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Teaching Reading: K-2 Workshop

Comprehension and Response Examine the Topic | Comprehension and Response

Reading for Meaning

In this section, you will explore an activity to better understand what factors children use to comprehend texts.

Reading comprehension is a complex activity that involves interactions between the reader and the text. It requires readers to integrate their existing background knowledge and experiences with skills in reading the text. These skills include word recognition, vocabulary development, and the ability to connect what is known with the new information.

The interactive activity below: Reading for Meaning allows you to understand the comprehension processes by reading to identify what the following passages are describing. A non-interactive version of this activity is also available as a PDF document.

After completing the activity, consider these questions:

  • What strategies did you use to understand each passage?
  • Were you able to use your own background knowledge to make sense of each passage?
  • What elements of the text helped you in comprehending these passages?
  • What made these passages difficult to understand?

Extend Your Knowledge

In this section, you will expand your understanding of comprehension and response by comparing the ideas from the workshop video with passages from various publications. Read and respond to the ideas presented as they relate to your own teaching practices.

In the past, primary grade instruction focused on the development of phonics and word-recognition skills. Educators believed that comprehension would follow when children were older and knew how to read words. We now know that comprehension and response to reading is an important part of emergent and beginning literacy instruction in K-2 classrooms.

Read the following passage from Fostering Reading Comprehension by Gambrell and Dromsky. Consider it with respect to your own teaching philosophy and experiences.

Young children are natural comprehenders. Perhaps at no other time is the need to generate meaning more fervently experienced than in early childhood. Even before children learn to read, they communicate on many levels and seek to make meaning of their surroundings. This natural curiosity heightens as children learn to read and share literature.
The sophisticated process of gaining meaning from print begins early in literacy development. Educators have moved away from viewing reading comprehension as a set of late-developing, fragmented skills to viewing it as a more interactive and sociocognitive activity. Research has revealed that young children are quite capable of complex thinking, and comprehension is now considered an integral component of early literacy instruction (Applebee, Langer, and Mullis, 1988; Morrow, 1997).

For many years, the literature on the reading process centered on the scope and sequence of skills (Dole, Duffy, Roehler, and Pearson, 1991; Fielding and Pearson, 1994). In general, students were taught how to read before being introduced to more cognitively challenging tasks. Common practice included teaching the alphabet and a core set of sight words, and following a prescriptive program of phonics and basal reading series in the primary grades. The emphasis on teaching basic literacy elements before high-level skills such as comprehension sparked great debate over what constituted developmentally appropriate practice. The last two decades, however, have seen a marked increase in research into and knowledge about emergent literacy and developmentally appropriate approaches for young learners. Today, we know that young children are capable of higher-level comprehension and can respond capably to literature in ways that go far beyond mere literal interpretations of text. In fact, engaging children in thinking critically and solving problems prepares them for the challenges of reading more complex text.

Gambrell, L. B., and A. L. Dromsky. “Fostering Reading Comprehension.” In Strickland, D. S., and L. M. Morrow, eds. Beginning Reading and Writing, 143-144. New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press, 2000. *

Based on your experience and the reading you just completed, reflect on these questions:

  • How has our understanding of young children’s reading comprehension changed?
  • How is this understanding reflected in classroom practice?
  • How does children’s ability to comprehend and respond to text develop in grades K-2?

Today, teaching comprehension in the early grades is crucial. Dr. Paratore’s lecture and the article you read in the Session Preparation, Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension by Duke and Pearson, outline the basic comprehension strategies used by proficient readers.

Read the following passage from Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children by Snow, Burns, and Griffin. Think about the specific strategies that young children are able to use as they listen to and read print. Compare this information with your lecture notes and your own experiences.

The Comprehension Accomplishments in Reading table below shows a set of particular accomplishments that the successful learner is likely to exhibit during the early school years. This list is neither exhaustive nor incontestable, but it does capture many highlights of the course of reading acquisition that have been revealed through several decades of research. Needless to say, the timing of these accomplishments will to some extent depend on the particular curriculum provided by a school. For example, in many areas of the country, the kindergarten year is not mandatory and little formal reading instruction is provided until the start of first grade. The sum sketch provided by the table of the typical accomplishments related to reading over the first years of a child’s schooling presupposes, of course, appropriate familial support and access to effective educational resources. At the same time, there are enormous individual differences in children’s progression from playing with refrigerator letters to reading independently, and many pathways that can be followed successfully…

Snow, C. E., M. S. Burns, and P. Griffin. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, 79-82. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1998.

This table is also available as a PDF document.

Now consider these questions:

  • How do these comprehension accomplishments relate to those in the lecture and in the article you read at the beginning of the session?
  • Which accomplishments were demonstrated in the classroom excerpts?
  • How do children’s “accomplishments” in reading comprehension change from kindergarten through grade 2?
  • Acknowledging these accomplishments, what do (will) you consider when planning comprehension and response instruction for all of your students?

Assignment: Respond to the questions in writing. Submit your written response.

* Used with permission of Teacher’s College Press. Permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center.

Series Directory

Teaching Reading: K-2 Workshop


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2003.
  • ISBN: 1-57680-681-2