Literal Comprehension

Boosting Literacy with Effective
Reading Comprehension
About Headsprout
• Headsprout is an adaptive learning software company
that creates reading products that are effective, easy to
use, engaging and fun. Headsprout was founded in
1999 and is based out of Seattle, WA.
• Mission: To be a major force in helping eliminate
illiteracy in young children around the world.
Joanne K. Robbins, Ph.D.
Co-founder and Executive Director of P.E.E.R. International
(Partnerships for Educational Excellence and Research) and
Principal of Morningside Academy
Marta Leon, Ph.D.
Director of Instructional Development for Headsprout
Allison Stotler
Senior Sales Representative at Headsprout
Teaching and Learning
How to Comprehend Text
Joanne Robbins, Ph.D.
Morningside Academy and
P.E.E.R. International
How do we structure the classroom to
promote comprehension?
• Whole group, small group, and individual instruction
• Learners take turns reading aloud, follow-along skills taught
• Component skills such as decoding, reading fluency, and prosody
practiced outside of the read-aloud block
• Instructional level of text is presented based upon learners’ skills;
as skills grow complexity of text increases
• Learners of all ages and skill levels are presented with fiction and
• Reading comprehension is included in mathematics instruction
Instructional Procedures Common to
Reading Comprehension and All Academic Areas
• Frequent progress monitoring
• Provide interventions and assess for success
• Lessons include examples and nonexamples
of all concepts to be learned
• Faculty provide genuine and frequent praise
for careful and thoughtful responding
• Errors are regarded as learning opportunities
• Lessons are presented with model, lead, test
Teacher Questions and
Learner Requirements
• Teachers use direct and explicit instruction
• Learners are told what type of question is being asked to
prompt use of strategies learned
For example: Inference stated aloud in complete sentence:
Answer stems provided, such as, I can infer that the setting
takes place “
” because “
Teacher records quality of learner response: meets criterion or
needs prompts
Peer Tutors: Increase the number of
teachers in the classroom
Reading and reasoning is taught using our Talk Aloud Problem Solving (TAPS)
Roles of two repertoires are taught individually and rehearsed until one learner has
acquired both roles and can be both a Problem Solver and Active Listener
Teaching the Student to Inquire
• Exercises provided to preview text by generating questions
• Check prior knowledge by creating a best guess
• Compare best guess to original text
• This is completed in written and oral form
• Discrepancy defines the learning opportunity
• Variety of text presented, student learns to predict and compare
various authors’ styles, navigate for answers and definitions
(context clues or formal definitions)
Exercises that promote analytical reasoning
and reading comprehension
• Text Reconstruction
• Logic, Brain-Teaser, and Analogy
booklets that require reasoning skills
and problem solving
o Categorization and attending to
o Stating Relationships
o Sequencing
o Understanding written directions
o Paraphrasing
Text Reconstruction
This paragraph comes from the children’s book:
Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom abridged by Chris van Wyk
and published by Roaring Press Books (2009).
But it was not always like this.
I live in South Africa, a beautiful country on the tip of Africa.
My name is Nelson Mandela.
Today South Africa is a democracy.
That means all adults vote to choose who they want to run the country.
Reading Comprehension
Marta Leon, Ph.D.
What does “comprehension” mean?
• Understanding what one reads
• Deriving meaning from context
How do we know if someone comprehends?
• Follow instructions
• Answer questions
• Retell or paraphrase
We all agree, comprehension is important…
…But how is it taught?
