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This chapter explains what skills are needed for reading success. It highlights the Simple View of Reading and its core components, word recognition and language comprehension, and how it may be used as a guiding framework across different year levels to describe students’ reading abilities and/or difficulties, plan subsequent intervention, and monitor progress. We describe the underlying spoken and written language skills needed for successful reading comprehension including both cognitive and sociocultural approaches to making meaning. We share how creating speech-to-print profiles for those students who need further support in reading comprehension may inform instructional practice, using a multi-tiered system of support approach. The importance of an evidence-based, collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to identying and supporting students experiencing difficulties in reading is highlighted. Finally, an explanation of the importance of providing research-based reading supports at increasingly intense levels matched to the student’s needs is provided.
KeywordsSimple view of reading Reading comprehension Speech-to-print profile
In response to the comparatively low levels of reading performance of Australian primary school students compared to international benchmarks (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker, 2012), the teaching of reading in Australian classrooms has received considerable attention by a diverse group of stakeholders, including policy-makers (Australian Government, 2005, 2015) and education professionals (Stark, Snow, Eadie, & Goldfeld, 2016). As outlined in an influential Australian Government report, the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) (Australian Government, 2015), there is a critical need to lift student outcomes. This scene is similar in many other countries and reflects other reports such as the No Child Left Behind Act (2002) and the National Reading Panel (2000) in the USA. As such, this book shares findings from a research project, aimed to improve reading outcomes, implemented in one school in Queensland, Australia.
Reading is a complex human behaviour. The ultimate goal of all reading is reading comprehension, the ability to gain meaning from text. The importance of successful reading comprehension for academic success, socio-emotional well-being, and employment outcomes is undisputable (McGeown, Duncan, Griffiths, & Stothard, 2015), and it is therefore no surprise that a wealth of research exists investigating not only how students acquire and develop their reading skills, but also what successful intervention looks like when students struggle in their reading development (e.g. Amendum, Bratsch‐Hines, & Vernon‐Feagans, 2018; Clarke, Snowling, Truelove, & Hulme, 2010; Snowling & Hulme, 2011). Unfortunately, a research-to-practice gap still exists, with many professionals involved in the teaching of reading unsure how to bridge that gap. We agree with Tunmer and Hoover (2019) that a clearly defined theoretical framework that underpins assessment and intervention will assist reading professionals in developing the competencies needed to better understand why some children struggle with reading and how to provide targeted support and intervention. This chapter therefore starts by introducing some theoretical frameworks to better understand what is involved in successful reading comprehension.
1.2 Theoretical Frameworks
1.2.1 The Construction-Integration Model
According to the construction-integration model put forward by Kintsch (1988), successful text comprehension (albeit spoken or written) relies on the interaction between bottom-up and top-down processes at three levels: the surface level, the propositional level, and the situation level. The reader must first read and attach a linguistic representation to the word/s on a page (literal or surface representations). By connecting these words or propositions and through making inferences, the reader then forms an overall representation of the meaning of what was read (the propositional level or the text base). Finally, a situation (or mental) model is formed by activating background knowledge and schemas related to the text in long-term memory. A study by Oakhill and Cain (2012) demonstrated that the ability to construct a “coherent and integrated representation of the meaning of a text” (p. 116) predicts reading comprehension. More specifically, when investigating the predictors of reading comprehension in 83 children attending Year 6 (ages 10–11), based on their performance in Year 3 (ages 7–8) and Year 4 (ages 8–9), Oakhill and Cain found that Year 4 inferencing, Year 4 comprehension monitoring, and Year 3 knowledge and use of text structure were distinct predictors of reading comprehension in Year 6. This occurred even after controlling for reading comprehension ability at Year 3 and accounting for vocabulary knowledge and verbal IQ. We will discuss some of these concepts in more detail.
