The complete question
In one of your articles, you stated that strategy instruction is unlikely to help students younger than third or fourth grade. As a first-grade teacher, what can I do to help my students develop their reading comprehension without relying on strategy instruction?
I think of three things, two of them rather indirect. The truth is that it’s difficult to do much with comprehension in first grade because most of the student’s attention and working memory must be directed to the problem of decoding. So the first way that a first-grade teacher can aid comprehension is to ensure that all students can decode fluently.
In later grades, comprehension depends much more on knowledge than it does on reading strategies. Learning reading strategies does give students a sizable boost in comprehension, but it’s a one-time thing. Further practice doesn’t help. But students who have some knowledge about a passage will comprehend it much better than students who lack that knowledge. In older kids, the correlation between general world knowledge and scores on reading comprehension tests is quite high. (You don’t see as high a correlation in young children, because reading testes in early grades focus mostly on decoding, not comprehension.)
Thus, the second thing that a first-grade teacher can do to boost students’ reading comprehension is to ensure that students have a broad basis of knowledge. When I hear that science, history, geography and other core subjects are being squeezed out in frantic preparation for reading tests, I am concerned. It may help with reading tests (which are really decoding tests) in first grade, but this practice will come back to haunt school systems when these kids get to fourth or fifth grade-their lack of world knowledge will hurt them on reading comprehension tests.
The third thing a first grade teacher can do — which I’m sure you already know and do, but I couldn’t not mention it — is everything possible to ensure that students like reading. Kids who view reading as fun read more, and it’s a positive feedback loop. More reading makes reading seem like more fun (because it’s easier), which makes students read more, and so on.