Teaching children to understand what they read: a five-year plan

Teaching children to understand what they read: a five-year plan

Our national reading crisis persists despite many attempts to mitigate it: U.S. students continue to lag behind those from many countries in their ability to understand what they read — including Hungary and Bulgaria.

Much of the nation’s research agenda has been focused on improving word reading skills, but this did not translate into higher reading comprehension test scores, said Hugh Catts, professor and chair of KU’s top-rated Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders Department.

But now Catts and 129 other scientists from several academic fields across the country are beginning a monumental five-year $120 million Reading for Understanding initiative funded by the federal Institute of Education Sciences.

“Reading for Understanding is an attempt to dramatically increase our knowledge about what is involved in skilled reading comprehension and how this may be taught in the classroom,” Catts asserted.

What’s more, the researchers hope to have prototypes of programs to teach reading comprehension to children through the twelfth grade based on the six multidisciplinary teams’ research at the end of five years.

Further reflecting the translational science model of community and practitioner participation, participating schools’ teacher representatives will be members of the research team and help with the development and implementation of instructional packages.

“Reading comprehension is an active process in which the reader uses his or her language knowledge, background knowledge and reasoning skills to construct an understanding of the text,” Catts explains.

“In this project, we plan to provide students with the language knowledge and skills, background knowledge and motivation to be successful in this process.”

Catts is collaborating with 14 other researchers from five universities in the United States and the United Kingdom in a team led by Professor Laura Justice, a speech- language pathologist at Ohio State University. Other team members include Diane Nielsen, KU professor of education, Mindy Bridges, LSI research associate, and Tiffany Hogan, a KU speech-language-hearing graduate, now assistant professor of special education and communication disorders at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who will head the Nebraska team. is team will focus on children from 4-8 years of age.