Inferencing. Inferencing or the ability to go beyond what is explicitly stated by making links between words or sentences plays an important role in the reading comprehension process, both concurrently and longitudinally. Oakhill and Cain (2012) investigated the predictors of reading comprehension in 102 children between ages 7 and 8 (Year 3 of schooling) and 10–11 (Year 6) and found inferencing to be one of three distinct predictors of reading comprehension in Year 6, once reading comprehension ability at Year 3, vocabulary knowledge, and IQ were accounted for. Inferential comprehension generally develops from an early age and includes drawing links to fill gaps in the information provided, drawing meaning from prior knowledge, linking relations between information, and forming predictions. For example, consider the sentence ‘Rosie went outside and took an umbrella’. To understand this sentence, the reader must draw on prior knowledge to understand that we generally use umbrellas to shield us from the rain.
Comprehension monitoring. Another distinct predictor of reading comprehension in Year 6 is comprehension monitoring, which refers to the child’s ability to reflect on what has just been read and to look for inconsistencies in a text. Students with poor comprehension often focus more on word accuracy than comprehension monitoring and generally have weaker metacognition skills (Nation & Norbury, 2005). Although it is difficult to disentangle the causal relationship between inferencing ability and comprehension monitoring, it has been well established that children who demonstrate reading comprehension difficulties often perform poorly on tasks measuring comprehension monitoring (Oakhill, Hartt, & Samols, 2005).
Text structure knowledge. Text structure knowledge refers to the readers’ knowledge of the typical structure of a text. One well-known example of a text structure associated with narratives is story grammar (Stein & Glenn, 1979). Most narratives (or stories) are goal-oriented and contain the following elements of setting, characters, problem, plan, actions, resolution, and conclusion. This text structure knowledge may assist comprehension by allowing the reader to link the ideas presented in the story and by creating expectations of what may happen next. It is thus not surprising that knowledge of text structure assists in reading comprehension. Research has clearly demonstrated that students with poor reading comprehension often struggle in their ability to tell well-structured narratives (e.g. Westerveld, Gillon, & Moran, 2008) and that poor story structure knowledge may in fact cause some of these readers’ comprehension difficulties (Cain & Oakhill, 1996).
1.2.2 The Simple View of Reading
A theoretical framework that has received much attention in the last 30 years is the Simple View of Reading (SVR) (Gough & Tunmer, 1986). Unlike the construction-integration model (Kintsch, 1988), it does not attempt to explain the cognitive underpinnings of the reading process, but it outlines which core components are involved in reading comprehension. The SVR holds that reading comprehension is the product of word recognition and language comprehension. The significant aspect of the SVR is that reading is conceptualised as a product of both components rather than an accrual. If one component is poor or non-existent, reading comprehension competency will not be fully achieved. Word recognition (WR) can be defined as the ability to accurately and efficiently decode the written words on a page, whereas language comprehension (LC) involves the understanding of spoken language at word (vocabulary), sentence (syntax), and text (e.g. narrative) levels (Catts, Adlof, & Ellis Weismer, 2006). More recently, an update to the SVR has been published by Tunmer and Hoover (2019), referred to as the Cognitive Foundations Framework. This framework more clearly explains the cognitive ‘capacities’ needed for language comprehension, namely (a) linguistic knowledge, including phonological knowledge, semantic knowledge, and syntactic knowledge needed for literal interpretation of language, and (b) background knowledge and inferencing skills, which are often influenced by sociocultural aspects of children’s lives. A combination of all these knowledge constructs and skills will assist the reader or listener to understand and use language effectively.
