabulary gaps that already exist when children enter school, systematically building skills, knowledge, and vocabulary throughout the elementary grades is our best hope for closing the reading achievement gap.

Knowledge and Practice: The Real Keys to Critical Thinking

Willingham, D. (May 2016). Knowledge and Practice: The Real Keys to Critical Thinking. Knowledge Matters, Issue Brief #1.

A strong body of evidence shows that analysis requires deep knowledge of the topic, and therefore critical thinking can’t be reduced to a set of skills and strategies. In short, to “think like a scientist,” a student must know the facts, concepts, and procedures that a scientist knows. Background knowledge is absolutely integral to effectively deploying important cognitive processes. What this means for teachers: (1) facts should be meaningful; (2) knowledge acquisition can be incidental; and (3) knowledge learning should start early.


Fact or Fiction? Children’s Preferences for Real Versus Make-Believe Stories

Barnes, J.L., Bernstein, E., and Bloom, P. Fact or Fiction? Children’s Preferences for Real Versus Make-Believe Stories, Imagination, Cognition and Personality March 2015, vol. 34 no. 3, 243-258.

Some children and adults are more drawn to the imaginary than others. In this study, researchers examined whether developmental differences also play a role in the degree to which individuals are drawn to make-believe stories over real ones (or vice versa). Experiment 1 explored the influence of the factuality of stories — whether or not stories reflect events that had actually happened — on children’s story preferences. Experiment 2 explored the effect of magical versus realistic content on participants’ story preferences. The results suggest that despite the surplus of imaginary activity associated with childhood, young children are not more prone to liking “un-real” stories than adults and may in fact like them less.

Increasing Comprehension of Expository Science Text for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Christina R. Carnahan, Pamela Williamson, Nicole Birri, hristopher Swoboda, and Kate K. Snyder. Increasing Comprehension of Expository Science Text for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Vol 31, Issue 3, pp. 208-220, October 30, 2015.

This study evaluated the effects of a text structure intervention package on the ability of students with autism to comprehend traditional science texts. Three high school students with high-functioning autism and their teacher participated in this study. The intervention package included instruction in types of text structures using a text structure organization sheet before reading, and completing an analysis and summary sheet during and after reading. Results indicated that the instruction was highly effective during intervention and maintenance phase for all three participants. The first-year special education teacher was able to implement the intervention with fidelity. All participants agreed that the intervention was helpful for reading science texts. Future research and implications for classroom intervention is discussed.

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.

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.

Getting a Head Start on the Common Core

Summer Matters (November 2013), Getting a Head Start on the Common Core, Oakland, CA: Partnership for Children and Youth.

This report describes how education leaders can use summer programs to stop summer learning loss, and build student and staff capacity to succeed in the new Common Core environment. Part of the "Putting Summer to Work" series developed by the Partnership for Children and Youth.

Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge — of Words and the World

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge — of Words and the World. American Educator (2013) 27, 10-29.

Research indicates that the chief cause of the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups is a language gap. Much work on the subject of language and vocabulary neglects a fundamental element of word acquisition that is so basic as to be almost invisible: The relationship between language and the world knowledge to which language refers is extremely strong — there is evidence that by teaching solid content in reading classes we increase students’ reading comprehension more effectively than by any other method. A good, effective language-arts program that is focused on general knowledge and makes effective use of school time will not only raise reading achievement for all students, it will also narrow the reading gap — and the achievement gap — between groups.

Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children's Learning and Health

Thai, M.T., Lowenstein, D., Ching, D., Rejeski, D. (2009). Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children's Learning and Health. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop

Younger and younger children are becoming immersed in the new gaming culture. If you think this is an unhealthy trend, you are not alone. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center addresses this concern in this policy brief. The report proposes that a national investment in research-based digital games can help children learn healthy behaviors, core skills like reading and math, and 21st-century strengths such as critical thinking, global learning, and programming design.

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.

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. 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.

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.

This article describes the development and implementation of Questioning the Author, an instructional intervention that focuses on having students grapple with and reflect on what an author is trying to say in order to build a representation from it. The implementation involved a social studies teacher, a reading/language arts teacher, and their 23 inner city fourth-grade students in a small parochial school. Analyses of transcripts of videotaped lessons and classroom observations revealed that teacher talk decreased in quantity and increased in quality with more emphasis on questions focused on constructing and extending meaning and more skill in refining and using students' comments in discussion. Changes in the content of student talk were also documented. These included an increase in the number and complexity of student-initiated questions and evidence of the development of student collaboration. Teachers' journal entries and students' responses in interviews provided insights about their views of the implementation.

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.

Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners

Institute of Museum and Library Services (2012). Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners. Developed in partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

This report calls upon policymakers, practitioners, and parents to make full use of libraries and museums, and the skills and talents of those who work in them, to close knowledge and opportunity gaps and give all children a strong start in learning. The type of learning that occurs in these institutions — self-directed, experiential, content-rich — promotes executive function skills that can shape a child’s success in school and life.

"The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who'll get me a book I [haven't] read." — Abraham Lincoln