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READING STRATEGIES AND COMPREHENSION

Discussion

Introduction

As a classroom teacher of second grade students for the past 13 years, I have had

concerns about best practices in teaching reading comprehension to ensure success for students.

In my experiences, I have noticed that most students are able to orally read the text at their

individual instructional reading level, but many of them showed struggles in comprehension

according to their test results and in-class discussions. I witnessed that many students were not

making meaning from text or remembering what they had read. I felt the need to further

examine strategies that would assist my students to better comprehend. There are multiple ideas

and recommended strategies for teaching reading comprehension, but I wanted to know if they

are truly effective when explicitly taught in small groups, known as guided reading groups. I

also wanted to gain a better understanding of the impact using graphic organizers and read

alouds with metacognitive thinking has on student understanding. Additionally, I desired to

learn students’ preferences in read alouds versus graphic organizers, as well as, the reasoning for

their preferences. My hopes were for this study to give me feedback on whether or not explicitly

teaching reading strategies in small groups impacts student comprehension. I had hoped for

students in my experimental group to show greater gains in comprehension as noted by the

Journeys ​weekly tests and STAR Reading assessments than the students in the control group.

Impact Explicitly Teaching Reading Strategies has on STAR Reading Assessment and

weekly ​Journeys​ comprehension

My first question examined how explicitly teaching reading strategies, while in small

groups, impacted student comprehension. The pre and post STAR Reading assessments as well
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as weekly ​Journeys​ comprehension questions were used to examine the impact. Over the course

of the study, I explicitly taught five reading strategies including: (a) activating prior knowledge,

in discussions and K-W-L (Know-Wonder-Learned) charts, (b) questioning, through modeled

metacognitive thinking and discussions, (c) analyzing text and structure including characters,

setting, problems and solutions, and main ideas, (d) visualizing through illustrations, and (e)

summarizing through retelling, discussing, and writing. I modeled how to use graphic organizers

along with the strategies, and I modeled reading with metacognitive thinking.​ ​The results in

growth were positive for my experimental group as shown in Table 8 and Figure 1.

My assessment results are similar to the findings of Finegan and Mazin (2016) in which

they found that explicitly teaching comprehension strategies in small groups along with graphic

organizers makes a positive impact for understanding text for most students with various abilities

and needs. I feel that explicitly teaching reading strategies along with graphic organizers

positively impacted my students as well. I observed that students were engaged and their

average test results were higher than the students whom did not receive this instruction. I believe

the instruction during small groups better prepared students for the comprehension skills being

assessed, as well as, promoted ways to better understand the text.

As an educator, my study provides evidence that explicitly teaching reading strategies in

small groups can promote growth in reading comprehension. While implementing my best

practices, I will continue to explicitly teach reading strategies as I instruct guided reading. As I

reflect on my study, I feel that explicitly teaching reading strategies correlates well with our

current ​Journeys ​reading curriculum as it helps to reinforce needed skills.


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Prior to getting started, I was concerned that this study may not be a long enough time

span for my young learners to increase their reading comprehension because in my experiences I

have observed reading comprehension to be an ongoing process throughout second grade.

However, the results showed that the experimental group made greater growth than the control

group. I believe that this is because students need to be explicitly taught reading strategies.

Students need modeling of what fluent readers are thinking as they are reading. I believe that

most students are more engaged and better organized when they have support in completing

graphic organizers about their text, which promote overall comprehension.

My results are similar to Cummins, Stewart, and Block’s (2005) research in which they

discovered that internalization of comprehension strategies may take less time than originally

thought. Prior to 2000, researchers believed that students needed up to eight months of direct

instruction in reading comprehension strategies to independently transfer such strategies to other

reading tasks (Block & Lacina, 2009). In a more recent multi-year study, Cummins, Stewart, and

Block (2005) demonstrated that students used comprehension strategies continually after only

eight weeks of instruction. These findings support my results that explicit teaching of strategies

could improve comprehension scores on required assessments in as little duration as eight weeks.

