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Increasing reading comprehension through the explicit teaching of reading strategies: is there a difference among the genders?
Article Type:
Report
Subject:
Reading teachers (Demographic aspects)
Reading comprehension (Study and teaching)
Reading comprehension (Demographic aspects)
Authors:
Prado, Ludivina
Plourde, Lee A.
Pub Date:
03/22/2011
Publication:
Name: Reading Improvement Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0034-0510
Issue:
Date: Spring, 2011 Source Volume: 48 Source Issue: 1
Geographic:
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
258438664
Full Text:
The relationship between the intentional teaching of reading strategies and the increase in reading comprehension was studied. The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) reading pretest and posttest scores of 57 subjects were analyzed to see if there was a significant increase in performance after the reading strategies were taught. The study also analyzed the difference in how the boys performed in comparison to girls and the results were discussed to see if there was a correlation with gender and reading gains and losses. There was a significant increase in the NWEA post-test scores after the students had received specific reading strategy instruction.

Introduction

Teachers today are being called on to analyze and evaluate their teaching practices (Taylor, Pearson, Peterson, & Rodriguez, 2003). Due to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, strict guidelines have been set that incorporate standardized testing to insure that all teachers are teaching what they are required to and that all children are learning what they need to learn (Harvey & Goudvis, 2000). Many educators have been caught up in the standardized testing craze and have lost sight of the fact that their primary goal is to increase children's literacy abilities and not just get them ready for the test (Jago, 2005). There is a plethora of research that teachers can use to strengthen and solidify the reading pedagogy in their classroom (Taylor et al., 2003).

In order to assure that the students under their care will receive the best possible instruction in the area of reading, teachers need to first understand and be knowledgeable of brain and gender-based research. This research states that there are significant differences in the way boys and girls learn how to read. Being aware not only of the differences, but the reasons why, can help teachers of reading become more effective and proficient in reaching all of the students in their classrooms (Gurian & Ballew, 2003).

According to the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000), there are five specific practices that teachers should be using in their classrooms to help children become better readers: "(a) phonemic awareness instruction, (b) explicit, systematic phonics instruction, (c) repeated oral reading practice with feedback and guidance, (d) direct and indirect vocabulary instruction, and (e) comprehension strategies instruction" (Taylor et al., 2003, p. 4).

Focusing on the area of comprehension strategies instruction, teachers are discovering that reading comprehension is not something children acquire as they read (Harvey & Goudvis, 2000). Harvey and Goudvis (2000) note that researchers Linda Fielding and P. David Pearson espoused that comprehension is now understood to be a process that involves "knowledge, experience, thinking, and teaching" (p. 6). In order to help children become more proficient readers, certain reading strategies have to be explicitly taught in order to help students grow as readers. These specific strategies include (a) creating mental pictures of what they are reading; (b) using background knowledge to make connections; (c) asking questions before, during, and after they read; (d) making inferences during and after reading; (e) determining the most important ideas or themes; (f) synthesizing information; and (g) using "fix-up" strategies when something doesn't make sense (Zimmerman & Hutchins, 2003).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to see if there was a significant difference between how students perform on reading tests after having received the same instruction in using reading strategies. Instilling the love of reading in a child can be an amazing accomplishment. Many teachers strive to provide a variety of materials that will interest their students and capture their curiosity (Parsons, 2004). They do all of this in an effort to get them hooked into reading. While many children will get captivated, if they are not able to begin to read and understand the text on their own, they will lose interest in reading. Many teachers use the phrase, "In order to become a better reader you have to read, read, read!" Although it is true that this might help increase children's fluency, vocabulary and even their background knowledge, it will not help them gain valuable comprehension skills needed to gain more understanding from the text (Mason, Meadan, Hedin, & Corso, 2006). Furthermore, teachers have the responsibility to teach children how to read and comprehend a variety of genres. Many struggling readers are able to decipher and decode what they are reading, but they get little out of their reading beyond that. If these students are to be able to continue to grow as readers, they must be intentionally taught the important reading strategies they need to gain and construct meaning from what they read. These children need to see these strategies modeled, they need to be led through guided practice, and finally they need to be given time to practice these strategies independently. To make sure that these students truly understand and apply the strategies correctly, teachers have to listen to their conversations as they discuss their readings with their peers. It is important that their progress is monitored and that they have meaningful conversations with the teacher about what they understand and what they do not (Harvey & Goudvis, 2000).

