Research on Reading
Dr Kathie F Nunley
is the subject of much concern and debate in education. What
makes a good reader? What makes a poor reader? How can I help
a struggling reader?
has been a good deal of research on reading, most of it focuses
on explaining reading problems with very little on possible
the research has been surprising. I think we were all surprised
by the research that showed that reading to children at an early
age, does not necessarily make for a good or early reader. In
to children can cause just the opposite: something referred
to as "the broccoli effect." This comes about if nightly reading
is viewed by the parent and the child as a necessary chore.
Can you hear the parent who crossly shouts, "turn off that t.v.
and get in here...I'm tired and want to get this reading over
as a daily "have-to" whether you like it or not, reading can
actually turn-off a child's love for the activity.
that do show a strong correlation with good readers: early phonemic
awareness, and parents who read for personal pleasure. Early
phonemic awareness refers to how early someone actually demonstrates
or teaches a child that a letter has a sound. The sooner that
a child understands that letters symbolize sounds, the sooner
he or she reads. But I think the biggest influence is the parents'
personal love for reading. Does the child see Mom, Dad, Grandpa,
read? Is reading a value in the home reflected by accessibility
to books? A parent or caregiver who demonstrates the joy of
reading has the biggest influence on a child's reading ability
and life-long interest in reading.
we've seen research showing which regions of the brain are involved
in reading. Some research explains that if the wrong parts are
involved, or the right parts just aren't dominate enough, then
reading problems can occur.
One of the
most interesting studies I've seen of late is one that was published
in the November 2001 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology:
Learning, Memory and Cognition. Debra Long from the University
of California- Davis and Jennifer Chong from Johns Hopkins University
were the co-authors of the study. They looked at comprehension
problems among students. They hypothesized that a person who
struggles comprehending the story, actually has problems with
memory storage and retrieval. Let me briefly summarize their
time someone's reading speed by using a computer which puts
one sentence on the screen at a time. The reader hits the "enter"
key to advance the text. The timing process is simply the time
between key strokes. As we read, we are fairly consistent in
our speed. That is, until we run across something that doesn't
make sense. At that point, we drastically slow down and re-read
the passage to check for errors or explanation.
whether a story makes sense, the reader has to remember previous
information from the story, keep it stored and accessible, so
that new information can be compared and integrated into previous
information - that's what makes the story.
happen if there was a limit as to how often (or if ever) you
accessed previous information? Long and Chong thought that was
what was causing poor comprehension and set out to prove it.
They took poor reading comprehenders and good comprehenders
and had them read stories, one sentence at a time on a computer
screen as I described earlier. They timed their reading speed
of each sentence.
In the first
story a character named Mary was described as a strict vegetarian.
Several passages later, the story described Mary going into
a restaurant with a friend and ordering a cheeseburger and fries.
be able to guess at this point what the researchers found. In
the students with good reading comprehension, their reading
speed slowed down considerably when they read the sentence about
Mary ordering a cheeseburger, indicating a conflict and confusion
over what they had been previously led to believe about Mary.
This would require that they remembered the information in the
earlier passages and were comparing new information to this
comprehenders did not. In fact, they read through the sentence
about Mary ordering a cheeseburger, at the same rate they'd
been reading all along. This indicates that they were not comparing
this new information to the previous information as they read.
Perhaps they just did not understand.
to the second test. Here they presented the same basic story
in the same manner. But now, they separated the original information
from the conflicting information by only one sentence, a reading
time of just a couple of seconds. In this second test, the poor
comprehenders slowed down their reading to about the same extent
of the good comprehenders.
this study show? Working memory, that which you have in your
consciousness right now, lasts for about 20 seconds. New information
or just the passage of time, moves things out of your working
memory and stores it for long term access when you need it..
poor reading comprehenders will not access this stored information
while reading. They will make comparisons if the information
is in their working memory, but apparently don't make the continuing
access to long term memory that good comprehenders do.
teachers do with this information? How can we best help the
struggling reader with comprehension? Can they be trained to
access stored information better? I think so. Memory can be
trained and improved in all sorts of situations, so why not
reading too. Teachers may find it helpful to verbalize this
process out-loud. Stop periodically and discuss how new information
about a character or situation compares with previous information.
instruct students on the importance of storing and referring
back to information during reading. Students may also want to
jot down ideas as they go along and then refer back to these
written items as they move through a story.
can do much to help poor readers. We find them at all grade
levels. It is important to remember that poor reading is not
the result of low IQ. In fact, intelligence and reading ability
have never correlated. Even the most brilliant child may have
difficulty reading. As parents and educators I think we can
gleam some hints and ideas from the research.
to teach letter - sound relationships. Read for personal pleasure
in front of children. Find memory aids or memory exercises to
help students improve comprehension.
a child think his or her struggles with reading are a reflection
of overall ability or intelligence. There is a reader in every
Psycholinguistics. 2000 Vol 21(2) 229-241.
of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
2000 Vol 39(7) 859-867.
of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.
2001 Vol 27, (6), 1424-1429.
& Individual Differences. 1999 Vol 11(4) 377-400.
& Writing. 2000 Vol 12(1-2) 129-142.
& Writing. 2000 Vol 13(1-2) 81-103
- Reading Psychology. 2000 Vol 21(3) 195-215.
F. Nunley is an educational psychologist, author, researcher
and speaker living in southern New Hampshire. Developer of the
Layered Curriculum® method of instruction, Dr. Nunley has
authored several books and articles on teaching in mixed-ability
classrooms and other problems facing today's teachers. Full
references and additional teaching and parental tips are available
at: http://Help4Teachers.com Email her:
Kathie (at) brains.org