This leads me to conclude the importance of explicitly teaching reading strategies right at the

beginning of the year so students can continue to use them in future text. Students can learn the

reading strategies and eventually use them naturally to further increase their reading

comprehension.

I also learned that teaching the same strategy in guided reading as in our weekly ​Journeys

story reinforces whole group instruction. I believe this consistency helped to increase student
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understanding for my experimental groups as depicted on the weekly ​Journeys​ comprehension

questions. I feel that these young learners need consistent practice of skills in order to improve

their skills. Students in the both groups received the district required whole group instruction at

second grade level that included: (a) activating prior knowledge, (b) questioning, (c) story

structure, (d) visualizing, and (e) summarizing.

In addition to the whole group instruction, the experimental group received small group

instruction at their individualized instructional reading levels. I used graphic organizers and

mentor texts to teach students in the experimental group the same five reading strategies as in

Journeys​, along with graphic organizers which included: (a) activating prior knowledge, in

discussions and K-W-L (Know-Wonder-Learned) charts, (b) questioning, through modeled

metacognitive thinking and discussions, (c) analyzing text and structure including characters,

setting, problems and solutions, and main ideas, (d) visualizing through illustrations, and (e)

summarizing through retelling, discussing, and writing. My study reinforced the importance of

using the common core ​Journeys ​curriculum as a guide and gathering even more ways to

implement the same skills. While teaching the strategies, I found all of the strategies to be very

important, but I found it highly valuable to activate students’ prior knowledge. This strategy

helped me to understand which students needed greater guidance and which already knew about

the topic related to our text. I truly believe that this practice along with consistency in applying

the skills at the students’ levels allowed for greater gains in reading comprehension. Although it

does require greater planning and organization in order to align the skills and create/find graphic

organizers to explicitly teach and reinforce the skills, it does make a positive impact for most

students.
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Students Preference of Learning Reading Strategies with Read Alouds and Metacognitive

Thinking Versus using Graphic Organizers

A common theme in my review of literature was that it is the teacher’s role to be aware of

students’ needs and interests in order to best differentiate when planning instruction. There was

much attention in recent studies to the use of graphic organizers and modeling with mentor texts

to reach all learners (Delacruz, 2013; Griffin, Malone, & Kameenui, 1995; Ledger & Mergna,

2018; Williams, Pollini, Nubla-Kung, Snyder, Ordynans, & Atkins, 2014). Since reading the

literature reviews and implementing my study, I have increased knowledge in the importance of

using graphic organizers and read alouds with metacognitive thinking. In addition to my positive

growth results, I have noticed that both of my students with English as a second language have

made great gains in reading and comprehension. I believe their growth was due to good practice

in learning the strategies, using graphic organizers, and read alouds with metacognitive thinking.

Likewise, Al Khaiyali and Tiyb (2014) findings demonstrated that using children’s

picture books with English as a second language ( ESL) students could resolve some of the major

issues in comprehension strategies, particularly if the books were precisely selected and

appropriately used. I feel that using picture books especially helped my students with ESL

because if they struggled with understanding some of the vocabulary, they could better

understand by looking at the pictures. Teachers should not simply tell students what to do, but

rather teachers should: (a) model; (b) discuss; (c) explain; and (d) re-explain while using

reading strategies, which results in students understanding (Al Khaiyali & Tiyb, 2014).

Once lessons were complete for my study, I gave students in the experimental group a

survey. I asked them if they preferred read alouds or graphic organizers. A total of nine students
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preferred read alouds and one student preferred graphic organizers. In general, students

preferred read alouds because it was easier for them and they enjoyed it. The survey results

reiterated the importance of using read alouds so students can relax and enjoy the text rather

than working for understanding. Read alouds can ensure that all students can participate

regardless of their individual reading ability. I also believe that it is good practice for students to

witness fluent reading so they understand what they should sound like as they read. Over the

years, I have noticed that many second graders copy what they see teachers doing, therefore,

being a good role model in fluency is valuable. It is also important that students hear what I am

thinking as I am reading so they attempt to do the same. The essential benefits of interactive

read alouds included: (a) teacher modeling of reading skills (b) the ability to use logical talk and

(c) greater knowledge of genre and content. Intentional, explicit teaching can take place during

interactive read-alouds. This instructional practice can be used to scaffold students reading so

they can use strategies in their own reading (Delacruz, 2013).