A large amount, if not most, of the reading children do in the upper elementary grades is nonfiction (Harvey, 1998). Content area classes such as social studies, science, mathematics, and geography expose students to texts that provide a myriad of important information they need to be able to understand and learn. Children need to be taught that different genres are approached differently. When they are able to understand that an author has a specific purpose, they can read the passage accordingly (Harvey, 1998).

Research Questions

This study attempted to research whether the explicit teaching of reading strategies can increase reading comprehension and answer the following questions:

1. Will there be a difference between students' pre- and post-Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) reading test scores after teaching the following reading strategies: (a) questioning to clarify meaning; (b) using background knowledge to make connections; (c) making inferences and drawing conclusions; (d) visualizing or creating mental images from what is being read; (e) determining the most important ideas or themes; (f) synthesizing information; and (g) using "fix-up" strategies such as skipping ahead, rereading, using a dictionary, and reading passage aloud.

2. Will there be a significant difference in NWEA reading pre- and posttest scores between boys and girls in all of the above areas?

The students' gain was monitored by a pre- and post-NWEA test. This test was taken on the computer and measured the students' ability in reading and math. Students took the test at the beginning of the school year in October and once again at the middle of the year (late January). The two reading scores were compared to see if students had losses or gains as far as their comprehension was concerned. The boys' and girls' scores were also analyzed and compared to see if there was a significant difference in how they performed.

Hypothesis

The null hypothesis was applied to this study. There will be no significant difference between the means of the pre- and post-NWEA reading tests after the explicit teaching of specific reading strategies. There will also be no significant difference in how the boys perform vs. the girls. The evidence of this will be based on the comparison of the students' pre- and post-NWEA tests.

Limitations of Study

This study was limited due to the fact that only three fourth-grade classes were examined. Participants were chosen according to the convenience method (students from the researcher's school were utilized). These results could not be generalized due to the fact that students' growth could have also been influenced by other teachers (most of them receive other help such as Title 1 or special education services), learning styles, and self motivation on each student's part. The students' gains were only analyzed using the NWEA test. This also limits the study because educators usually take into account more than one assessment to monitor student progress.

Review of Related Literature

Reading is a skill that is acquired at a young age and used throughout life. Because of this, it is understood that it is, in fact, probably one of life's most important skills that children must master. Researchers believe that if a child does not learn the ins and outs of reading (of which comprehension is a major part) by third grade, they will fall so far behind their peers that they will never be able to catch up (Geary, 2006). While reading fluency is important, a child needs to be able to comprehend what he or she is reading in order to begin to draw out the meaning from the text. If they are not able to get past just reading words they will, in essence, become "a slave to the actual printed word" (Young, 1989, p. 760).

Learning to Read and Reading to Learn

Children typically begin receiving formal instruction in reading around the age of five, when they enter kindergarten. Every child begins with different readiness skills and experiences; however, they do not all learn how to read at the same age. Normally, children will begin learning how to decipher the "code of reading" anytime between the ages of five and eight (Johnson & Sulzby, 1999). Although it has been widely accepted that children learn to read in the primary grades and, as they approach third grade, are beginning to transition to a read-to-learn phase of the reading process, Harvey (1998) believes that this is actually a myth. Harvey states, "Reading is not nearly so simple a process; we develop strategies to improve reading proficiency well into adulthood" (p. 71).

Reading Comprehension

Researchers agree that reading comprehension is a process. It is the "interaction among word identification, prior knowledge, comprehension strategies, and engagement" (Cunningham et al., 2004, p. 186). The most basic part of comprehension is word identification. A student learns to decode words at the beginning and starts to apply rules about how words should look and sound. As they continue learning how to read, word identification turns into not only decoding words, but learning about the meanings of words and their positions in sentences. They also begin to gain an understanding of how all these words fit together to form a piece of information that will hopefully be of interest or use to them (Cunningham et al., 2004).

Another important component of reading comprehension is the activation of prior knowledge or making connections while reading. Readers must be able to draw from their experiences to apply what they are reading. If a student is not able to activate the schema necessary for a specific piece of text, his or her comprehension will be either distorted or greatly hindered (Young, 1989). Young students will, at first, activate their schema (background knowledge and experience) and then, as they grow as readers, they strengthen and build on it. This is the reason why individuals may read a book several times and be able to gain different meanings and perspectives every time they read it. They are bringing new experiences to a text every time they read because their lives are constantly evolving. This "layering of experiences" also increases their ability to gain meaning from a piece of text (Zimmerman & Hutchins, 2003 p. 45).

