Monday, August 11, 2008

What Does it Mean to Read at Grade Level?

In my last post, I made reference to a speech delivered by Dr. Joseph Torgeson of the Florida Center for Reading Research. In light of the post I wrote about readability a couple weeks ago, I wanted to share some other insights he offered in this same speech with regards to what it means for a student to read at grade level.
(NOTE: Words and phrases in quotations in the following text were taken directly from Dr. Torgeson's speech at the UREAD/UBIDA 2nd Annual Reading Conference on March 18, 2005 entitled, "Preventing and Remediating Reading Disabilities: Evidence from the New Research on Reading.")

What do we really mean when we say that our goal is to help all students read “at grade level or above”?

1) Students should be able to read text at grade-level "with a reasonable level of understanding."
2) Students should be able to read grade-level text "fluently so that reading the text doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time."
3) Students should be able to "find pleasure in reading...without having to struggle with the words and be able to focus on the meaning."
We often hear that the goal of reading is comprehension. So "what skills, knowledge, and attitudes are required for good reading comprehension?" To answer this question, we need to address "what we know about the factors that affect reading comprehension." Specifically, we need to know that "proficient comprehension of text is influenced by [the following]:"

1) Accurate and fluent word reading skills.
2) Oral language skills (vocabulary, linguistic comprehension).
3) Extent of conceptual and factual knowledge.
4) Knowledge and skill in use of cognitive strategies to improve comprehension or repair it when it breaks down. Students have to be active readers.
5) Reasoning and inferential skills.
6) Motivation to understand and interest in task and materials.

(Key to color coding: red text = word reading; brown text = intellectual skills; green text = motivation)

In other words, students’ reading comprehension depends on:
1) "How well they read the words on the page."
2) "How much knowledge they have, and how well they think."
3) "How motivated they are to do 'the work' of comprehension."

According to the National Reading Council report in 1998, "three potential stumbling blocks to becoming a good reader" include:

1) "Difficulty learning to read words accurately and fluently."
2)"Insufficient vocabulary, general knowledge, and reasoning skills to support comprehension of written language."
3) "Absence or loss of initial motivation to read, or failure to develop a mature appreciation of the rewards of reading."

Teachers have a stewardship, then, to instill in their students the confidence necessary to master these skills.

See also the post entitled, "Optimal Silent and Oral Reading Rates".

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