The last three months have been dedicated to exploring various aspects of the theme ‘Reading Comprehension’.
Learning to read and write wouldn’t make sense if we aren’t able to make meaning of what we read and write. But while there is a disproportionate emphasis on teaching students how to decode, hardly any time is dedicated to teaching children how to be active meaning-makers. As a result, it has been observed and emphasized repeatedly that lack of comprehension remains a dismal reality in Indian classrooms.
Our need to explore reading comprehension with practitioners, researchers and academicians arose from our deep discomfort with the lack of attention given to it within classrooms. One of the reasons behind poor comprehension is a lack of understanding of the processes and pedagogies that support comprehension among teachers. By exploring this theme, we hoped to build a shared understanding of a variety of processes and strategies that support stronger comprehension in readers.
The first set of blog pieces attempted to set the context for readers. The introductory piece (by Shuchi Sinha) described a range of factors that affect reading comprehension, such as, decoding abilities, vocabulary knowledge, prior knowledge and the use of comprehension strategies. Elaborating on these ideas, Dr. Shobha Sinha from CIE, University of Delhi, described instructional practices important for developing engaged readers. Drawing upon both theory and practice, Dr. Sinha emphasised that comprehension is an interactive process, requiring readers to be actively involved with the text. She directed our attention to the role of factors such as appropriate text selection, good questioning and classroom discussions in meaning-making, while cautioning against the common practice of always ‘explaining’ things to children.
In the third blog piece, Shuchi Sinha summarised key ideas from Duke and Pearson’s (2009) much cited article, describing the nature of environments that support comprehension and key comprehension strategies that can be taught. Additionally, the piece goes on to suggest a number of activities that could support comprehension in classrooms.
No conversation on comprehension can ignore the presence of linguistic diversity in Indian classrooms and its implications on teaching and meaning-making. Dr. Shivani Nag from Ambedkar University described comprehension in multilingual settings in her piece. She wrote, “Comprehension of concepts cannot happen if the child remains alienated from the classroom transactions.” Her piece places emphasis on the inclusion of not just the child’s language, but also her culture and prior knowledge in the classroom.
Continuing the conversation on multilingual education, Dr. Giridhar Rao from Azim Premji University described four strategies that teachers could use to strengthen comprehension in classrooms where English is the second or third language.
This theme also saw blog pieces by practitioners, bringing with them a rich body of experience and knowledge. Usha Mukunda, founder-librarian of the alternative school Center For Learning, Bangalore, described several aspects of engaging children with books in her piece, such as creating generous spaces for children’s talk and questions, awakening critical reading skills in readers, revisiting stories, reflecting on one’s feelings, thoughts and understanding of a story. Creating such spaces builds both relevance and comprehension in young readers.
Picking up where Mukunda left off, Sujata Noronha, founder of the children’s library Bookworm, Goa, addressed the importance of appropriate selection of texts for comprehension. Using a vivid example to make her point, Sujata suggested that factors such as readers’ age, motivation, skills and knowledge need to be considered while selecting books and conducting read alouds. Else, meaning-making would surely be affected.
Manjiri Nimbkar from Pragat Shikshan Sanstha, Phaltan, Maharashtra, described how classroom talk and activities were used synergistically in their school to facilitate meaning-making. Harshita Das, an ex-school teacher, described a model of guidance during reading that she had successfully developed in her classroom, before taking a closer look at the model of Guided Reading described by Fountas and Pinnell (2001).
In the final piece, Dr. Shailaja Menon drew upon data from the Literacy Research in Indian Languages (Menon et al. 2017) study to problematise the role of prior knowledge in comprehension, at least in the manner in which it is currently used in classrooms. She pointed out that prior knowledge was being used ineffectively by children, and was not being used in building a coherent representation of the text.
Put together, these blog pieces cover a variety of issues related to reading comprehension, that will, we hope, be useful to practitioners in this domain. Issues related to curriculum design have not been addressed here, nor those of the kind of education that teachers need to teach comprehension successfully.
Also, in a complex, multilingual context like India, no one-size-fits-all solutions can be offered. These blog pieces give exposure to a wide range of opinions, experiences and voices on a topic that may permit people to discuss, engage with, and develop solutions that work for them in their own contexts.
To complement these blog pieces, we have also published a set of annotated reading resources. In addition, we have created two handouts--one on comprehension strategies, and the other on using questioning as a strategy to aid meaning-making in classrooms. These are easy to use, and balance theory with activities that practitioners can readily adapt in classrooms. We hope you will find these resources useful!
Duke, N. K., & Pearson, P. D. (2009). Effective practices for developing reading comprehension. Journal of education, 189 (1-2), 107-122.
Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2001). Supporting Readers and Writers: Tools That Make a Difference in Comprehending and Constructing Texts. In r. C. Fountas, & G. S. Pinnell, Guiding Readers and Writers, Grades 3-6: Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy. (pp. 440-460). Heinemann, 88 Post Road West, PO Box 5007, Westport, CT 06881..
Menon, S., Krishnamurthy, R., Sajitha, S., Apte, N., Basargekar, A., Subramaniam, S., ... & Modugala, M. (2017). Literacy Research in Indian Languages (LiRiL): Report of a Three-Year Longitudinal Study on Early Reading and Wrifing in Marathi and Kannada.