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1 LAURA S. PARDO What every teacher needs to know about comprehension to the literacy event, the text has certain features, Once teachers understand what is involved and yet meaning emerges only from the engage- in comprehending and how the factors of ment of that reader with that text at that particular moment in time. Figure 1 below presents a visual re ader, text, and context interact to create ocess. Each of the elements in the model of this pr meaning, they can more easily teach their (reader, text, context, and transaction) is de- model st udents to be effective comprehenders. scribed in more detail later in this article, along with specific suggestions for how teachers can in- omprehension is a complex process that has teract with the model to help children become been understood and explained in a num- strong comprehenders, beginning in kindergarten. C ber of ways. The RAND Reading Study Group (2002) stated that comprehension is “the process of simultaneously extracting and con- T he reader structing meaning through interaction and involve- Any literacy event is made up of a reader en- ment with written language” (p. 11). Duke (2003) gaging with some form of text. Each reader is added “navigation” and “critique” to her definition unique in that he or she possesses certain traits or because she believed that readers actually move through the text, finding their way, evaluating the accuracy of the text to see if it fits their personal FIGURE 1 agenda, and finally arriving at a self-selected loca- Model of comprehension tion. A common definition for teachers might be that comprehension is a process in which readers construct meaning by interacting with text through the combination of prior knowledge and previous xperience, information in the text, and the stance e Social Context Cultural the reader takes in relationship to the text. As these different definitions demonstrate, there are many Reader interpretations of what it means to comprehend text. This article synthesizes the research on com- Transaction prehension and makes connections to classroom Meaning practice. I begin by introducing a visual model of happens here comprehension. Text How comprehension works Comprehension occurs in the transaction be- tween the reader and the text (Kucer, 2001; Rosenblatt, 1978). The reader brings many things © 2004 International Reading Association (pp. 272–280) doi:10.1598/RT.58.3.5 272

2 characteristics that are distinctly applied with each Comprehension is affected by a reader’s culture, text and situation (Butcher & Kintsch, 2003; based on the degree to which it matches with the Fletcher, 1994; Narvaez, 2002). The most impor- writer’s culture or the culture espoused in the text. tant of these characteristics is likely the reader’s Readers also read in particular ways depending on wo rld knowledge (Fletcher, 1994). The more back- the purpose for reading. Another individual differ- ground knowledge a reader has that connects with ence that exists in readers is motivation. Motivation the text being read, the more likely the reader will can influence the interest, purpose, emotion, or per- be able to make sense of what is being read sistence with which a reader engages with text (Butcher & Kintsch, 2003; Schallert & Martin, (Butcher & Kintsch, 2003; Schallert & Martin, 2003). The process of connecting known informa- 2003). More motivated readers are likely to apply tion to new information takes place through a series more strategies and work harder at building mean- of networkable connections known as schema ing. Less motivated readers are not as likely to work (Anderson & Pearson, 1984; Narvaez, 2002). In as hard, and the meaning they create will not be as schema theory, individuals organize their world powerful as if they were highly motivated. knowledge into categories and systems that make retrieval easier. When a key word or concept is en- countered, readers are able to access this informa- Te achers support readers tion system, pulling forth the ideas that will help If readers have all these individual differences, them make connections with the text so they can how do teachers best support elementary-age read- create meaning. Schema theory involves the stor- ers to become competent comprehenders? They age of various kinds of information in long-term teach decoding skills, help students build fluency, memory. Because long-term memory appears to uild and activate background knowledge, teach b have infinite capacity (Pressley, 2003), it is likely v ocabulary words, motivate students, and engage that readers have many ideas stored in long-term them in personal responses to text. memory. When a key word or concept is presented to the reader (through a title, heading, or someone each decoding skills. T In order to comprehend, who has recommended the text), some of this readers must be able to read the words. Some level stored information is brought forward and tem- of automatic decoding must be present so that porarily placed into short-term memory so that the short-term memory can work on comprehending, reader can return to it quickly as he or she reads. not on decoding, words. Teachers help students get Short-term memory has limited capacity, and of- to this level of automatic decoding by providing in- ten the information pulled from long-term memo- struction in phonemic awareness and phonics at all ry prior to or during reading is only available for a grade levels. If students put too much mental ener- short time and then is placed back in long-term gy into sounding out the words, they will have less memory. Short-term memory shifts and juggles in- mental energy left to think about the meaning. formation, using what is immediately pertinent and While teachers in the primary grades work with allowing less pertinent information to slip back into phonemic awareness and phonics, teachers in the long-term memory (Schallert & Martin, 2003). intermediate grades