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8 Jan 2014

A Focus on Comprehension

Fran Lehr, Jean Osborn, & Elfrieda H. Hiebert

Lehr, F., Osborn, J., & Hiebert E. H., (2005).  A focus on comprehension. Honolulu, HI: Pacific Resources for Education and Learning.

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A Focus on Comprehension is the third in the Research- Based Practices in Early Reading Series published by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) at Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL).

A major goal of reading comprehension instruction is to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and strategies they must possess to become proficient and independent readers. However, although decades of research have revealed a great deal of information about how readers get meaning from what they read and about the kinds of explicit instruction and activities that are most successful in helping students to become good readers, recent classroom observation studies indicate that students in typical elementary school classrooms still receive little in the way of effective comprehension instruction (e.g., Pressley, Wharton-McDonald, Hampson, & Echevarria, 1998; RAND Reading Study Group, 2002).

 How serious is the problem? Consider the following figures:

  1. On recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures, 37% of fourth grade students fall into the “below basic” category; 59% in the “below proficient” category (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004).
  2. Among fourth graders, only 40% of white students, 17% of Native American students, 16% of Hispanic students, and 12% of African American students are proficient in reading (Donahue, Finnegan, Lutkus, Allen, & Campbell, 2001).
  3. Among eighth grade students, those who are nonwhite or who are from low-income families read three to four grade levels lower than students who are white and those who are economically more advantaged (Office of Vocational and Adult Education, 2002).
  4. A majority of incoming ninth grade students in high poverty, urban schools read 2 to 3 years below grade level (Office of Vocational and Adult Education, 2002).
  5. More than 8 million students in grades 4–12 are struggling readers. Each school day, some 3,000 students drop out of high school (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004).

The purpose of this booklet is to examine what research tells us about factors that affect reading comprehension and about what instruction must contain and what it must do to help students become proficient comprehenders. We begin by discussing exactly what we mean by reading comprehension.