Reading Strategies and Comprehension: Views and Beliefs

Researchers agree that reading strategies are part of a set of skills that students need to use as they read. Students engage in the use of not only one, but probably several strategies as they read (Geary, 2006). In a study done by researchers Schunk and Rice (1992), it was discovered that teaching children reading strategies often helps them improve their comprehension. This is especially true for children who have learning problems and have trouble with organization of their thoughts or going through a process systematically. However, they cautioned that explicit instruction won't always ensure that students will be able to transfer their learning or put it into practice when they read.(Schunk & Rice, 1992). Children don't always apply what they learn about reading strategies because (a) they don't realize that they can use the strategies outside of the given lesson, (b) they do not understand how to change the strategy and make it work for what they're doing, (c) it is hard for them to believe that they can apply the strategy on their own, and (d) they don't understand that the use of the strategies will bring them success (Schunk & Rice, 1992). Thus, other researchers argue that "the goal of comprehension instruction should be to improve readers' ability to comprehend" (Johnston, 1985, p. 635). The strategies the child is able to use when the teacher is not present is what they believe is the important part of strategy instruction. So this belief says that teaching "learning strategies" rather than just reading strategies is important for improving reading skills as well (Johnston, 1985).

Brain Research on Gender and Reading Development

Because learning to read is a process that develops over time and "involves mastery of a rich variety of skills" it is important to know all of the factors that can affect how a child achieves literacy (Paris & Jacobs, 1984, p. 2083). Research into brain development has shed much light on the differences between male and female brains and how they acquire, translate, and use knowledge (Gurian & Ballew, 2003). Girls tend to use more of their brains than boys and imaging studies have shown that the female brain at rest is more active than a male's "activated brain" (Gurian & Ballew, 2003, p. 10). Gurian and Ballew further point out:

This process can put boys at a significant disadvantage when they are asked to begin to interpret the meaning of the text rather than just decode the words. And if this wasn't enough to make reading development difficult, hormones come into play in both males and females to further complicate the matter.

Study after study points out the advantage that girls are more likely to have in the area of reading acquisition because of how their brains develop and because their bodies produce hormones that make learning how to read come easily and more naturally to them. According to the nation's report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), by the time boys reach high school, they have fallen nearly twenty points behind girls in the area of reading. This shows that these students are leaving high school unable to read at the standard at which they are expected to function in society. An inability to read then causes an inability for them to earn (Drehle, 2007). Because of these facts, it is essential that boys have an equal chance to develop their reading skills and their reading abilities (Bruemmer, 2006).

Summary

All of the research encountered reiterates the same message: children who utilize reading strategies understand more of what they read than children who do not (Geary, 2006). It has also been upheld that proficient readers will use these strategies to make sense of what they read, but non-proficient readers won't. In fact, poor readers seem to not be aware of the fact that these strategies can help them understand what they read (Taylor et al., 2003). The explicit teaching of reading strategies can help catapult all struggling readers into a zone where they can gain the self-confidence they need to go on to become successful readers (Geary, 2006).

Methods and Procedures

Methodology

This was a quasi-experimental study that employed a single-group pretest-posttest design. The purpose of the study was to determine if there would be an increase in the reading comprehension of the subjects when they were explicitly taught certain reading strategies. The study also tried to observe if there was a statistical significance between the mean scores of the NWEA pretest and posttests between boys and girls.

Procedures

Data Required

The explicit teaching of reading was the independent variable. The subjects received explicit teaching of the following reading strategies: (a) visualization; (b) making connections by activating prior knowledge; (c) asking questions before, during, and after reading; (d) making inferences and drawing conclusions during and after reading; (e) determining the main ideas or recurring themes in the text; (f) synthesizing information and; (g) using fix-up strategies (Zimmerman & Hutchins, 2003, pp. 5-6). The students were given the NWEA reading test before the study began to determine their grade level equivalent in the area of reading comprehension. The test was repeated after the explicit reading strategies were implemented. This was the dependent variable. The data were analyzed using a matched t test. The results between the boys and the girls were also analyzed using a matched t test to see if there was a statistical difference in how boys performed vs. girls after receiving explicit reading strategy instruction. The increase of the mean scores in the boys' and girls' posttests were also analyzed and compared to determine if they differed and, if so, by how much.

Study Sample

The subjects selected for this study were fourth-grade students from an elementary school in the Columbia Basin located in eastern Washington. The sample was based on the convenience method because the researcher used subjects from her school that were in the fourth grade. A total of 57 students participated: 32 of the participants were male and 25 were female. Of the 32 males who participated, 19 were Hispanic, 12 were Caucasian, and 1 was African American. Of the 25 females who participated, 8 were Hispanic, 16 were Caucasian, and 1 was African American. The study took place during the 2008-2009 school year.

