Recently, the impact study on Reading First indicated that the program had shown no effects when it came to improving performance on reading comprehension tests. That is a real problem because the whole idea of Reading First was to improve kids' reading to such an extent that they would comprehend better. I wonder if teachers and principals (and Reading First directors) knew more about reading comprehension if things would have gone better.
I'm asked frequently by schools to come and help with reading comprehension, but as with the Reading First folks, I often sense that there are many things that these folks don't know enough about in order to make real progress in improving reading comprehension. However, I sometimes think they mess up for the opposite reasons that the Reading First people do.
Many teachers, especially in the upper grades, think that they only need to teach comprehension and everything will be fine--neglecting the need for instruction in decoding, fluency, and vocabulary. I think in Reading First teachers too often lost sight of two key points: (1) that reading comprehension can and should be taught explicitly and (2) that the enabling skills (decoding, fluency, vocabulary) need to be taught in ways that aim them at reading comprehension. Decoding needs to be taught, but lessons in decoding should always end with kids reading new text with their new skills. Vocabulary needs to be taught, kids need to read text that uses that vocabulary, and they need to think about what the word meanings have to do with interpreting the text. Fluency instruction should be supported by having students answering questions or reacting to the meaning after each rereading (it is more than a race to read fast).
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