September 29, 2011

Read Write Comprehend

We have been having more conversations about the reading/writing connection.  Many educators agree that the way reading comprehension is often taught is not effective if you measure success by a student's ability to comprehend what they read.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) , in 2009 only 33 percent of fourth graders read at a "proficient" level-leaving the remaining two thirds to read at or below the "basic" level. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Study another study that looked at how third-grade reading skills influence high school graduation rates, 1 in 6 children who are not reading proficiently in third grade fail to graduate from high school on time. Would we find the same correlation in higher education?

So what has been the traditional approach?  The focus is having students answer questions on readings. The students who succeed are those who already comprehend text. It does not teach the fundamental skills needed to  evaluate text - it's largely practice without instruction.

In reading classes - and I'm including most developmental and basic skills courses at the college level - we are teaching 4 levels of comprehension: literal, main idea, inference and derived meanings.

Derived meaning comprehension is seen as the highest level because mastery usually comes after a learner has success with literal, inferential, and main idea comprehension. For example, this fourth level helps expand vocabulary as students use the details and relationships that they comprehend to deduce the meanings of new words or usage in context.

In addition to the four types of comprehension instruction, increasing passage complexity and varying comprehension assessment options (more answer choices, more variation in questions) as a reading comprehension program progresses helps prepare students to understand complex sentences and longer passages.

Though our Initiative at PCCC is about writing across the curriculum, you would have little argument that a "Reading Across the Curriculum" might be needed. In fact, evidence is out there that reading has a bigger overall impact on learner success than writing.

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