Hypothesis

The null hypothesis was applied to this study. It was determined that there would not be a significant difference between the mean scores of the students' pretest and posttest on the NWEA reading test after explicit teaching of reading strategies was implemented to increase the reading comprehension of the subjects. It was also determined that there would not be a statistical significance between the mean scores of the pre- and posttests between boys and girls.

Data Collection

The 57 subjects were given the NWEA reading test at the beginning of the school year, in October, to determine their grade-level-equivalent status. The subjects then received explicit teaching of the specified reading strategies over a three month period. The subjects were then given the NWEA test again in late January and the results were analyzed using a matched t test. The boys' and girls' pre- and post-NWEA test scores were also analyzed using a matched t test to determine if there was a significant difference in how the two groups performed. The increase of mean scores in the posttests of the boys and girls were analyzed and compared also to determine if either group had a higher increase than the other.

The NWEA reading test consists of 41 questions which test five different sub-skills including (a) word recognition and vocabulary, (b) reading comprehension-literal, (c) reading comprehension-inferential/interpretive, (d) reading comprehension-evaluation, and (e) literary response and analysis (NWEA, n.d.f). After the test is taken, teachers can access a NWEA Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) Report that lists the names of their students and their test scores. The tests provide a Rasch uniT (RIT) score "measures student achievement and growth" (NWEA n.d.a, p. 6). A RIT scale is a measurement scale used by NWEA that "aligns student achievement levels with item difficulties on the same scale" (NWEA, n.d.e., [paragraph] 3).

Data Analysis

The data in this study were analyzed using a matched t test. This test was chosen because the same subjects were used throughout the study and they were given both a pre-and posttest. All of the students' pre- and posttests were analyzed and the level of significance was determined to see if the null hypothesis would be rejected. The t critical two-tailed results were analyzed to determine what the level of significance was exactly.

The boys' and girls' scores were then separated and a matched t test was calculated for each gender to determine if there was a significant difference in pretests and posttests among the genders. After the t test was performed on the scores of the boys and girls, the scores were then compared to see if one gender showed more growth than the other.

The scores of each participant who showed growth was then taken and separated by gender. Each total of growth points was added up for each gender and a matched t test was performed. The means of the boys' growth and the girls' growth were then compared and analyzed to see if there was a difference.

Results

Students' pre- and post-NWEA reading test scores were analyzed using a matched t test. Boys' and girls' scores were then separated and also analyzed using the same test (matched t test) to see if there was a significant difference between the means of the different genders.

The students' pre- and post-NWEA scores were analyzed and the mean of the pretest scores was found to be 201.82 and the mean of the posttest scores was 207.14. There was a significant difference between the pretest and posttest scores, t(56) = 4.59, p < .001, with the mean of posttest scores being higher than the mean of pretest scores. This was statistically significant enough to reject the null hypothesis that stated there would be no significant increase in the comprehension of students' scores after they were explicitly taught the seven reading strategies.

Seventy percent of the subjects tested (40 of 57) showed growth. Twenty-six percent of the subjects tested (15 of 57) regressed, and out of the 26% that regressed, 53% (8 of 15) regressed by a total of 4 or more points. Two subjects of the 57 subjects tested, or .04%, showed no change in their pre- and posttest scores.

The means for the boys' pre- and post-NWEA scores were 200.67 (pretest) and 204.03 (posttest) respectively. The mean scores for the girls were 203.29 (pretest) and 211.16 (posttest). There was a significant difference between the boys' pretest and posttest scores, t(30) = 2.13, p < .05, with the mean of posttest scores being higher than the mean of pretest scores. There was also a significant difference between the girls' pretest and posttest scores, t(23) = 4.92, p < .001; the mean of the posttest scores was higher than the mean of the pretest scores. Much of the research done on gender states that girls tend to perform better in reading than boys. While the numbers may indicate that the girls outperformed the boys, one cannot ignore that there may be many reasons why it seems the girls performed better than the boys (Gurian & Ballew, 2003).

