Throwback (2011): Reading comprehension—how do we fix that, anyway?

When you have a question without an answer, what do you do?  Review the past 30 years of research, perhaps? The authors of this study did just that—reviewing 14 studies on the effectiveness of reading comprehension interventions in improving comprehension outcomes for middle school students (Grades 6-8) with a learning disability (LD).

They found that teaching students how to summarize and find the main idea was effective in improving the understanding of text. Essentially, students improved their on measures of comprehension when they were taught to read text, choose what is most important, and then express this in a shortened form. The authors additionally found that self-monitoring tools (on top of summarization/finding the main idea) helped improve reading comprehension. In self-monitoring interventions, students were taught to assess whether or not a target behavior occurred—for example, “Did I identify the main character of this paragraph?” 

Okay, so these findings deal with what to teach. What about how to teach it?  The authors stated that the most consistent finding across the 14 studies was the use of explicit instruction—modeling, feedback, and opportunities for practice including guided and independent practice.

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So far, so good, right? Not so fast. Almost all of the studies measured students’ reading comprehension with researcher-developed measures. So what?  As the authors point out, researcher-developed measures often tell us if students who received treatment are applying the specific strategy that they were taught (think “teaching to the test”). Improvement on a standardized measure would be a more convincing indication of true changes in a student’s reading comprehension. So even though students across the studies made improvements in their reading comprehension, we must keep this limitation in mind.

Finally, if this synthesis piques your interest, check out the summary tables in the article for an individual look at each study (e.g., what exactly were the researcher-developed measures?) and see if any are relevant to you and your students.

Solis, M., Ciullo, S., Vaughn, S., Pyle, N., Hassaram, B., & Leroux, A. (2011). Reading comprehension interventions for middle school students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45, 327–340.