support students’ continued de- The amount and depth of a reader’s world lopment of automatic decoding through spelling, ve knowledge vary as do other individual characteris- ocabulary, and high-frequency word activities. v tics. Readers vary in the skills, knowledge, cogni- tive development, culture, and purpose they bring Help students build fluency. As word reading be- to a text (Narvaez, 2002). Skills include such things comes automatic, students become fluent and can as basic language ability, decoding skills, and high- focus on comprehension (Rasinski, 2003). Teachers er level thinking skills. Knowledge includes back- help students become more fluent by engaging them ground knowledge about content and text and in repeated readings for real purposes (like perform- relates to the available schema a reader has for a ances and Readers Theatre). Teachers also model particular text. A reader’s cognitive development fluent reading by reading aloud to students daily so causes that reader to evaluate text in different that they realize what fluent reading sounds like. ays—for example, to make moral judgments. w What every teacher needs to know about comprehension 273

3 each vocabulary words. If there are too many T Some research indicates that reading aloud to stu- dents is the single most effective way to increase w ords that a reader does not know, he or she will comprehension (see Morrow & Gambrell, 2000, for have to spend too much mental energy figuring out a review of this literature). the unknown word(s) and will not be able to un- derstand the passage as a whole. Teachers help stu- Background Build and activate prior knowledge. dents learn important vocabulary words prior to knowledge is an important factor for creating mean- reading difficult or unfamiliar texts. When teaching ing, and teachers should help students activate prior ocabulary words, teachers make sure that the se- v knowledge before reading so that information con- lected words are necessary for making meaning nected with concepts or topics in the text is more with the text students will be reading and that they easily accessible during reading (Keene & help students connect the new words to something Zimmermann, 1997; Miller, 2002). If students do they already know. Simply using the word lists sup- not have adequate background knowledge, teachers plied in textbooks does not necessarily accomplish can help students build the appropriate knowledge. this task (Blachowicz & Fisher, 2000). Many teach- Duke (2003) suggested that one way to add to world ers consider the backgrounds and knowledge levels knowledge is to use informational books with all stu- of their students and the text the students will be dents, particularly very young students. By using engaging in and then select a small number of information books, students build world knowledge w ords or ideas that are important for understanding so that they will have the appropriate information to the text. Once teachers have decided on the appro- activate at a later time. Teachers also support stu- priate vocabulary words to use, students must ac- dents’ acquisition of world knowledge by establish- tively engage with the words—use them in written ing and maintaining a rich, literate environment, full and spoken language—in order for the words to be- of texts that provide students with numerous oppor- come a part of the students’ reading and writing vo- tunities to learn content in a wide variety of topics. cabularies. For example, asking students to create Another way teachers help students build back- graphic organizers that show relationships among ground knowledge is to create visual or graphic or- new words and common and known words helps ganizers that help students to see not only new them assimilate new vocabulary. Asking students to concepts but also how previously known concepts look up long lists of unrelated, unknown words is are related and connected to the new ones (Keene unlikely to help students access the text more ap- & Zimmermann, 1997; Miller, 2002). Teachers propriately or to increase personal vocabularies. teach students how to make text-to-text, text-to- self, and text-to-world connections so that readers Many individual reader fac- Motivate students. can more easily comprehend the texts they read. tors (e.g., cognitive development, culture) are not Reading aloud and teacher modeling show stu- within a teacher’s control. However, teachers can dents how to activate schema and make connec- motivate students by providing them with interest- tions. For example, a first-grade teacher read aloud ing texts, allowing them choices in reading and Ira Says Goodbye from (Waber, 1991). She began writing, and helping students set authentic purpos- the lesson by thinking aloud about the title and es for reading (e.g., generating reports, writing let- cover of the book. “Oh I see that the author is ters, demonstrating some new ability or skill; Ira Says Goodbye Bernard Waber and the title is . I Pressley & Hilden, 2002). Many teachers actively Ira think this book is about the same Ira as in seek out students’ interests so that they can select Sleeps Over (Waber, 1973). I can activate my texts, topics, themes, and units that will more like- schema from that book. I am making a text-to-text ly engage students. Teachers also provide and pro- connection. I remember that...” She continued mote authentic purposes for engaging in reading modeling for her students how to activate schema and writing. Authentic literacy events are those that and make connections that helped her make mean- replicate or reflect reading and writing purposes ing from this text. As she read the book to her stu- and texts that occur in the world outside of schools. dents, she stopped occasionally to model and think Some teachers do this by providing pen pals, us- aloud how she activated her own schema to make ing students’ authentic questions for in-depth study, connections. The Reading Teacher Vol. 58, No. 3 November 2004 274

