Evidence for Learning: Reading comprehension strategies

Reading comprehension strategies

A summary of the research evidence on reading comprehension strategies in the Australasian context.

The Teaching & Learning Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of reading comprehension strategies on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.

This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on reading comprehension strategies. In contrast to the Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by school leaders, teachers and students. This information is valuable for school leaders and teachers interested in finding out more about particular examples of reading comprehension strategies that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.

This Australasian Research Summary was generated by Melbourne Graduate School of Education in 2016. 

Reading comprehension approaches to improving reading focus on learners’ understanding of the text. They teach a range of techniques that enable students to comprehend the meaning of what is written, such as inferring the meaning from context, summarising or identifying key points, using graphic or semantic organisers, developing questioning strategies, and monitoring their own comprehension and identifying difficulties themselves (see also metacognition and self-regulation).

Reading comprehension strategies have a strong history of aiding student learning and accelerating academic achievement.

The Australian-based article by Whithear (2009) examined the poor performance of students in literacy and included a brief review of best-practice program interventions. Citing Kamil (2003), he found that a combination of strategies was most effective in helping older students with reading comprehension. He also included studies from the National Reading Panel (2000) and found a growing convergence of research findings on eight instructional strategies to assist older, low-progress readers: comprehension monitoring, co-operative learning, graphic organisers, story structure, question answering, question generating, summarising, and multiple strategies (combining strategies).

Scull’s (2010) Australian-based case study examined the processes skilled teachers use with children in early schooling (aged 6 – 8 years) to help them read and understand texts, specifically the Reading Recovery’ intervention. Sixteen one-on-one interactions between students (who were struggling with literacy) and teachers were documented. Students’ ability to self-correct was considered a sign of improvement. Teachers gauged student understanding of texts through questioning. The study revealed how teachers can guide students to co-construct meanings, which emphasises teacher-student interactivity as central to literacy instruction.

Ng, Bartlett, Chester and Kersland (2013) examined a program that utilised top-down teaching practice, specifically teacher training on how to improve student reading. The study involved 76 Year 5 students from a low SES school. Two training sessions conducted by an experienced trainer were held, and teachers were responsible for the experimental groups. The program comprised: 1) Highlights (relationship between child and buddy); 2) Warm Up (sight words); 3) Stretching (phonological awareness); 4) The Main Event (reading); 5) Cool Down (transfer and generalization); and 6) Celebrating Effort/​Ability (reading self-concept). Parents, teachers and children reported increased independent reading activity. Parents reported an increase in the frequency and quantity of independent reading and noticed their children were reading more confidently and successfully at home.

The New Zealand-based case study by Westerveld and Gillon (2008) examined an oral narrative intervention program. The study involved ten children (aged 8 – 9 years), who had demonstrated persistent reading and oral narrative comprehension and production difficulties in a prior two-year longitudinal study. The students were divided into two groups: five students received the intervention immediately; the other five received a delayed intervention. The intervention, delivered twice weekly for a number of weeks, focused on understanding the text (story structure) and describing it orally while working one on one with a speech therapist. Children with mixed reading disability showed superior post-intervention performance in oral narrative comprehension.

Ng, C‑H. C., Bartlett, B., Chester, I., & Kersland, S. (2013). Improving Reading Performance for Economically Disadvantaged Students: Combining Strategy Instruction and Motivational Support. Reading Psychology, 34(3), 257 – 300.

Westerveld, M. F., & Gillon, G. T. (2008). Oral narrative intervention for children with mixed reading disability. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 24(1), 31 – 54.

Whithear, J. L. (2009). Slipping through the cracks: why too many adolescents still struggle to read. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, 17(2), 30 – 45.

Scull, J. (2010). Embedding comprehension within reading acquisition processes. Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, 33(2), 87 – 107.

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Reading comprehension strategies; intervention; New Zealand; Australia; meta-analysis.