You say that we should teach students to read with grade level texts. But my professor (I’m working on a master’s degree in reading) says that would be a big mistake since harder texts have been found to lower students’ fluency and comprehension (Amendum, Conradi, & Hiebert, 2017). Your research says one thing and his says something else. How can I sort this out? I kind of think that he is right since my students don’t read as well when I put them in the grade level books.
This is an easy question to answer: I’m right and your professor is wrong. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!
That didn’t convince you? Well, let’s try again.
The correct answer to your question depends on what your purpose is.
Your professor (and the research study he cited) are focused on how well students can read a text. They are correct – students generally don’t read harder texts as well as simpler ones. That means that if your goal is to ensure students read a particular text well – fluently and with high comprehension – then place the students in those easier texts.
However, ensuring a strong reading performance with a particular text is rarely a teacher’s goal. The point of lessons isn’t to demonstrate how well students can already read a text.
No, lessons are supposed to help kids improve their reading ability. That’s a very different thing.
Your professor is confusing reading comprehension and learning to read. Research shows that students read simpler texts better, but it doesn’t show such reading to be particularly powerful in making students into better readers.
In fact, the research shows just the opposite (Shanahan, 2020).
More complex texts provide students with an opportunity to learn – to learn the unknown words, to learn how to untangle the complex syntax, to learn to track the subtle connections across a text, and so on. If students can already read texts reasonably well (95% fluency, 75% reading comprehension), there isn’t much for them to learn from those texts.
The article that you cited recognizes the difference. “If we give students more complex texts without any support, we are unlikely to see the benefits... Specifically, we draw attention to the importance of scaffolds and instructional supports to assist students as they read more challenging texts” (Amendum, Conradi, & Hiebert, 2017, p. 146).
In other words, they are saying that you can’t just dump hard texts into your classroom and expect to see reading gains.
Don’t avoid complex texts – teach students to read them.
How to do that? There are many scaffolds and instructional routines that have a basis in research (there are several blogs, articles, and PowerPoints about that on this site) but let’s take a quick look at one easy to use support that really helps.
There is a surprising amount of research that explores the impact of rereading and usually with positive results. When understanding doesn’t come automatically from a single read, it makes great sense to devote some time to rereading.
What might you expect with a second reading?
Having students reread texts or parts of texts can improve student reading performance. But even rereading benefits from instructional guidance.
The study that found greater attention to causal connections (Millis & King, 2001) found this to be true with both good and poor readers, but the impacts were greatest with the better readers. Good readers had a clearer idea of the kinds of information to seek when they reread. Teaching students to look causal connections, including signal words (e.g., because, so, so that, if… then, consequently), would make sense.
Lack of that kind of instruction may be why some studies report no benefits from rereading (Callender, et al., 2009) or that rereading is less effective than other more intentional study approaches (Weinstein, McDermott, & Roediger, 2010).
One interesting study with elementary students found that reading and rereading had no impact on reading comprehension. But reading-retelling-rereading was effective (Koskinen, Gambrell & Kapinus, 1989). Perhaps the retelling step sensitized the students to what they were missing, which made the rereading more purposeful. Another study successfully guided fourth graders to reread specific parts of the text with positive results (Bossert & Schwantes, 1995).
In any event, rereading has the power to transform a difficult read into an easier one and learning to make sense of texts that one can’t already read easily is at the heart of successful reading instruction.
Tell your professor that!
Amendum, S.J., Conradi, K., & Hiebert, E. (2017). Does text complexity matter in the elementary grades? A research synthesis of text difficulty and elementary students’ reading fluency and comprehension. Educational Psychology Review, 30, 121-151.
Bossert, T. S., & Schwantes, F. M. (1995). Children's comprehension monitoring: Training children to use rereading to aid comprehension. Reading Research and Instruction, 35(2), 109-121. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19388079509558201
Callender, A. A., & McDaniel, M. A. (2009). The limited benefits of rereading educational texts. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 34(1), 30-41. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2008.07.001
Griffin, T. D., Wiley, J., & Thiede, K. W. (2008). Individual differences, rereading, and self-explanation: Concurrent processing and cue validity as constraints on metacomprehension accuracy. Memory & Cognition, 36(1), 93-103. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/MC.36.1.93
Koskinen, P. S., Gambrell, L. B., & Kapinus, B. A. (1989). The effects of rereading and retelling upon young children's reading comprehension. National Reading Conference Yearbook, 38, 233-239.
Kuijpers, M. M., & Hakemulder, F. (2018). Understanding and appreciating literary texts through rereading. Discourse Processes, 55(7), 619-641. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0163853X.2017.1390352
Margolin, S. J., & Snyder, N. (2018). It may not be that difficult the second time around: The effects of rereading on the comprehension and metacomprehension of negated text. Journal of Research in Reading, 41(2), 392-402. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-9817.12114
Mason, L., Tornatora, M. C., & Pluchino, P. (2015). Integrative processing of verbal and graphical information during re-reading predicts learning from illustrated text: An eye-movement study. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 28(6), 851-872. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11145-015-9552-5
Millis, K. K., & King, A. (2001). Rereading strategically: The influences of comprehension ability and a prior reading on the memory for expository text. Reading Psychology, 22(1), 41-65. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02702710151130217
Rawson, K. A., Dunlosky, J., & Theide, K. W. (2000). The rereading effect: Metacomprehension accuracy improves across reading trials. Memory & Cognition, 28(6), 1004–1010. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03209348
Shanahan, T. (2020). Limiting children to books they can already read. American Educator, 44(2), 13-17, 39.
Weinstein, Y., McDermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2010). A comparison of study strategies for passages: Rereading, answering questions, and generating questions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 16(3), 308-316. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a002099
Xue, S., Jacobs, A. M., & Lüdtke, J. (2020). What is the difference? rereading Shakespeare’s sonnets—An eye tracking study. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 14. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00421
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