4 The author’s intent in writing the text can in- responding to community needs, or having students fluence how a reader interacts with that text, par- solve problems. ticularly if this intent is made known through a Engage students in personal responses to text. foreword, back-cover biography, or knowledgeable other (as in the case of teachers in schools). Some T eachers encourage students to read both efferently texts are promoted as carrying a certain message and aesthetically (Rosenblatt, 1978). Researchers or theme by those who have encountered the book (McMahon, Raphael, Goatley, & Pardo, 1997) previously (Rosenblatt, 1978). The inherent mes- uilding on the ideas of Rosenblatt developed a b sage that some texts carry with them, often related literature-based approach to teaching reading com- to the author’s intent, is referred to as gist and has prehension through the Book Club program. In this been defined as “what people remember...the main instructional approach students read authentic liter- ideas in the text” (Pressley, 1998, p. 46). Gist is fre- ature; write personal, critical, and creative respons- quently assessed through basal workbooks and es; and talk about books with their classmates standardized reading tests; therefore, the author’s (Pardo, 2002). Teachers help students learn and ap- intent is a key feature of text. ply comprehension strategies while reading, through writing, and during student-led discussion groups called Book Clubs, where students explore the individual meanings that have emerged as they Te achers support texts engage with the text over a period of time. While Because certain features make some texts more this program initially focused on the intermediate easily comprehensible, teachers help young readers grades, many teachers have found that students in understand those features so they can comprehend irst and second grades are successful comprehen- f effectively. Teachers teach text structures, model ders when they read and engage in Book Clubs appropriate text selection, and provide regular in- (Grattan, 1997; Raphael, Florio-Ruane, & George, dependent reading time. 2001; Salna, 2001). Because features of the T each text structures. text are beyond a teacher’s control, teachers select texts that have an obvious structure. They teach a he text T v ariety of narrative genres and some expository Understanding the reader is one important text structures. With narrative works teachers help piece of the comprehension puzzle, but features of students understand basic story grammar, including the text also influence the transaction where com- the literary elements that are common across narra- prehension happens. The structure of the text—its tive pieces, such as plot, characters, and setting. genre, vocabulary, language, even the specific word They teach specific elements that make each genre choices—works to make each text unique. Some unique (e.g., talking animals in folk tales). By do- w ould even argue that it is at the word or micro- ing this, students will be able to access a schema structure level that meaning begins (Butcher & for a certain narrative genre when they begin to Kintsch, 2003). How well the text is written, read a new text and can begin to make text-to-text whether it follows the conventions of its genre or connections for a particular story genre, which will structure, and the language or dialect it is written in help them more easily make meaning. Likewise, are all factors of the text. The content of a specific teachers share some common expository text struc- text, the difficulty or readability of it, and even the tures with students, such as sequence, description, type font and size are factors of a text that can in- comparison, and cause and effect. Teachers discuss fluence a reader’s interaction. These features col- the idea of “inconsiderate texts” (Armbruster, lectively are referred to as “surface features,” and 1984) with students and show them how to use studies have shown that the quality of the text at the cues when reading nonfiction (such as reading surface level is important for readers to be able to tables, charts, graphs, and the captions under pic- make meaning effectively (Tracey & Morrow, tures; using bold print and italics to determine big or important ideas). Inconsiderate texts do not 2002). What every teacher needs to know about comprehension 275

5 adhere strictly to one structure, but might be a com- also involves the activity that occurs around the bination of several structures. Many textbooks have transaction. If a teacher assigns his or her students a varied and mixed set of structures, and teachers to read a certain text for a specific reason, the trans- can address specific features and demands of infor- action that occurs will be based on this context. If mational text so that students are more likely to students are asked to discuss a text, generate ques- engage in informational text with a repertoire of tions from it, or come up with a big idea, these strategies and schema to help them construct mean- kinds of activities form a context within which the ing (Duke, 2003). reader and text interact for a specific reason, one that is unlikely to occur in exactly the same manner Model appropriate text selection. T eachers teach ev er again. Teachers create contexts and learning students how to select appropriate texts by showing opportunities that will support the construction of them what features to consider. Some teachers use meaning. Environments that value reading and the Goldilocks approach (Tompkins, 2003), while writing, that contain a wide variety of texts, that others suggest that teachers level books and tell stu- allow students to take risks, and that find time for dents which level books they may select (Fountas reading aloud and reading independently are con- & Pinnell, 1996). In the Goldilocks approach, read- texts that effectively promote the construction of ers look for books that are not too