Additionally, one of the students surveyed preferred the use of graphic organizers

because he liked filling them in and they helped him remember. I noticed that some of the

students did not appear to enjoy completing their graphic organizers, but all of them did

complete them because I had asked them to do so. Once the graphic organizers were complete, I

witnessed students were well-prepared for our discussions because they had their thoughts

already written in the graphic organizers. In general, it appeared that most students may not

want to put in the extra work, but the graphic organizers did help them to prepare for discussions

and overall comprehension of the text.


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Graphic organizers provide significant structure for readers to create relationships

between what they know and the text (Finnegan & Mazin, 2016). Many students, including

those with and without disabilities, struggle with the general curriculum because of

comprehension deficiencies. Graphic organizers, including story maps provide a visual

representation for students to identify, organize, and analyze story elements including setting,

characters, context, events, and problem/conflict (Narkon & Wells, 2013). Based on my

literature review and my study, I have a better understanding of the value of using graphic

organizers for my students that are working on comprehension. As I continue to teach guided

reading, I will make greater efforts to create, find, share, and use graphic organizers regularly in

hopes of increasing reading comprehension for all of my students. My goal was to increase

reading comprehension by explicitly teaching reading strategies in guided reading groups at my

students’ instructional reading levels. This study has solved my problem of increasing reading

comprehension for most of my students. The average increase on both the ​Journeys ​weekly

comprehension questions and the STAR reading assessment was greater for students in my

experimental group. The difference in the average growth on the STAR reading assessment for

the experimental versus control groups was significant; experimental group increased .8 or eight

months; while the control group increased .3 or three months. This draws me to conclude the

value and importance of explicitly teaching reading strategies in small groups while

implementing graphic organizers and read alouds with modeling of metacognitive thinking

because it can increase reading comprehension.

Conclusion
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Although reading comprehension can be a difficult skill to learn, there are teaching

techniques that can increase comprehension. Explicitly teaching reading strategies while using

graphic organizers and read alouds with metacognitive thinking can increase student

comprehension. Teachers must effectively and consistently guide and support students during

their journey of learning to comprehend text. Time is no longer a concern as students can make

gains in as little as eight weeks with consistent instruction. However, greater time in practice

could allow for even greater growth. My study was based on a smaller group of students,

therefore growth results could change based on a larger group of students. I am satisfied with

my study results and I do not feel that any biases for hopeful outcomes interfered with my study.

Conclusion and Future Implications

Importance of the Study

Elementary classroom teachers are required to teach students how to read and

comprehend text. Reading comprehension is essential for students to be successful in school and

to fully participate in society (Droop, 2016). Although teachers have completed their education

degrees and ongoing professional development regarding teaching elementary students, the

question of best practices in reading comprehension is still a concern for many teachers. I believe

that using best practices to meet student needs is still a continuous learning experience for most

teachers with or without teaching experience. In my teaching career, I have continually searched

for best practices to best meet the needs of my learners. LaRusso, Kim, Selman, Uccelli,

Dawson, Jones, and Snow (2016) noted that reading comprehension is without a doubt the

literacy challenge of the 21st century. Prior to this study, I noticed many students in my

classroom struggled with reading comprehension at the start of second grade. Most of these
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struggling students were fluent readers and capable of decoding text, but lacked understanding.

Regardless of the reasons for their lack of understanding, these students needed help to better

comprehend and make reading meaningful.

This study is very important to me because I needed to learn best practices for guided

reading and the impact these strategies had on my students. It is my responsibility to my

students to research reading comprehension and learn some best practices to ensure they are

receiving valuable instruction that promotes individual reading growth. According to Rupley,

Blair, and Nichols (2009), students are more likely to learn essential reading skills and strategies

if they are taught explicitly from their teacher. This means that students will learn new

information through meaningful teacher to student interactions with teacher guidance of student

learning. The teacher clearly leads the teaching and learning process. During this direct

instruction method there are explicit explanations, modeling, and guided practice. The

researchers noted that direct, explicit instruction must be an integral part of learning the major

parts of the reading process including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and

comprehension (Rupley, Blair, & Nichols, 2009).

