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Strategy instruction and teacher professional development to aid the reading comprehension of year 4 students : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
The ability to understand what one reads is fundamental to much school learning and is part of the school curriculum. The processes used by expert readers to comprehend text can be analysed and used as a basis for comprehension instruction. Such expert readers use particular mental strategies such as rereading, paraphrasing, and predicting, and adapt these to assist them in understanding various texts. This study investigated whether the implementation of reading comprehension strategy instruction to classes of Year 4 students would result in significant gains in metacognitive abilities, standardised reading comprehension, and reading self-efficacy. The quasi-experiment involved a treatment group of 48 students in two classes who were taught by one teacher, a treatment control group of 61 students in three classes taught by three teachers, and a non-treatment control group of 41 students taught in three composite Year 3 and Year 4 classes taught by three teachers. In total, 150 Year 4 students from eight classrooms in three suburban primary schools were involved in the study. Results from 2 x 3 analyses of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures revealed differences between the treatment group and control groups in several aspects of reading comprehension ability. The treatment group performed significantly better than either control group on the Jacobs and Paris (1987) measure of metacognitive awareness of strategies (Index of Reading Awareness). Treatment group students were also more confident about their ability to perform tasks related to reading comprehension than one of the control groups. Though they also made greater gains in confidence than the other control group, these gains were not statistically significant. Gains in reading comprehension as measured by a standardised reading comprehension measure (Progressive Achievement Test of Reading Comprehension) were marginal in comparison to one of the control groups, and not significant in comparison to the other. Secondly, this study also investigated whether intensive teacher training would result in successful implementation of reading comprehension strategies. Teachers need to know how to model their own mental processes for students so that students can see the strategies being applied. They then need to demonstrate for students when and how to adapt the strategies to various texts. In addition, teachers need to know whether to target instruction to only the struggling readers in their classrooms, or to students of varying abilities. A two-year professional development programme was developed and implemented to assist primary school teachers with the implementation of reading comprehension strategy instruction in their classrooms. During the first year a group of 14 teachers participated, and during the second year one teacher remained to implement the programme. This teacher, who taught at the Year 4 level, was provided with additional professional development in the explicit teaching of reading comprehension strategies to her entire class of mixed ability students. Results from analysis of qualitative data indicated that the teacher had made significant progress in becoming competent in the teaching techniques needed for teaching reading comprehension strategies. These results suggested that the teacher moved from modelling process into content to being creative and inventive. By the end of the intervention, interviews conducted with the teacher and the students, as well as lesson observations and field notes, suggested that she had a good knowledge of the components of strategy instruction and was incorporating these in her classroom practice. Her students became increasingly aware of the teacher's central lesson aims regarding what she was teaching, why she was teaching it, and how it could be applied to the students' learning. The findings of the present study indicate that students of varying ability may improve their reading comprehension through instruction in reading comprehension strategies, though the marginal gains in standardised reading comprehension do not support this conclusively. Findings also indicate that a teacher can successfully be trained to implement reading comprehension strategy instruction in an entire class of mixed-ability students. Such findings have important implications for teacher and student education.