31 SES 02 A, Reading, Spelling and Vocabulary in Language Education
Though this study focuses on England, the teaching of reading comprehension is of widespread concern. In 2009, one in five 15 year olds in EU-27 countries had difficulties in reading for learning, which initiated a target to reduce this to 15% by 2020 (Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, 2011). There is broad agreement that evidence supports teaching a range of strategies to develop reading comprehension (Block and Duffy, 2008; Palincsar and Brown, 1984; Pressley, 2005). Yet despite this, reading attainment remains a challenge. There are further contextual complications that may be influencing reading outcomes such as the challenge of engaging pupils with reading for enjoyment and the increase in numbers of pupils being taught in a second language. The decline in Sweden’s PISA results between 2000 and 2012 for example, have been explained by the increase in numbers of immigrant pupils (Garbe et al., 2016). Across Europe, national guidelines are generally in place to support the teaching of reading comprehension, leading to a call for attention to focus on how teachers are implementing curricula (Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, 2011).
To better understand this context, this research sets out to establish how teachers teach and understand reading comprehension in England. It aims to explore the processes and practices of how reading comprehension is being taught and how teachers conceptualise their role in this process. In England, the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) has specified reading comprehension as one of two elements of teaching reading, alongside phonics. The outcry from parents and schools about the unsuitability of the Key Stage 2 reading comprehension test for 11 year olds in June 2016 demonstrates the significance of understanding more fully how reading comprehension is taught and experienced by the wider community. This research contributes to our understanding of how pedagogies of teaching reading comprehension are applied in practice and whether comprehension frameworks that have developed from research have been integrated into classroom practice.
For the purpose of my study, reading comprehension is defined as a cognitive process, characterised by an active interaction between reader and text referring to both the product and process of reading. If comprehension is the result of a dynamic process between reader and text, the role of teachers in developing reading comprehension is complex. Therefore, it is much easier for teachers to focus on the products, or attainment outcomes, rather than the processes of reading comprehension (Harrison, 2004). As one interviewee in this study claimed, teachers were, ‘assessing, assessing, assessing rather than teaching’. This is resonant of Durkin's (1978) classroom observations of teaching comprehension in the US, which concluded that there was very little teacher instruction of reading comprehension, rather teachers’ attention focussed on assessment whilst children did ‘busywork’.
Whilst more recent research conducted in countries such as the USA (Ness, 2009; Pilonieta, 2010), Ireland (Concannon-Gibney & Murphy, 2011) and South Africa (Klapwijk, 2015) has shown that teachers are frequently not implementing reading comprehension instruction in their classrooms; there is a lack of knowledge about what actually goes on in classrooms. ELINET (European Literacy Policy Network) has called for extensive observational studies of reading instruction in European classrooms (Brooks et al., 2015). This research seeks to investigate teachers’ instruction of reading comprehension in England. It will inquire if comprehension frameworks developed from research have been integrated into classroom practice (Klapwijk, 2015). Given current policy that promotes teaching reading comprehension this study examines if primary teachers incorporate direct instruction of reading comprehension explicitly or tacitly into their teaching.
This research inquiry informs the research question: how do teachers teach and understand their teaching of reading comprehension? It is concerned with how teachers comprehend and action their pedagogical decisions connected with teaching reading comprehension. Further research questions include: What teaching strategies do teachers employ when teaching reading comprehension? What do teachers perceive to be important factors in teaching reading comprehension? What factors influence the choices teachers make about the teaching of reading comprehension instruction? This study aims to identify and analyse the different approaches that teachers use for reading comprehension instruction. It further aims to better understand and theorise what shapes teachers’ decision-making and perceptions of reading comprehension. Behaviours, explanations and decisions are all abstract notions; with this in mind, a naturalistic approach guided by social constructivism, which values experiences and interpretations and the realities that they help to construct was utilised. The methodology conceptualises reading comprehension as complex and so the methods used to gather data aim to represent this complexity. Qualitative data within a multiple case study was collected to support a “focus on context and dynamic interactions” (Marshall and Rossman, 2016:19). The data collected focuses on teachers that teach pupils aged 8 and 9 in the North West of England in four primary schools. The selection of schools is a purposive set of case studies with varied contexts and contrasting approaches to inform the diversity of influences in reading comprehension instruction. Data collection is through observing what a sample of teachers do when they teach reading comprehension and conducting semi-structured interviews to explore how they articulate their understanding of reading comprehension; the “mental maps that people carry around inside their heads” (Luker, 2008:167). Data from 11 teachers in four primary schools has been collected. This has included twenty-eight non-participant observations of teachers teaching reading comprehension and twenty two semi-structured interviews of teachers talking about reading comprehension. A further seven interviews were undertaken with staff identified as influencing reading comprehension instruction such as reading coordinators. Additional data was collected from documents such as reading policies and scheme handbooks to consider how they inform or influence practice. Prior to data collection, ethical approval was obtained from the supervising university and informed consent from the participants. Throughout the research process, ethics was considered to support the integrity of the research and reflect the BERA (2011) guidelines on gaining informed consent, developing trust, protecting privacy and confidentiality.
