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Metacognitive strategies help students to comprehend all text.

Reading comprehension instruction in many classrooms focuses on teacher-generated questions which actually measure comprehension of specific text rather than developing metacognitive strategies for comprehending all text. Explicit instruction in the metacognitive strategies of making text connections, predicting, and sequencing, was evaluated for its usefulness in improving reading comprehension in a first-grade classroom. Results showed a significant difference in students' awareness of comprehension strategies and comprehension of text as measured by the Index of Reading Awareness and the Beaver Developmental Reading Assessment before and after the intervention. These findings suggest that students in primary grades may benefit from explicit instruction in reading comprehension strategies at the same time they are learning to decode words.


"What's this word?" the student asked?

"Tomb robber," the teacher replied.

"That's someone who would break into the pyramid to steal what had been left with the mummy."

"Oh! Those bad guys on the news kicked in the ... the thingies," she shared.

"Do you mean gravestones?"

"Yes! They kicked over the gravestones on the news," she agreed.

This is an example of the metacognitive thinking a first-grade student is capable of following the explicit instruction of comprehension strategies. Despite research suggesting that explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies improves students' ability to comprehend text, much classroom instruction focuses on measuring comprehension of individual stories or text that has been read (Cross and Paris, 1988; Paris and Oka, 1986; Yuill and Joscelyne, 1988). Reading instruction in many classrooms uses a basal text and relies on teacher-generated questions believed to teach students to comprehend. But, more precisely, this measures comprehension rather than teaching students strategies for comprehension (Durkin, 1979). This article shares the results of an action research project designed to determine the effects of explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies on the reading comprehension of a group of first graders.

In the classrooms referred to above, the instruction focuses on recalling details of the story being read rather than on a strategy that could be used for comprehending this and all text. In order for students to become effective readers they need explicit instruction in specific reading comprehension strategies that may be applied to everything they read. Research indicates that instruction in metacognitive strategies improves students' reading comprehension (Cross and Paris, 1988; Paris and Oka, 1986). Studies have shown that students who use metacognitive strategies while they read become better readers and more clearly comprehend what they read (Cross and Paris; Dewitz and Dewitz, 2003; Paris and Oka). Furthermore, the Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Snow, Burns, and Griffin, 1998) found the acquisition of reading comprehension skills and strategies important enough to cite the lack of these metacognitive strategies as one of the major reasons children do not become good readers.

Durkin's (1979) landmark study described classrooms in which teacher-generated questions about specific text were the norm for reading comprehension instruction. She reported that reading comprehension instruction focused on the literal recall of the current text being read rather than on strategies for understanding all text. Nearly thirty years later, reading instruction in many classrooms involves a scenario where each week students read a story as a whole group from a basal text, then read the selection as homework. Those students are tested over the story for which they receive a grade in reading. Although students read the story as a whole group, are assigned the story to be read as homework, and occasionally re-read the story in a small group setting, students are frequently unable to answer the multiple choice questions required to pass the comprehension tests.

The Role of Metacognition in Comprehension

Cross and Paris (1988) and Yuill and Joscelyne (1988) identified comprehension strategies which they suggest good readers have in place and contribute to their success as readers. Cross and Paris studied the relationship between metacognition and reading ability using Informed Strategies for Learning (ISL). They found that these strategies provided help for poor readers and concluded that good readers were already using these metacognitive comprehension strategies. This suggests that successful readers may intuitively and independently integrate these reading comprehension strategies into their reading abilities.

Yuill and Joscelyne (1988) focused their research on less skilled students' and found that those who were less-skilled in reading comprehension benefited from instruction, while those who were more-skilled in reading comprehension did not benefit significantly. They concluded that training less-skilled readers to use comprehension strategies brought them closer in ability to those students who were more skilled in reading comprehension.

Paris and Oka (1986) conducted another study to investigate students' use of reading comprehension strategies by teaching them to be metacognitive about their reading process. The results revealed that the students' who used ISL improved their reading comprehension and that readers of all skill levels benefited from ISL.

