Science Matters: Literacy Research is the Key to Improving Reading Outcomes

Comprehension means making meaning from text, but how to get to comprehension can be more complex and requires three processing systems: phonological (recognize familiar words or be able to decode unfamiliar words; meaning (understand the meaning of each word), and context (understand the meaning of sentences and entire texts).

One simple strategy to support your students’ reading comprehension is to incorporate read alouds into your instruction, using turn and talk, open-ended questions, discussion protocols in small groups, and student-student discourse to ensure 100% student engagement.

Another strategy, or resource, to support the development of comprehension skills is an online literacy program like Reading Plus that offers personalized scaffolding to build independent reading skills. The Reading Plus program automatically customizes lesson features including content level (based on an initial assessment), reading rate, opportunities to reread texts, and questions interspersed throughout each lesson. The program also allows students to self-select reading texts that are engaging and further build content knowledge and vocabulary.

A 2019 research study found that young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to. For those children who were not read to, vocabulary acquisition is essential to improving reading comprehension and raising reading achievement.

Read alouds, a great strategy for improving reading comprehension, can also help build students’ vocabulary. In addition to vocabulary acquisition that can be formally taught before and during a read aloud, a combination of turn and talks, small group discussions, and student-student discourse can further grow students’ vocabulary.

Additionally, an adaptive reading program with built-in vocabulary support can supplement whole and small group instruction, providing a personalized path to vocabulary development and improvised reading comprehension. For example, the vocabulary component in Reading Plus teaches students a research-based compilation of highly valuable, cross-curriculum, general academic vocabulary. Students master words through activities such as matching a vocabulary word with its synonym, selecting sentences where it is used properly, and completing sentences with members of its word family.

Definitions of oral reading fluency, the focus of grades K-2, often include speed, accuracy, and expression. Silent reading fluency, which becomes increasingly important beginning in grade 3, is the ability to read silently with sustained attention and concentration, ease and comfort, at grade-appropriate reading rates and with good understanding.

A few key ideas about fluency, in relation to literacy instruction:

  • Strong fluency is created by automaticity, language comprehension and a solid vocabulary, and is necessary to become a proficient reader.
  • Students can’t have fluency without the ability to immediately recognize and understand words, and decode unfamiliar words.
  • Fluency allows for better text comprehension, which allows us to build our vocabularies, which allows for greater comprehension of more complex texts.

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