Reading is the act of processing text in order to derive meaning. To learn to read, children must develop both fluent word reading and language comprehension (Gough & Tunmer,1986). Language comprehension is built upon vocabulary and morphology, knowledge, syntax, and higher-level language skills.
Higher-level language skills include inferencing, comprehension monitoring, and awareness of text structure. These skills are necessary to understand complex directions, stories, informational texts, and conversations (Hogan, Bridges, Justice, & Cain, 2011).
Inferencing helps one to fill in the gaps and go beyond the literal meaning of words on the page to create a comprehensive mental model of the text (Bowyer-Crane & Snowling, 2005). Early ability to make inferences to support comprehension is predictive of later reading comprehension ability (Perfetti, Landi, & Oakhill, 2005).
Comprehension monitoring involves the capacity to reflect on one's own comprehension and includes the ability to detect inconsistencies within a text (Hogan, Bridges, Justice, & Cain, 2011). Monitoring allows the reader to verify his or her understanding and to make repairs where this understanding is not sensible. Early ability to monitor comprehension is predictive of later reading comprehension ability (Perfetti, Landi, & Oakhill, 2005).
Awareness of text structure involves using how a written text is organized to guide comprehension. When students understand how the elements of a text work together, they can more easily and accurately understand the text itself (Hogan, Bridges, Justice, & Cain, 2011).
Read-aloud or shared text is an opportune time to develop students' inference skills. Evidence shows that young children are capable of generating inferences when listening to texts read aloud, and can be supported to do so during shared-reading experiences (Zucker, Justice, Piasta, & Kaderavek, 2010).
Using a shared text, teachers can model inferencing as well as ask questions and prompt students to make appropriate inferences. The IES Practice Guide "Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade" suggests engaging students in conversations that support the use and comprehension of inferential language.
A range of questioning and discussion-based techniques have been shown to support students' ability to make inferences (Oakhill, Cain, & Elbro, 2015), Institute for Education Sciences, What Works Report .
Evidence additionally suggests that during read-aloud, inference skills can be developed through (Hogan, Bridges, Justice, & Cain, 2011):
Monitoring is a comprehension strategy that students can learn using the gradual release approach in a relatively short period of time (Elleman, 2017) but may need continual practice and support to remember to use while reading. Instruction includes periodic summarizing (summarizing at various points throughout a shared reading), teacher modeling, and teacher giving corrective feedback (Hogan, Bridges, Justice, & Cain, 2011).
Teaching students to understand text structure for both narrative and expository text supports reading comprehension (Gersten, Fuchs, Williams, & Baker, 2001). According to a research review by Hogan, Bridges, Justice, & Cain (2011), understanding of text structure plays a significant role in reading comprehension.
Complex texts offer opportunities to interact with rich language and exercise higher-level language skills. Texts that are engaging, language-rich, and carefully chosen to match readers and purpose will best support young students in the development of higher-level language skills.
English learners should have equal opportunity to meaningfully participate in all literacy instruction. The WIDA Can Do Descriptors highlight what language learners can do at various stages of language development.
Taking Bilingualism into Account
"Academic language often assumes that the reader already has the context and background knowledge to access the text and concepts. Hence, academic language is often devoid of context and baffles Els" (Cummins & McNeely, 1987).
"By providing L2 readers with a set of specific strategies designed to assist them in: 1) inferring the meaning of unknown words; and 2) synthesizing meaning in larger segments of texts, lower level processing skills might be automatized to a greater degree and cognitive resources used more efficiently" (Kern, 1989).
Supports for English Learners
Akhondi, M., Malayeri, F. A., & Samad, A. A. (2011). How to teach expository text structure to facilitate reading comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 64(5), 368–372.
Bowyer-Crane, C. & Snowling, M. (2005). Assessing children's inference generation: What do tests of reading comprehension measure? The British journal of educational psychology. 75. 189–201.
Cummins, J. & McNeely, S. (1987). Language Development, Academic Learning, and Empowering Minority Students. In K. Tikunoff (Ed.), Bilingual Education and Bilingual Special Education: A Guide for Administrators. Boston: College Hill.
Gersten, R., Fuch, L. S., Williams, J. P., & Baker, S. (2001). Teaching reading comprehension strategies to students with learning disabilities: A review of research. Review of Educational Research, 71, 279–320.
Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.
Kern, R. G. (1989). Second language reading strategy instruction: Its effects on comprehension and word inference ability. Modern Language Journal, 73.
Langston, M. C., & Trabasso, T. (1998). Modeling causal integration and availability of information during comprehension of narrative texts. In H. van Oostendorp & S. Goldman (Eds.), The construction of mental representation during reading (pp. 29–69). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Oakhill, J., Cain, K., & Elbro, C. (2015). Understanding and teaching reading comprehension: A handbook. New York: Routledge.
Pang, Y. (2013). Graphic organizers and other visual strategies to improve young ELLs' reading comprehension. New England Reading Association Journal, 48(2), 52.
Perfetti, C.A., Landi, N., & Oakhill, J.V. (2005). The acquisition of reading comprehension skill. In M.J. Snowling & C. Hume (Eds.), The Science of Reading: Handbook of Reading Research. Oxford: Blackwell.
Tompkins, G.E. (1998). Language arts: Content and teaching strategies. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
Zucker, T. A., Justice, L. M., Piasta, S. B., & Kaderavek, J. N. (2010). Preschool teachers' literal and inferential questions and children's responses during whole-class shared reading. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25, 65–8.
Disclosure Statement: Reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Our office is not responsible for and does not in any way guarantee the accuracy of information in other sites accessible through links herein. DESE may supplement this list with other services and products that meet the specified criteria. For more information contact: RMB252@mass.gov.
Last Updated: December 18, 2020
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906
Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370
Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.