Want to Improve Reading Comprehension? Here’s How.

Reading Plus

The recent article in The Atlantic magazine, “Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years,” surprised a lot of folks. The article suggests that two decades of flat NAEP scores in reading can be attributed, in part, to misdirected efforts in America’s classrooms: a focus on comprehension skill mastery, rather than knowledge acquisition.

Here’s an excerpt from this fascinating article:

“On a daily basis, teachers have their students practice skills and strategies like ‘finding the main idea’ or ‘making inferences.’ And teachers select books that match the given skill rather than because of the text’s content. Rarely do the topics connect: Students might read a book about bridges one day, zebras the next, and clouds the day after that.

“Cognitive scientists have known for decades that simply mastering comprehension skills doesn’t ensure a young student will be able to apply them to whatever texts they’re confronted with on standardized tests and in their studies later in life.”

So, if “drill the skill” is not the answer to boosting reading comprehension, what is? According to the article, to truly understand a text on a deep and meaningful level, a student needs strength in two areas: background knowledge and vocabulary. Background knowledge allows students to “connect the dots” in texts with unfamiliar topics or ideas. And a rich and deep vocabulary allows students to power through complex texts, reserving cognitive resources for comprehension rather than deciphering unfamiliar words.

Our Reading Plus content is designed to boost reading comprehension. Sure, we provide ample practice with more than 20 comprehension skills—every one of our comprehension questions has been written to develop and strengthen those skills. But we’ve always known that vocabulary is the greatest predictor of comprehension. Each of our texts has been meticulously crafted to incorporate rich, academic vocabulary from our 2,400 “Words to Master” list. Mastery of these 2,400 words provides students with the ability to recognize and understand the meaning of thousands of related words. The vocabulary we teach students are highly valuable, cross-curriculum words that help unlock meaning in complex texts.

Equally important, our content offers a wide array of topics, including texts touching on history, science, technology, pop culture, and the arts. We are passionate about giving our students texts worth reading. We strive to provide texts that broaden and deepen our students’ knowledge about the world around them, and about themselves.

Our content library is wide and deep because we know that giving students lots of choices helps them find texts that are motivating and inspiring. Our recently launched Recommendation feature alerts students to content they may find interesting based on other texts they’ve read, which helps readers discover new interests and passions. And, our wide assortment of fiction and non-fiction—everything from myths, fables, and contemporary short stories, to informational texts, to authentic documents and transcripts of speeches—provides students with information to support their classroom learning.

Our content entertains and enlightens students about people, places, and events, and helps them make connections between things they like to read (students self-select texts in our program) and the things they are learning. In other words, we’re helping them acquire a robust, meaningful storehouse of background knowledge, which in turn will help them understand more texts. If you need a little more convincing about the crucial role of background knowledge in comprehension, here’s another excerpt from The Atlantic,

“… if readers can’t supply the missing information, they have a hard time making sense of the text. If students arrive at high school without knowing who won the Civil War they’ll have a hard time understanding a textbook passage about Reconstruction.”

The NAEP is our country’s “national report card” on how students are performing, and our current grades are less than stellar. Twenty years of lackluster results, and an ever-widening gap between struggling and proficient readers, should make us all worried. The team at Reading Plus will continue to provide students with the kind of support they need to become readers who really understand the texts they encounter.

You can read the complete article at The Atlantic.

If you are new to Reading Plus, please take a look at our latest research to learn more about how Reading Plus can help your students become engaged, proficient readers.