hard or too easy, meaning (Keene & Zimmermann, 1997; Miller, b ut just right. Just-right books are those that look 2002; Pardo, 2002). interesting, have mostly decodable words, have been read aloud previously, are written by a famil- iar author, or will be read with a support person T he transaction nearby (Tompkins, 2003). Teachers have a wide va- As we consider the reader’s individual and riety of genres and levels of books available for stu- unique differences, the characteristics of the con- dents to select for independent reading, and they text, and the features of the text, we are left to won- support students throughout the year with appro- der exactly what happens when these three come priate book selection. together. At the most basic level microstructures (words, propositions) are being decoded and rep- Provide regular independent reading time. resented by mental images (Butcher & Kintsch, T eachers can make sure they provide students with 2003). This is most likely happening quickly, au- time to read independently every day. Reading be- tomatically, and in short-term memory. These men- comes better with practice, and comprehending be- tal images are calling forth ideas and information comes better with more reading practice (Pressley, stored in long-term memory to assist the reader in 2003). Many teachers use programs such as DEAR uilding a series of connections between represen- b (Drop Everything And Read) or SSR (Sustained tations (van den Broek, 1994). These connections Silent Reading) to ensure that students read inde- occur between the reader and the text and between pendently every day. different parts of the text. This representation is f ine-tuned by the reader as more information is en- countered in the text and more connections are achers create and support Te made. Readers exit the transaction maintaining a a sociocultural context mental representation or gist of the text. How do these connections lead to mental rep- Reading takes place somewhere between a resentations? One way is through making infer- specific reader and a specific text. A sociocultural ences. A reader is quite intentional as he or she influence likely permeates any reading activity engages with the text, asking, “What is it I’m look- (Kucer, 2001; Schallert & Martin, 2003). ing at here?” Readers are searching for coherence Depending on the place, the situation, and the pur- and for a chain of related events that can lead them pose for reading, the reader and the text interact in to infer or make meaning. As readers continue ays that are unique for that specific context. The w moving through the text, they continue to build in- same reading at another time or in a different place might result in a different meaning. The context ferences, drawing from long-term memory specific The Reading Teacher Vol. 58, No. 3 November 2004 276

6 alizing, and organizing (Keene & Zimmermann, ideas that seem to create coherence and answer the 1997; Miller, 2002; Pardo, 2002). Teachers are ex- question posed earlier, “What is it I’m looking at plicit and direct in explaining what these strategies here?” As this answer emerges, meaning is real- are and why good readers use them (Duffy, 2002; ized. Inferencing is most likely done automatical- Pressley & McCormick, 1995). They model the ly and is one of the most important processes that strategies (often by thinking aloud) for the students occur during comprehension (Butcher & Kintsch, and provide them with numerous opportunities to 2003; van den Broek, 1994). practice and apply the strategies. In order for strate- The mental representation needs to make sense gies to transfer so that students use them on their to the reader as it emerges; therefore, readers mon- o wn or in assessment situations, contexts need to itor the emerging meaning as they read, using remain similar. Therefore, teachers use texts and metacognitive and fix-up strategies, sometimes dis- classroom structures that are easily maintained for carding ideas in the text if they do not add to the co- teaching, practicing and applying independently, and herence that the reader is trying to build (Pressley assessing. Teachers help students think metacogni- & Afflerbach, 1995). If the reader’s background tively about strategies, considering when and where knowledge or personal experiences agree with the to apply each strategy, how to use it, and the impact text, the reader assimilates this new information it can have. In addition, teachers occasionally pro- and creates new meaning. If, however, the reader’s vide students with difficult text. If students en- background knowledge and personal experiences counter only texts that they can read easily, there will do not agree with the new information presented be no reason to practice and apply strategies. It is in the text, readers either adjust the information to when readers encounter challenging texts that they make it fit (accommodation), or they reject that in- put strategies to use (Kucer, 2001). formation and maintain their previous understand- ing (Kucer, 2001). Readers apply a variety of Knowing T each students to monitor and repair. strategies throughout this process to support their what is understood and not understood while read- construction of meaning such as summarizing, ing and then applying the appropriate strategy to clarifying, questioning, visualizing, predicting, and repair meaning are vital for comprehension to oc- organizing. It is through the application of these cur. Good readers monitor while reading to see if strategies at various moments throughout the in- things make sense, and they use strategies to re- teraction that meaning emerges. pair the meaning when things stop making sense (Duke, 2003; Pressley & Hilden, 2002). While some studies support that monitoring is important Te achers support transaction (Baker, 2002; Pressley & Afflerbach, 1995), other At this point, it seems fairly obvious that com- studies indicate that readers often mismonitor prehension