The SVR has received considerable attention in the research literature, and while there is some controversy surrounding this perspective, results have shown that the two components (WR and LC) account for almost all of the variance in reading comprehension in students learning English as a first language/writing system (Catts, Hogan, & Adlof, 2005; Lonigan, Burgess, & Schatschneider, 2018), as well as those students who are learning English as a second language (e.g. Verhoeven & van Leeuwe, 2012). It should be noted, however, that the relative and unique contributions of WR and LC to RC change over time. During the early stages of learning to read, typically during the first three years of schooling, WR shows the biggest contribution to RC. This is not surprising as almost all children come to reading instruction with better oral language skills than decoding skills and as such early reading materials will often not challenge a student’s language comprehension. Once students have learned to master fluent and accurate word reading, usually around their fourth year of schooling, and make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn, LC demonstrates the biggest contribution to RC (Catts, Hogan, & Adlof, 2005). At this stage of the reading process, reading materials have become more linguistically challenging, with more abstract words, more complex grammar, and more advanced text structures. Although there is clear evidence of the unique contributions of WR and LC to RC, up to 69% of the variance accounted for in RC points to shared contribution of word recognition and language comprehension. For example, a student’s ability to efficiently recognise a real word (as opposed to a nonsense word) may be facilitated by this same student’s vocabulary knowledge (which is an aspect of language comprehension). These results indicate that for students who fail to show adequate progress in reading comprehension, intervention may need to target both LC and WR.
1.3 Emergent Literacy Skills
Overview of (emergent) literacy skills with definitions (NELP, 2008) and examples of assessment tasks
1.4 Classifying Struggling Readers
Using the SVR as a theoretical framework, students who are unable to develop adequate reading comprehension skills can be categorised into three main groups: (1) students with dyslexia are those who show significant word reading difficulties, in the absence of language comprehension problems; (2) students with specific comprehension difficulties are those who show adequate word recognition skills, but significant language comprehension difficulties; (3) students with a mixed reading difficulties profile (in the past referred to as garden variety poor readers) are those who show weaknesses across word recognition and language comprehension (Spear-Swerling, 2016). These three reader groups are discussed in a little more detail below:
Dyslexia or Specific Word Reading Difficulties These reading difficulties stem from phonological processing weaknesses (including phonological awareness, rapid automatic naming [RAN], and/or phonological memory). Students who show this reading profile have adequate vocabulary and language comprehension skills. These students will demonstrate reading comprehension difficulties due to their weaknesses in accurate and/or fluent word recognition skills. It is estimated that approximately 5–10% of students will show dyslexia (Catts, Hogan, & Adlof, 2005; Shaywitz, Shaywitz, Fletcher, & Escobar, 1990).
Specific Comprehension Difficulties These students will demonstrate reading comprehension difficulties, despite adequate word recognition skills (accuracy and fluency). These students will often demonstrate language comprehension weaknesses across vocabulary, grammar, and oral narrative/higher-order language skills (Catts et al., 2006; Woolley, 2011). In addition, these students may lack a strategic approach to comprehension of text (Spear-Swerling, 2015). Research has shown that up to 17% of students may show this type of reading difficulty.
Mixed Reading Difficulties These students show a combination of word recognition and language comprehension weaknesses (as per the preceding two profiles). It is estimated that approximately 30% of all students who struggle in their reading comprehension skill will have this type of reading profile.
Unfortunately, as with any theoretical model, in practice, when applying the SVR framework approximately 7.5% of children may present with ‘unexplained’ or ‘non-specified’ reading comprehension problems as their performance on the RC assessment can not be explained by challenges in their language comprehension or reading accuracy (Catts, Hogan, & Fey, 2003). Although further research will be needed to better understand why this subgroup of children have difficulties in reading comprehension, as we describe a little later in this chapter, it could be that other sociocultural factors influence their participation and therefore achievement level, for example, childhood trauma (Thompson & Whimper, 2010). Other likely explanations include the child’s world knowledge, the child’s motivation or understanding about the purpose of reading, as well as important executive functioning skills including sustained attention and working memory. For example, according to a limited capacity working memory model (Crystal, 1987), students who use up most of their cognitive resources for decoding (e.g. those who have not yet developed automaticity in word recognition and may resort to sounding out individual words) may have few cognitive resources available for reading comprehension. Regardless, distinguishing between these reading groups is important, as “differentiating classroom instruction according to different patterns […] may improve reading outcomes” (Spear-Swerling, 2016, p. 514).