After conversations with other elementary classroom teachers, I realized that many other

teachers also have concerns about best practices in teaching reading and comprehension. The

teachers I spoke with were using the required ​Journeys ​curriculum and had the same guided

reading professional development. Also, all of the elementary teachers I conversed with had been

using the same district required assessments including the STAR Reading assessment and

weekly ​Journeys ​assessments. However, I did notice that we were possibly implementing the

strategies differently. For example, some of us were using graphic organizers, while others were
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not. Some of us modeled reading multiple times a day, while others modeled reading weekly as

required by our reading curriculum. It is known that even with the same training and same

materials, teachers do implement things differently because of varied teaching styles. I am not

interested in suggesting what is right or wrong, but during professional learning communities

(PLC) I shared what has worked for my students as depicted by my study results. Since sharing

my results I have noticed some colleagues are using graphic organizers. I believe that other

elementary teachers can learn from my study and the positive results that were found in the short

timespan. The mission statement for the school district in which I teach second grade includes

having high expectations for all students and differentiating the instruction to meet the needs of

every student in a literacy rich environment. The results from my study have supported our

mission statement. Our district’s yearly reading goal is for all of our students to grow at least

one year on the STAR reading assessment. Going forward, I will implement what I have learned

from my study in hopes that all of my students will be able to accomplish this goal.

Lessons Learned

Despite the fact that this study was conducted in only eight short weeks, I learned the

positive impact explicitly teaching reading strategies along with graphic organizers and read

alouds can have on student comprehension, even in such a short timespan. Prior to this study, I

had met with students during small group guided reading, but I did not explicitly teach reading

strategies. I had a guided reading routine of discussing the book covers, taking picture walks,

and allowing for student reading time. Once students were finished reading, I would ask some
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questions about the text and then move to the next guided reading group. Since obtaining my

Reading 316 license and conducting my research, I have learned the importance of explicitly

telling and teaching students the strategies we are working on, including: (a) activating prior

knowledge, in discussions and K-W-L (Know-Wonder-Learned) charts, (b) questioning, through

modeled metacognitive thinking and discussions, (c) analyzing text and structure including

characters, setting, problems and solutions, and main ideas, (d) visualizing through illustrations,

and (e) summarizing through retelling, discussing, and writing. Since this study, I have also

learned the importance of daily read alouds with modeled metacognitive thinking because all

students can participate in read alouds, plus they mimic what they see.

Although I am satisfied with the results of the study, perhaps a larger number of students

would have change my results. I conducted this study with 19 of the 20 students in my

classroom. Perhaps I could have used the entire second grade that consists of just over 80

students. However, I would have needed to ensure other teachers were implementing the same

lessons and strategies on the same days for the same amount of time. I am not certain if a larger

pool of students would have had better or worse growth in reading comprehension.

I did have hopes of greater growth for the students in my experimental group versus

students in my control group; however, I do not feel any biases altered my results.

I learned the importance of explicitly teaching reading strategies in guided reading

groups. I believe this method along with implementation of graphic organizers and read alouds

has positively impacted my students’ reading comprehension. I believe the methods used in this

study are best practices in teaching reading comprehension for most students.

Future Implications
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In addition to my own classroom instruction changes, I have shared the results of the

study with my colleagues at our professional learning communities. I have also been part of a

book club that focuses on reading comprehension and interventions in which I have shared the

study results. It is my hope that fellow teachers give these instructional methods a try. I know

that we all want what is best for our students. In the future, I hope to obtain a reading coach

position in which I can help other educators to learn and implement best practices for teaching

reading and comprehension. I know that the findings from this research are too great not to share

and I hope that I have more sharing and learning opportunities in the future; sharing and learning

opportunities for teachers and students alike.