A total of 20 boys showed an increase on their posttest scores as compared to their pretest scores. Twenty girls showed an increase on their posttest scores as compared to their pretest scores as well. When the average gains for the boys (9.45) were compared to the average gains for the girls (9.95) there was a difference of 0.50. However, a matched t test performed on the total number of points gained by the boys and by the girls resulted in the following outcome: t(38) = 0.29, p > .05. This means that there was no statistical significance in how the boys performed in comparison to the girls. This difference might, however, be explained due to the fact that the average decrease in posttest scores for the boys was 6.8 yet the average decrease in posttest scores for the girls was 3.4.

Discussion

Learning how to read is probably one of the most important skills that a child will acquire in his/her lifetime. Mastering this skill takes years and the processes involved in achieving success in this area are numerous. However, many experts agree that reading comprehension is one of the most important, if not major, parts of reading a reader must be able to conquer before becoming a competent reader (Zimmermann & Hutchins, 2003).

This study investigated whether the explicit teaching of reading strategies could have an impact on the increase of reading comprehension for boys and girls. It further analyzed whether there was a significant difference in how the boys performed in comparison to the girls.

The results showed that there was a significant increase in the mean scores of the students' posttest in comparison to their pretest scores. The findings supported other research and studies that state that the intentional teaching of reading strategies has a positive impact on the reading comprehension of students (Schunk & Rice, 1992). Most of the students involved in the study (40 out of 57) showed growth in the area of reading comprehension after they received instruction in how to use and apply the reading strategies. It cannot be ignored however, that some of the growth achieved by the students who increased their posttest scores could have also been attributed to receiving extra help in other programs such as Title 1, special education, after school program (at the school), or an after school tutor program at a local church.

While there was significant difference in the mean scores of the boys' posttests in comparison to the mean scores of the girls" posttests (0.50), caution has to be taken when making assumptions about gender and its role in reading performance. Although some gender studies have stated that "girls are approximately one and a half years ahead of boys in reading and writing competence, at all school levels," it cannot be generalized that this is why the results came out as they did (Gurian & Ballew, 2003, p.24). The mean scores of the girls' pretests (203.29) and posttests (211.17) were higher than the mean scores of the boys' pretests (200.68) and posttests (204.03). This difference can be attributed to many things that have nothing to do with gender such as previous instruction, motivation, effort, parental support and help, and just general mental ability (Haertel, 1986).

Recommendations

The use of reading strategies should continue to be taught because there did seem to be a connection with increase in reading comprehension. Teachers need to make sure that children are familiar with all of the reading strategies and that they are given plenty of opportunities to use them. Some of the research pointed out that although it seems students understand the reading strategies, they do not transfer them to different genres of reading, and in many cases do not understand their importance in their reading success (Schunk & Rice, 1992).

The NWEA can be a useful tool for planning strategy instruction. Teachers need to use the NWEA results to not only plan their curriculum to better meet the needs of their learners, but they need to ensure that children are given feedback on their progress on a regular basis. Children need to be aware that they are just as responsible for their learning as the teacher who is guiding them. If they feel they have ownership of their progress they might put forth extra effort into succeeding.

Further research needs to be done in gender differences so that the needs of all learners, boys and girls, are met. Teachers need to set high expectations for all students and not label or stereotype their abilities or weaknesses based on their gender. Along with research in gender differences, research on different ways students learn could also benefit children and give teachers insight into new methods and ways to reach a wider audience of learners.

Conclusion

This study showed that the explicit teaching of reading strategies can help increase the reading comprehension of students. Because mastering reading is a life-long process, care should be taken so that students have a strong foundation on which to build their skills. A solid reading program that includes carefully planned instruction that takes into consideration where students are and provides them with feedback that can help them grow is essential.

Furthermore, this study has pointed out that it is important for teachers to be aware that boys and girls are different and should take care to address the differences in how they learn. It is no longer appropriate to use the "one size fits all" method of teaching in the classroom when research demonstrates that the same method does not work for everyone.

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LUDIVINA PRADO, MED

Moses Lake School District

LEE A. PLOURDE, PH.D.

Central Washington Universio,-Wenatchee
Because the male brain is not as activated
   in as many places, it becomes
   overwhelmed by stimulation more
   quickly, causing it to decide on the
   importance of stimulants for their
   necessary task. A lot goes untouched
   by the male brain because it does
   not attend to those things, preferring
   to manage stimulation by "sticking
   to a plan" (p. 12).


As a student takes a MAP test, he or
   she is presented with items of vary
   RITs, or levels of difficulty.
   Once the MAP system determines
   the difficulty level at which the student
   is able to perform and the
   system collects enough data to report
   a student's abilities, the test ends and
   the student is assigned an overall
   RIT score (NWEA, n.d.e, [paragraph] 6).
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