1.5 Reading Comprehension is a Complex Process
The main focus of this book is on the cognitive skills underpinning reading development, but we recognise that other factors play an important role in the student’s reading development, such as sociocultural environment (Marjanovič-Umek, Fekonja-Peklaj, Sočan, & Tašner, 2015). Although the SVR has been well-validated, reading comprehension itself is a complex multidimensional process (Catts, 2018). Further, Snow (2002) states that:
When investigating reading comprehension, we thus need to consider what the reader brings to the process, including the reader’s reading experience, world knowledge, motivation, and self-perception, as well as their overall cognitive and linguistic (oral language) skills. We acknowledge the need to take a holistic approach and include consideration of the purpose of reading and the type of texts students engage with. Consequently, we aim to present a broad view of the ‘teaching of reading’ by focusing on the identification of and support for students who may be experiencing difficulties learning to read. At the same time we acknowledge this book presents an approach adopted for the purpose of our study that may be transferable to other contexts (see Chap. 8).
reading comprehension is the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language. We use the words extracting and constructing to emphasize both the importance and the insufficiency of the text as a determinant of reading comprehension. Comprehension entails three elements:• The reader who is doing the comprehending • The text that is to be comprehended • The activity in which comprehension is a part. (p. 11)
1.5.1 Motivation and Self-perception
Although not the main focus in this book, the importance of reading motivation and self-concept cannot be underestimated. Motivation for reading develops early in life when children start building their emergent literacy skills. As outlined by Katzir, Lesaux, and Kim (2009), research has shown that parents’ identification of pleasure as a reason for reading predicted motivation for reading in their young school-aged children. Moreover, early success or difficulties in learning to read is linked to reading self-concept and motivation. In other words, if children perceive to perform well, i.e. experience success in reading, they will be motivated to challenge themselves and attempt more difficult tasks. On the other hand, if children have challenges in learning to read, their reading self-concept may weaken and these children may lose motivation in reading-related tasks. Chapman and Tunmer (1995) conceptualised reading concept as comprising three components: perceptions of competence, perceptions of difficulty or ease of reading tasks, and attitudes towards reading, and developed the Reading Self-Concept Scale (RSCS). Researchers applying this scale found reading self-concept positively relate to reading comprehension in primary school-aged students (Chapman & Tunmer, 1995; see also Chapman & Tunmer, 2003), even after controlling for the children’s verbal ability (based on a verbal IQ test) and their word reading ability (Katzir et al., 2009). In the Reading Success project, we measured students’ reading self-concept using the RSCS and report the results in Chap. 4.
1.5.2 Reading for Pleasure
It would be remiss not to mention reading for pleasure (Cremin, Mottram, Collins, Powell, & Safford, 2014). Students need to be given the time to make choices about what they read and particularly in areas of personal interest. It is important not only that children are aware of the benefit of learning to read in relation to academic success but that reading can be a ‘delightful’ and ‘desirable’ endeavour (Cremin, 2007). Much research points to the importance of developing positive classroom environments with effective communities of readers (Cremin et al., 2014) that encourage imaginative thought and playfulness. Further, the social aspect of reading, when supported, results in stronger engagement and consequently high achievement across all aspects of schooling (Ivey, 2014).