Typically by:
• Experience with text: reading
• Asking students how or why they choose an answer and
commenting on it
• Teachers modeling their skills
• Students retelling stories
• Practice answering questions about
• Working on vocabulary
None of these approaches directly
teach learners how to comprehend
But what does it
take to really
An Analysis of Comprehension Tests
In-depth analysis reveals four distinct “types” of
• Literal or factual comprehension
• Inferential comprehension
• Main idea comprehension
• Derived meaning comprehension
Literal Comprehension: Sample Analysis
Literal Questions
A. Critical Features
1. Answer appears in the passage
2. Answer meets criteria specified in question
3. Answer has nearly 1 to 1 topographic correspondence with passage
Literal Comprehension: Sample Analysis
B. Variable Features
Type of passage
Length of passage
Narrator (position from which story is being related)
Type of characteristic asked about in question
a. personal quality
b. sequence
c. actions, events
d. objects, animals
Literal Comprehension
Variable Features (continued)
5. Question type
a) why
b) when
c) what
d) where
e) which, who
f) how (process)
g) how (others)
Inferential Comprehension: Sample Analysis
Inferential Questions
A. Critical Features
1. Answer meets criteria specified in question
2. Answer category appears in passage
3. Answer category overlap does not have 1 to 1 correspondence with
words of passage
Inferential Comprehension: Sample Analysis
B. Variable Features
1. Type of passage
2. Length of passage
3. Narrator
4. Type of characteristic asked about in question
5. Question type
6. Degree to which answer-passage pair shares characteristic
one (two or three)-category variation
i. word meaning
ii. sequence
iii. prediction
iv. likelihood
Additional Comprehension: Sample Analyses
Main Idea
A. Critical Features
1. Themes in answer reflect themes contained in passage
2. One theme is more prevalent than the others
A. Critical Features
1. Words in answer categorically overlap with identified words in
2. Categorical overlap can be derived from sentence context
Is that all that’s needed to comprehend?
Learners need the intellectual skills and strategies required to
comprehend, but they also need
(Word meaning, and lots of it.)
Is that all that’s needed to comprehend?
“When something is distant, it is far away”
He saw that the boat was distant.
How Do We Know It’s Learned?
Minimum evaluative criteria
See/hear word > Select picture
See/hear word > Say/select definition
See picture > Say/select word
See picture > Say/select definition
See/hear definition > Say/select word
See/hear definition > Select picture
And ultimately:
See word in text/question/answer alternatives >
use to answer comprehension question
Sample Words
What an Effective Reading
Comprehension Program Would Do:
• Teach students strategies that ensure that students
understand what the question is asking and how to find
or infer the answer
• Make it easy for students to transfer those strategies
across a variety of passages and subject areas
• Include explicit vocabulary instruction and continued
practice with learned vocabulary
Beck, I. L, Perfetti, C. A., & McKeown, M. G. (1982). Effects of long-term vocabulary
instruction on lexical access and reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology,
74(4), 506-521.
Moors, A. Weisenburgh-Snyder, A. and Robbins, J. K. (2010). Integrating Frequency-Based
Mathematics Instruction with a Multi-Level Assessment System to Enhance Response to
Intervention Frameworks. The Behavior Analyst Today No. 4, Retrieved from
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000). Report of the National
Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific
research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication
No. 00-4769). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Robbins, J. K. Weisenburgh-Snyder, A., Damons, B., Van Rooyen, M., and Ismail, C. (2011).
Partnerships for Educational Excellence and Research: HPT in the Townships of South Africa,
Performance Improvement, vol 50 no.4, pp. 31-39.
Robbins, J. K. (2005). Problem Solving, Reasoning, and Analytical Thinking with the
Morningside Model in Johnson, K. & Street, L. (Eds.) (2004.) The Morningside model of
generative instruction: What it means to leave no child behind. Concord, MA: Cambridge
Center for Behavioral Studies, pp.126-144.
Spearritt, D. (1972). Identification of sub-skills of reading comprehension by maximum
likelihood factor analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 8, 92-111.
Tannenbaum, K., Torgesen, J. K., & Wagner, R. K. (2006). Relationships between word
knowledge and reading comprehension in third-grade children. Scientific Studies of Reading,
10(4), 381-398.
Wilkinson, K. M & McIlvane, W. J. (2001). Methods for studying symbolic behavior and
category formation: Contributions of stimulus equivalence research. Developmental Review,
21, 355-374.
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