We've gone seriously off the rails on comprehension strategy instruction.
That finding that 55x instructional minutes has zero effect is BONKERS.
Whenever I think about the learning of abstract topics, I try to analogize (dangerous, I know) to something that feels more concrete, like disassembling and working on the engine of a car. Yes, we can teach skills like how to use a socket wrench or check the oil, but I'd imagine that the best mechanical training involves lots of hands-on experience with actual cars in an organized, thoughtful way, that builds in complexity and in content knowledge. And - surprise - throughout that process they will need some of those more specific micro-skills like socket-wrenching and oil-checking. And then they're using them in a valuable context that will help with retention. Then the true test of expertise wouldn't be taking an engine apart, but putting one all the way back together from scratch - an analogy for writing.
A stretch, perhaps, but it helps me wrap my mind around all this stuff.
My granddaughter was assigned a book that is a classic, Call of the Wild. She hated it, thought the dogs were being abused. She missed the whole point of the book because she had not been exposed to the background knowledge that would have made this book understandable. Once I sat down with her and explained the time period of the book and the gold rush, she was able to comprehend what she was reading, although she still did not like the book.
Here again is the down side of heuristics like the reading rope--which I don't believe we have effectively treated as such rather than as some sort of "fact." Comprehension gets oversimplified as one of 5 simple things. Mission accomplished. No further thinking required. TEACH comprehension. Uh, no. NOT so simple. Comprehension has its own heuristic. Joe Torgesen has a great one and yes, basic reading skill is 1 component! But just 1! Content knowledge is required! Knowledge of the world is required! Strategy/strategies is required. Language, Vocabulary, Fix up strategies, MOTIVATION. Oh, let's just "teach comprehension." 55 minutes. And all the strategies we teach, probably none to mastery, will suffice and will be generalizable absent attention to the other variables. I do NOT envy teachers in this task. How about we narrow the job and help them support students' understanding of <name some documents, texts, literature>. For example, we could teach "Understanding the US Constitution" or Understanding 3 Pieces of Literature and Our Emotional Development, distilling the "big ideas" as one way to support comprehension and students asking "why am I reading this?"
I've been trying to tease out some important take-aways, and I think the first is clarifying what we mean by "practice". You state that "cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham suggested that there’s “plenty of data showing that extended practice of [reading comprehension strategy] instruction yields no benefit compared to briefer review.”
I've just listened to an interview with Dr. Peng Peng, and he refers to "practice" as application of the strategy to understanding a given text. You state: "What can work is focusing on a topic or text and asking questions that bring in whatever skills or strategies might help students think about it." And you end by referring to the importance of embedding strategy instruction while tackling a text:
"Want to teach “main idea”? Try explicitly teaching students how to come up with a good topic sentence for a paragraph, or how to write a summary of something they’ve read. Want to teach “text structure”? Teach them how to structure texts they create themselves. When this kind of instruction is embedded in content students are learning about, it’s likely to boost their learning."
If we separate "teaching" a strategy from "practicing" a strategy--and if we use "practice" to mean "applying" it to the text in front of us for the purposes of understanding the text well enough to write about it--then when we think in terms of how long we should spend introducting a strategy, we can decide based on Abraham Lincoln's answer to how long a man's legs should be: long enough to touch the ground.
This is what I'll be thinking about today as I begin teaching "paragraph shrinking" to a sixth grade class.
I was educated in the UK in what now feels like the 17th century. I have spent a lifetime watching US education from various vantage points, including as a high school student, a college history professor who assigned writing (not multiple choice), a public school parent, and a speaker in schools. I remain fascinated that the professional opinions of educated people remain of no interest to the "education research shows" brigade in the US after forty years of decline. What you're arguing ought to be a truism, and yet is not. Thanks for all you do, Natalie.
Outstanding analysis of a complex topic! I concur with your prescription of careful, explicit writing instruction as an effective means of teaching reading strategies, assuming, of course, the work is done in an AI-free environment with plenty of direct feedback. I see a lot of rapid growth in our students using that approach.