Early findings indicate that whilst teachers are familiar with the metalanguage of teaching reading, they are troubled by how pedagogies of reading are formulated into daily practice. Pupils reading for pleasure appeared to be the ultimate goal for many teachers. The connection between enjoyment and comprehension is identified in the English National Curriculum (DfE, 2013). The first statutory requirement in the comprehension programme for years 3 and 4 is to, “develop positive attitudes to reading and understanding of what they read” (DfE: 2013: 25). However, for the teachers in this study, the relationship between reading comprehension and reading for enjoyment within practice was complex and for some unresolved. Most teachers interviewed identified assessment of reading comprehension as significant in influencing practice with some teachers understanding reading comprehension as synonymous with ‘SATs (Standard Attainment Tests) type’ questions. The relationship between teaching and assessing understanding externally (by the teacher) and comprehension, which occurs internally (inside a pupils’ head) led to some unsettled perspectives from interviewees about the role of teachers and pupils in the comprehension process. This interaction between the teacher, the pupil and the text is influential in determining if teachers teach comprehension strategically or mechanically (Taylor et al, 2005). Further analysis of the ‘instructional dynamic’ (Ball and Forzani: 2007) prompting teachers’ interactions with pupils when teaching reading comprehension will be presented. Contextual priorities and circumstances identified in this study will inform the continued development of inclusive practices of reading comprehension instruction such as how to support pupils with poorer language skills or less vocabulary or counteract gender imbalance in reading outcomes. Teachers’ perceptions about which aspects of reading comprehension can be taught and how that could and does happen in the classroom will be significant in influencing the future development of raising reading attainment and informing teacher education.
British Educational Research Association (BERA) (2011) Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research. London: BERA. Block, C.C. & Duffy, G.G. (2008) Research on Teaching Comprehension: where we’ve been and where we’re going. In Block & Parris (eds.) Comprehension Instruction: Research-based best practices 2nd ed., New York: The Guilford Press. Brooks, G. et al. (2015) ELINET Country Reports Frame of Reference. Cologne: European Literacy Policy Network (ELINET). Concannon-Gibney, T. & Murphy, B. (2011) School-based Teacher Professional Development to Transform the Teaching of Reading Comprehension: an Irish case study, Professional Development in Education, 38, pp.131-147. Department for Education (DfE) (2013) The National Curriculum in England: Key Stages 1 and 2 framework document. London: Crown Copyright. Durkin, D. (1978) What Classroom Observations Reveal about Reading Comprehension Instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 14 pp. 481-533. Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (2011) Teaching Reading in Europe: Context, policies and Practices. Brussels: Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency P9 Eurydice http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice Garbe et al. (2016) Literacy in Sweden Country Report Children and Adolescents. Cologne: European Literacy Policy Network (ELINET). Harrison, C. (2004) Understanding Reading Development. London: Sage. Klapwijk, N. M. (2015) EMC2 = Comprehension: A reading Strategy Instruction Framework for all Teachers. South African Journal of Education, 35(1) pp.1-10. Luker, K. (2008) Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences Research in the age of info-glut. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Marshall, C and Rossman, G.B. (2016) Designing Qualitative Research. 6th ed., London: Sage. Ness, M. (2009) Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary Content Area Classrooms: teacher use of and attitudes towards reading comprehension instruction, Reading Horizons, 49(2), pp.143-164. Palincsar, A.S. and Brown, A.L. (1984) Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1 pp.117-175. Pilonieta, P. (2010) Instruction of Research-based Comprehension Strategies in Basal Reading Programs, Reading Psychology, 31, pp.150-175. Pressley, M. (2005) Reading Instruction that Works: The Case for Balanced Teaching (solving problems in the teaching of Literacy). New York: The Guilford Press. Taylor B.M. et al. (2005) The CIERA School Change Framework: An evidence-based approach to professional development and school reading improvement. Reading Research Quarterly, 40(1) pp. 40-69.
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