occurs in the transaction between a (Baker, 1989; Baker & Brown, 1984; Kinnunen, reader and a text within a sociocultural context. V auras, & Niemi, 1998). Readers have been found That makes the transaction crucial to comprehen- to both over- and underestimate their comprehen- sion and the teacher’s role within this transaction sion of text. So, while monitoring is important and ve ry important. Teachers provide explicit instruc- good readers seem to monitor successfully, effec- tion of useful comprehension strategies, teach stu- tive teachers realize that mismonitoring can affect dents to monitor and repair, use multiple strategy meaning for less able students, and they provide approaches, scaffold support, and make reading additional support as needed so that all readers and writing connections visible to students. comprehend text successfully. Provide explicit instruction of useful comprehen- Researchers Use multiple strategy approaches. sion strategies. Good readers use strategies to sup- have found that teaching multiple strategies simul- port their understanding of text. Teachers help taneously may be particularly powerful (Trabasso students become good readers by teaching them how & Bouchard, 2002; National Institute of Child to use the strategies of monitoring, predicting, in- Health and Human Development, 2000; Pressley, 2000). ferring, questioning, connecting, summarizing, visu- What every teacher needs to know about comprehension 277

7 There is very strong empirical, scientific evidence that the text, and the strategy. While adaptations may be the instruction of more than one strategy in a natural made with students of different ages, teachers use context leads to the acquisition and use of reading this model with students in all elementary grades. comprehension strategies and transfer to standardized comprehension tests. Multiple strategy instruction fa- Make reading/writing connections visible. cilitates comprehension as evidenced by performance eachers help students see that reading and writ- T on tasks that involve memory, summarizing, and iden- ing are parallel processes and that becoming good tification of main ideas. (Trabasso & Bouchard, 2002, p. 184) writers can help them become good readers (Kucer, 2001). Composing a text can be thought of as writ- Perhaps the most frequently used multiple ing something that people will understand. Writing strategies approach is transactional strategy instruc- can bring understanding about a certain topic to the tion (TSI), created and studied by Pressley and col- writer, who will have to be clear about the topic he leagues (Brown, Pressley, Van Meter, & Schuder, or she is writing about. Meaning matters in com- 1996; Gaskins, Anderson, Pressley, Cunicelli, & prehending, and becoming a clear writer is all Satlow, 1993). TSI teachers encourage readers to about how the reader will make meaning of the text make sense of text by using strategies that allow that is being created. Recalling the earlier discus- them to make connections between text content and sion of authentic purposes is important here as prior knowledge. Teachers and students work in well; students will likely become engaged with the small reading groups to collaboratively make mean- task of writing if asked to write for authentic and ing using several teacher-identified strategies. important purposes. T eachers model and explain the strategies, coach students in their use, and help students use them flexibly. Throughout the instruction, students are Closing comments taught to think about the usefulness of each strate- Comprehending is a complicated process, as gy and to become metacognitive about their own reading processes. we have discovered and explored in this article. et it is one of the most important skills for stu- Y Scaffold support. When teaching strategies to dents to develop if they are to become successful elementary-age students, teachers gradually release and productive adults. Comprehension instruction responsibility for comprehending to students. An in schools, beginning in kindergarten, is therefore effective model that has been used by some teach- crucial. Teachers use their knowledge and under- ers is the Gradual Release of Responsibility model standings of how one learns to comprehend to (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). In this model, teach- inform classroom practices so they can most ef- ers take all the responsibility for applying a newly fectively help readers develop the abilities to com- introduced strategy by modeling, thinking aloud, prehend text. It is hoped that the discussion in this demonstrating, and creating meaning. As time article can open a dialogue with teachers and passes and students have more exposure to and teacher educators toward this end. practice with using the strategy, teachers scaffold students by creating activities within students’ do is a doctoral candidate in Teaching, r Pa Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978) urriculum, & Educational Policy at Michigan C and slowly withdrawing more and more responsi- St ate University (118 #36 Erickson Hall, East bility. Teachers work collaboratively with the stu- ansing, MI 48824, USA). E-mail L dents and the strategy, giving and taking as much as pa [email protected] r necessary to create meaning. Eventually, students take on more and more responsibility as they be- References come more confident, knowledgeable, and capable. Anderson, R.C., & Pearson, P.D. (1984). A schema-thematic Finally, students are able to work independently. view of basic processes in reading comprehension. In T eachers and students do not always progress in a P.D. Pearson, R. Barr, M.L. Kamil, & P. Mosenthal (Eds.), linear way, but often slip back and forth between Handbook of reading research (pp. 255–291). New York: more and less responsibility depending on the task, Longman. The Reading Teacher Vol. 58, No. 3 November 2004 278

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