Designed Learning & Designing Learning

Reading Comprehension Interventions WORK!

by Dr Gail Brown | March 6, 2022
Reading Comprehension Interventions WORK!

Comprehension is about thinking, understanding: it’s cognitive! We need to explicitly teach how to understand what we read – that supports learning! A team of researchers (Filderman et al, 2022)  has just published a meta-analysis on the effects of reading comprehension interventions for struggling readers in third through 12th grades. This meta-analysis includes interventions “aimed at remediating reading comprehension difficulties with the ultimate outcome of improving reading comprehension” (page 168)

Using past models, reading comprehension interventions are categorized into 4 instructional approaches: Strategy instruction; Background knowledge; Metacognitive Strategies (how and when to use a strategy) and Instructional enhancements (Graphic organizers & Technology).

These researchers hope their paper “…can help inform instruction for students who struggle with reading comprehension for reasons beyond decoding difficulties” (page 166). Two research questions are:

“(a) What are the effects of single component reading comprehension interventions on the reading comprehension outcomes of third through twelfth grade struggling readers? and

 (b) To what extent do participant (grade level), intervention (instructional approach and measure type), and study (quality_ characteristics moderate the effects?”

Their research search was from January 1975 to March 2020, using various terms and word stems for the concepts. Of more than 25,000 papers, only 64 studies that met their criteria for inclusion.

Their results report an overall significant positive effect 0.59, with background knowledge and strategy instruction resulting in significantly larger effects. Instructional enhancements (graphic organisers and technology) resulted in significantly lower effects. This is in line with previous meta-analyses, for K-12 (0.69) (Berkeley et al., 2010) and Grades 6-12 (0.89) (Edmonds et al., 2009).

The authors are not recommending providing reading comprehension instruction alone - they support a multi-component approach for struggling readers, who may also need interventions in word-level decoding and fluency. They are strongly supporting interventions for comprehension that build background knowledge and provide explicit strategy instruction.

They comment on poor quality of published intervention research, especially around ensuring implementation is reported with more details on the duration of instruction (teaching time), other intervention components and long term maintenance measures for intervention outcomes.

This paper confirms the importance of building background knowledge and providing explicit strategy instruction to improve reading comprehension.

 Filderman, M. J., Austin, C. R., Boucher, A. N., O’Donnell, K., & Swanson, E. A. (2022). A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Reading Comprehension Interventions on the Reading Comprehension Outcomes of Struggling Readers in Third Through 12th Grades. Exceptional Children, 88(2), 163–184.

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