Background and Purpose
Research conducted in the 1980s and more recently has suggested that children with learning disabilities (LD) have difficulties with reading comprehension that are the result of broadly based language problems and not limited to simple difficulties with word recognition. Since reading comprehension is crucial to school success, it is essential to understand the difficulties children with LD face as they encounter new text and to identify instructional approaches that focus on learning and using the many skills that are needed for successful reading.
This research synthesis was conducted to critically review recent contributions to the body of research on reading comprehension in students with LD with the goal of enhancing current classroom practices and identifying avenues for future research. These points serve as background information for the following discussion:
- Successful reading comprehension is correlated with oral reading fluency and vocabulary knowledge. However, interventions that focus on improving fluency or vocabulary do not necessarily increase reading comprehension, especially of long passages.
- Students with LD often show signs of giving up too quickly when faced with a difficult passage. This so-called task persistence, a skill that must be acquired by all readers, is especially important for successful reading of expository text, such as history and science textbooks, newspapers, and voter pamphlets.
- Children with LD, who have a history of academic difficulties, have documented gaps in grade-appropriate knowledge of history, geography, and other subjects. These knowledge gaps interfere with their understanding of material they encounter in new texts and compound their reading comprehension problems.
An analysis of three recent research reviews brings the following issues and findings to the forefront of reading comprehension research.
What is the role of self-monitoring in reading comprehension?
So-called active readers learn to monitor how well they understand what they are reading, as they read. When reading difficult material, these students engage in beneficial self-monitoring strategies such as rereading portions of the text and trying to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words central to understanding it. In contrast, students with LD often fail to realize that they must pay attention to how well they understand a text as they read so that they can go back and reread as necessary. Typically, students with LD must learn several self-monitoring techniques, such as asking themselves questions after reading a passage or summarizing in their own words the material they've read. While reading a story (a narrative text), they might try to predict what will happen next. Learning to make predictions helps reading comprehension.
The ability to reflect on how well a reading task is progressing is a critical component of reading comprehension. Students who are taught a number of strategies to use as they read, such as asking themselves questions as they read and summarizing what they read, generally experience more improvements in comprehension than students who are taught a single, specific comprehension skill. It is essential for students to learn "repair strategies" to use when they find themselves not understanding the text they are reading.
Repeated readings of a passage make it significantly easier for students to recall its important content. Repeated readings of the same passage is an easy strategy to implement in real classroom situations.
Although students with LD can be taught to use self-monitoring techniques, it is considerably more difficult for these students to generalize these skills, or apply them to other reading situations. Students frequently do not continue the comprehension strategies that they are taught after completion of the study unless they are asked to. It appears that intense, long-term interventions utilizing multiple self-monitoring interventions may be the most effective approach.
Students with LD process information inactively, and they have difficulty differentiating relevant and irrelevant associations. Possible solutions include techniques that force students to focus attention on the material being read and help them more readily identify the theme of a narrative.