Throwback (2017): How oral language fits into the reading puzzle

It can be hard to figure out your role in reading instruction, especially if you work in a school. On the one hand, reading is a huge part of the curriculum and is so important for helping students succeed; on the other, there are already so many professionals targeting reading that it can be hard not to step on anyone’s toes.

Lervåg et al. studied the development of reading comprehension (AKA the ultimate goal of all of this reading instruction) over time, and their results show why oral language is an important part of children’s reading outcomes.

The authors followed the same group of students from age 7 to 13, and gave them a boatload of reading and language tests at 6 points over the 5-year study. (These were Norwegian-speaking children, but results are similar to those from other studies of English-speaking children.) The goal was to test the simple view of reading, which says that reading comprehension depends on:

  1. Decoding—translating written words to sound

  2. Listening comprehension—oral language skills like vocabulary, grammar, etc.

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Their results supported the simple view of reading: decoding and listening comprehension (i.e., grammar, vocabulary, inference, and verbal working memory skills) together explained a whopping 96% of children’s reading comprehension ability. Listening comprehension predicted reading comprehension ability in both older and younger children, while decoding predicted reading comprehension ability only when children struggled with it. Once children’s decoding skills were good enough to read a text, only improvements in listening comprehension mattered for reading comprehension.

Now, does this study show that treating oral language skills improves children’s listening comprehension? No, but other studies do (see the “Summary and Conclusions” section for a review). And remember, you are uniquely qualified to help children improve their listening comprehension skills, which are crucial for reading success—you go, language expert!

 

Lervåg, A. , Hulme, C. and Melby‐Lervåg, M. (2017). Unpicking the developmental relationship between oral language skills and reading comprehension: It's simple, but complex. Child Development. Advance online publication. doi:10.1111/cdev.12861