1.6 Teaching Reading During the Early Years of Schooling
1.6.1 Systematic and Explicit Teaching of the Key Ingredients
There is clear evidence that the best way to teach children how to effectively learn to read is by explicitly teaching the following five key ingredients: (1) phonics; (2) phonemic awareness; (3) fluency (the ability to recognise words automatically); (4) vocabulary; and (5) comprehension (i.e. understanding what is read) (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). It is also important to note that oral language plays an important role in learning to read and creative and innovative approaches to learning such as play-based learning strongly support oral language development. During the first years of schooling, the emphasis will be on students learning to read, which should at the very least involve systematic phonics instruction (Hempenstall, 2016). Phonics-based approaches teach children how to match phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (letters). In a synthetic phonics approach, children are systematically introduced to letter sounds (alphabet knowledge), before being taught how to blend these sounds together into syllables and words. It thus utilises a part-to-whole approach: sounding out each letter (e.g. /m/ /o/ /p/) and blending (synthesising) these phonemes into a word (mop). Although it goes beyond the scope of this book to provide a detailed overview of this approach, readers are referred to freely accessible publications, such as Hempenstall (2016): Read about it: Scientific evidence for effective teaching of reading (see also Parker, 2018) or the Massey University Early Literacy Research Project (https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/schooling/early-literacy-research-project). It is estimated that, when using an evidence-based approach to early literacy instruction, 90–95% of students will develop accurate and fluent word recognition, with approximately 5–10% of children demonstrating a profile of dyslexia (i.e. specific word reading difficulties), depending on the specific diagnostic criteria that are used (see Al Otaiba, Gillespie Rouse, & Baker, 2018, for a discussion).
1.6.2 The Importance of Early Reading Success
Early success in learning to read is paramount. Apart from the fact that challenges in reading may affect a student’s reading self-concept and motivation (e.g. Chapman & Tunmer, 1995), reading ability in first grade is linked to reading ability 10 years later, even after accounting for cognitive ability (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997). Moreover, failure to develop automatic and fluent word recognition during the early years of schooling will result in less exposure to more complex written texts containing more literate vocabulary (e.g. abstract terms and mental state verbs), more complex grammatical structures, and conforming to more advanced text schemas such as exposition or persuasion. This reduced exposure may in turn hamper the development of more advanced spoken language skills (see case study James in Chap. 6). This phenomenon where the ‘rich get richer and the poor get poorer’ has been coined the Matthew effects in reading (Stanovich, 2009), and highlights the importance of evidence-based reading tuition coupled with early identification and timely remediation of reading difficulties.
1.7 Multi-tiered Systems of Support and Response to Intervention (RtI)
The Response-to-Intervention (RtI) model is a three-tiered framework (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006) that can be used to guide a school’s approach to reading intervention. This model was first introduced in the early 2000s and replaced the more commonly used IQ-achievement discrepancy model in which only students who demonstrated a significant gap between IQ and reading achievement would receive specialist intervention. It basically comprises three tiers.
In Tier 1, all students receive daily high-quality evidence-based reading instruction with effective inclusion of all children through scaffolding and adjustments to support individual student needs. As explained by Denton (2012), instruction should be differentiated to ensure the needs of all students in the class are met, as some students may enter school with very low literate cultural capital (i.e. reading-related skills linked to the home literacy environment), whereas others may show high-level reading-related skills (Tunmer, Chapman, & Prochnow, 2006). Moreover, the rate of progression of the curriculum for early reading instruction may simply be too high for some students, particularly those who are at risk of persistent reading difficulties. In the early years of schooling, differentiated instruction should be based on ongoing progress monitoring of student achievement in important foundational skills such as phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, early word reading skills, and vocabulary.
In Tier 2, those students identified as ‘at risk’ in Tier 1 (i.e. those who do not make satisfactory progress and are in need of further support) receive supplemental intervention which incorporates pre-teaching and re-teaching of the curriculum, giving students more opportunities to engage in reading instruction, not less. In the early years of reading instruction, Tier 2 intervention will be focused on the constrained skills of phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge and decoding, as well as the unconstrained skills of vocabulary, and/or oral narrative abilities. At the same time as this focused (Tier 2) teaching is being provided, students continue to access the differentiated and explicit teaching planned within the context of the classroom curriculum. It is important that Tier 2 intervention occurs early on in the child’s schooling as studies have shown that intervention during the early years of schooling is more effective and time-efficient than intervention during the later years of schooling (see Denton, 2012, for a review). Supplemental intervention is generally provided in small groups, either within or outside the classroom.
