I am an instructional coach for a reading intervention program. We are a pull-out program for K-8 LD students.
We are implementing an evidence-based approach in our word level reading instruction, but we are struggling to lock down a framework to address reading comprehension. As we pull students out of the core curriculum (1-3 hours daily for 2 years), we want to make sure that we are building skills that will transfer to any academic setting.
Do you think it is worthwhile to spend time addressing comprehension? Or should we just be chipping away at our students' word level reading issues since improved decoding will have a higher rate of transferability outside of the
According to the Simple View of Reading decoding and language skills have two separate developmental trajectories. We wonder about the benefits of developing speaking and listening skills separately from decoding. Is this appropriate, especially for upper grades (4-8)? Could you direct me to a scope and sequence of listening comprehension skills? We need a tool to monitor progress and target instruction.
The simple view of reading has been very useful, but if you take it too literally you’ll stray from evidence-based reading instruction real fast.
What has come to be called the simple view of reading can be traced back to the early 1970s (Gough, 1972; Venezky & Calfee, 1970). Its basic premise is that the only thing special about reading is decoding and that there is no such thing as reading comprehension. Once a reader is able to decode a text aloud, then listening comprehension takes over.
This approach has been useful for prioritizing early and intensive decoding instruction (if it is the only reading skill, then we better get it right). It also clearly conceptualizes reading as being a product of decoding and language and nothing more, which organizes research and practice in a neat way.
But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve run into three instances of people telling me that they were considering no longer teaching reading comprehension in favor of working on listening comprehension because of the simple view.
There are a number of problems with doing this.
First, listening comprehension and reading comprehension are correlated, but they are not equivalent. Research has long shown that people comprehend what they read and what they listen to at different levels of proficiency and that these proficiencies differ by age level (e.g., Goldstein, 1940; Mesherbi & Ehrlich, 2004; Sticht, 1974). That wouldn’t be the case if reading comprehension and listening comprehension were the same thing.
Second, a substantial number of studies show that oral language and reading comprehension are related, but that these relations are far less than a unity (NELP, 2008). What I mean by that is that if you got all students up to the highest levels of oral language proficiency, you would definitely reduce the amount variation in reading comprehension. But that would still leave a lot of variation in reading comprehension.
Third, there is a substantial body of research showing that oral language and written language differ in several ways (Chafe & Tannin, 1987). There are words that people don’t use orally that appear in text. Sentence lengths differ greatly across written and oral language which places different loads on memory. Style, proportions of adjectives and prepositions, degree of narrativity of the language, and so on all differ. Being a good listener means comprehending with easier and more involving language than what one confronts in text. Again, teaching students to listen may well be valuable (I think it is), but I don’t think that because it will improve reading comprehension.
Fourth, no study has found any reliable transfer of ability from listening comprehension to reading comprehension (van den Bos, Brand-Gruwel, & Aarnoutse, 1998). The reason I strongly support phonics instruction is because we have a extensive number of studies that consistently show giving such teaching advantages children in learning to read. If there were a similar body of studies showing that teaching listening improves reading comprehension, then I would encourage the teaching of listening and oral language as a good way to go. There not only isn’t a “body” of such research, there aren’t even single studies showing that teaching listening comprehension or other aspects or oral language improve reading comprehension. Teaching listening comprehension is not the teaching of reading comprehension, no matter its other value.
The one exception to this is with second language learners (August & Shanahan, 2008). If you don’t know English, that is a definite inhibitor of English reading comprehension. Building the oral English of English Learners can make a big difference in their reading comprehension and that should definitely be happening in school. Claude Goldenberg’s work shows that the informal development of conversational English is not enough to enable these students to do well in reading academic materials.
Given all of this, I would definitely encourage you to have both a strong decoding intervention (and I would include some text fluency for that), but another intervention that teaches students how to make sense of written language. NICHD reported many years ago the insufficiency of decoding instruction to meet the needs of a large percentage of struggling readers, and recently Rick Wanger and his colleagues have shown the great numbers of students who struggle with reading but who have sufficient decoding skills.
The instruction in that kind of language or comprehension oriented intervention should focus on teaching students some of the intentional reading strategies that have been found to improve reading comprehension (NICHD, 2000) as well as how to deal with various features of written language including syntax, cohesion, text structure, depth of information, tone, and other features of text and content.
Of course, students should be reading text within such an intervention and I hope that those texts would be high quality and value in terms of both their presentation and the content that they include. It is important to make sure the kids came away both with greater proficiency for comprehending such texts and with content learning.
If kids are to miss as much content as you indicate, then I would strongly encourage you to consider what else can be done to ensure that these students learn about our social and natural world. Think expanded school days, parent involvement, media, text inclusion in your program and so on.
The simple view shouldn’t be the simplistic view. Until we have evidence that teaching oral language improves literacy, we ought to focus our teaching on those things most likely to advantage the students—that is what has successfully advantaged them previously. According to a great deal of empirical research, that is cognitive strategies and written language. Given your purpose, I’m not recommending a listening comprehension curriculum, but I would encourage you to focus on written language learning and getting those kids to read more than words.
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