Here's the conclusion to "Is reading comprehension an actual thing?" by The Reading Ape.

The research appears to suggest the following ‘best bets’ for schools:

• Reading comprehension is not ‘the next stage in reading’. The artificial divide between ‘learning to read’ and ‘reading to learn’ is a misapplication of Chall’s (1983) stages of reading development. Comprehension develops in tandem with reading acquisition and is aligned with listening comprehension and developing schema.

• Reading comprehension is not a skill and should only be taught as such as an exam technique.

• Prior knowledge is fundamental to reading comprehension and crucial for inference. Knowledge comes in many forms. For a pupil to be able to understand a text they must be furnished with sufficient knowledge to be able to read it with a top down, global perspective.

• This relevant knowledge must be built explicitly…

• …by teachers.

• Knowledge of complex language and syntactic structures is essential to reading comprehension. Regular exposure to these structures is essential through experience with high-quality texts above instructional level. Students will require expert, explicit scaffolding to negotiate these text…

• …from teachers.

• Reading comprehension is also a factor of vocabulary. Vocabulary is a function of greater knowledge. Vocabulary grows more quickly through explicit teaching. Students’ vocabulary appears to grow more quickly in classes where the environment is rich in language and teachers have a wide vocabulary. This is particularly important in early schooling and in areas of higher social and economic need.

Expand full comment

Great article. Just throwing this out as food for thought not a deeply considered/researched point...If in an imaginary world we had a list of 20 topics that might be on a standardized test it’s true that some schools might be cramming wombat facts and Aztec civilization dates in preparation for a test and of course there would be egregious cases along with many normal lovely classrooms. There is an element of well these (typical standardized) tests can’t be stressful because there is nothing to study for, that would immediately be challenged if there was an actual list of topics. I don’t personally believe that they’re not stressful but there is a “do your best, just have a good breakfast” fantasy around some tests. But I do wonder if suddenly many classes/schools populated with underprivileged kids did well on the test, maybe even better than a tony suburb, if people would actually hate those results. That there is an element of it having to show the wealth gap or the results would unsatisfying for some. That said I would very much my kids were memorizing some marsupial facts to weeks of amorphous “find the main idea” exercises which all too often seem like “read the test takers mind and guess in which ways they are trying to be tricky.”

Expand full comment

Super, now can you tell me who or what The Reading Ape is? I

Expand full comment

If only I knew! It even does its webinars as a gorilla with an androgynous voice. Sounds like a job for a journalist to get to the bottom of its identity. But one thing's for sure: that primate knows its stuff!

Expand full comment