In Tier 3, higher intensity reading intervention is provided to those students who do not make satisfactory progress in Tiers 1 and 2. Although the types of activities may be similar to those used in Tier 2, Tier 3 intervention is more intensive and is delivered one-on-one or in small groups. Schools respond to the diverse learning needs of their students by identifying differentiated teaching and learning in all three tiers of planning and instruction.
Fundamental to the RtI model is the use of assessment for cohort mapping, progress monitoring, or reading achievement purposes. Based on the results of these assessments, it can be decided if students make sufficient progress during each level (tier) of intervention. Therefore, ideally, progress monitoring tools need to be easy to administer, time-efficient, sensitive to progress, and appropriate to the local (i.e. Australian) context. In Chap. 2, we will outline the measures we used in this project; in Chap. 3, we will compare them with assessment tools that are commonly used in the schooling system at present.
1.8 Speech-to-Print Profile
To assist educators and other professionals involved in reading to summarise assessment information while ensuring adequate attention is given to the underlying spoken language skills needed for written language, Gillon (2004) introduced the speech-to-print profile. Different professionals involved in the assessment process may use this profile to represent their findings. For example, teachers may collect information related to the student’s print concepts, word reading, and phonological awareness skills, whereas speech pathologists may be called upon to conduct more in-depth assessment of a student’s spoken language and phonological processing skills. Using the speech-to-print profile will assist collaborative practice, help ensure there is no double-up of assessments, and provide a visual representation of a student’s strengths and weaknesses in spoken and written language skills required for successful reading comprehension (see also Gillon, 2018).
Speech-to-Print Profile (adapted from Gillon, 2004, with permission from the author)
Storage and Retrieval
Non word repetition
Multisyllabic word repetition
Regular word reading
1.9 Evidence-Based Practice from Multiple Perspectives
Reform or change in schools takes time and requires embedded processes in order for sustainable practices to occur. Educational practices and improvements over the past few decades have been swift and enduring (Fullan, 2012), creating extensive pressure on teachers to adapt and adopt new approaches in the classroom. It has been argued that for change within educational contexts, whole-school approaches can be effective in ensuring sustained and positive results (Pendergast et al., 2015). According to Hoare, Bott, and Robinson (2017) “whole-school approaches, being multi-component, collective and collaborative action in the school community, provide optimal opportunity for creating sustained positive change, as opposed to unidimensional, standalone programmes” (p. 59). It is therefore important that whole-school, community approaches are implemented for positive change to result. This means that all parties are involved and invested in making the change work.
Significant others in students’ lives included in the model include teachers, principals and leadership teams, support staff such as learning support teachers, speech pathologists and other specialists, parents/carers, family, and other community members. All stakeholders are needed to provide the support and encouragement for student success. In the Reading Success project, we recognised the importance of hearing all perspectives (see also Chap. 7).
The model incorporates the nature of a whole school’s culture, and this includes staff within the school as well as community members. Any approach adopted needs to be well communicated to all, and the benefits that students can gain from people’s experience need to be valued. Additionally, the beliefs of teachers, leaders, and support staff in relation to students’ capabilities need to be taken into account (see Chap. 4 for more details). If these are stemmed from deficit views, positive outcomes are less likely (Barton & McKay, 2016). In this book, we therefore aim to explore some of these aspects in the school context in which we worked.
This chapter defined the Simple View of Reading (SVR) and explained how the SVR can be used as a conceptual framework for categorising both skilled and struggling readers. Learning to read is a complex process and requires both word recognition and language comprehension skills. Difficulties in any of these skills or underlying components may result in difficulties when learning to read. The chapter introduced a range of terms that are frequently used in Australian classrooms including response to intervention (RtI) and multi-tiered systems of support. The use of an evidence-based framework in combination with the adoption of common terminology is important for developing a collaborative approach to the identification and remediation of students at risk for, or experiencing difficulties in reading. Ensuring early reading success and encouraging approaches that support students to enjoy the reading process and share their love for reading with their peers, teachers, and family will result in lifelong positive reading behaviours.
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