In a similar study Cross and Paris (1988) used ISL to study the relationship between metacognition and reading ability. However, unlike Paris and Oka (1986) they did not find ISL to have a significant effect on all readers. They found that the reading comprehension strategy instruction had the greatest impact on less-skilled readers. This led them to ponder the idea of whether this was because good readers were already doing the things ISL taught them, or if good readers were already integrating what they knew about reading comprehension strategies into their meaning-making processes at an earlier stage in their reading development.

It appears that when reading comprehension is taught within a curriculum that focuses on the comprehension of a particular text, the explicit instruction of the strategies necessary for meaningful comprehension is missing. Research suggests that when metacognitive strategies for comprehending all text are explicitly taught, comprehension improves. The purpose of this project was to investigate the effects of explicit instruction of metacognitive comprehension strategies on students' reading comprehension abilities.

Subjects and Design

This project was designed to assess the effectiveness of explicit instruction of the specific metacognitive strategies of using prior knowledge, predicting, and sequencing on the comprehension development of readers in a first-grade classroom. Prior knowledge required students to make text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections while reading, and predicting involved using context clues, to make predictions about what was being read.

Sequencing involved the readers distinguishing between important and not-so-important details as well as putting important events in the correct order in which they occurred in text. The project was conducted in a first grade classroom of twenty-four students. Five were Hispanic, one was Asian/Pacific Island, and 18 were White. Six of these students received English Language Learner (ELL) services in a pull-out program.

Data Collection Instruments

In order to establish baseline scores for these first graders' comprehension, archival data and specific comprehension assessment tools were used. Archival data included comprehension scores derived from the Beaver Developmental Reading Assessment, (DRA) (Beaver, 1999) taken two weeks prior to the beginning of metacognitive instruction. The DRA is a field-tested, research-based tool designed to provide an accurate assessment of individual students' reading comprehension (Pearson Learning Group, 2005). The assessment was administered to individual students in an isolated setting away from the classroom. These assessments were administered before and after the intervention of explicit instruction of comprehension strategies.

Additionally, each student completed the Index of Reading Awareness (IRA) by Jacobs & Paris (1987) to determine his or her level of cognitive thinking about reading prior to the intervention. The IRA is a test designed to measure students' cognitive awareness during reading. Each student completed the IRA to determine his or her level of awareness about the cognitive processes they used while reading. Students were given the multiple-choice test in small groups of four or five students at the beginning and again at the conclusion of the project. There were 20 questions on this test which had three possible answers. The answers were rated 0 - 2; 2 being the answer that showed the greatest level of reading awareness. Forty was the maximum score that could be earned.

To measure reading comprehension during the project a Comprehension Strategy Checklist was developed. Figure 1 illustrates the tool was used to record students' use of comprehension strategies. The checklist was completed while listening to and observing each student during small group reading instruction. A check mark was recorded when a strategy was observed and a minus was recorded when it was taught and modeled, but not observed being used by the student. A mark of N/A meant that the strategy was neither taught nor observed. Anecdotal notes were also recorded during small group and whole group instruction.


Students used graphic organizers to record their personal applications of the comprehension strategies taught during the project. Students used a researcher-developed format for recording their use of prior knowledge to make text-to-connections while reading. They responded to "When I read these words ..." and "It reminded me of.... "by recording their personal connections of the current text to previous experiences. Figure 2 illustrates text-to-self connections made while reading Nate the Great and the Crunchy Christmas by Marjorie and Craig Sharmat.


A similar format required students to offer insight into their predictions by responding to "This is what just happened ..." and "My prediction ..." Figure 3 shows predictions made about the story Mummies in the Morning by Mary Pope Osborne.


Two different formats were used for sequencing. The first was a "Story Graph" where students sequenced the events of the story and used a scale from Important to Not Important to indicate their perception of the significance of the event to the story (Barton & Sawyer, 2004). Figure 4 is a story graph completed after reading Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.


The other format required students to identify the beginning, middle, and end of a story by asking the question "What is the story mostly about?" (McLaughlin, 2003). Figure 5 was completed after reading David Goes to School by David Shannon.


Intervention Strategies

Explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies took place in both whole and small group settings. Whole group instruction was designed to introduce each comprehension strategy to the first graders. The whole group setting was also the forum for addressing issues related to the use of the strategies that arose during small group time. Small group instruction was structured to support students' use of the comprehension strategies while reading independently. The Comprehension Strategy Checklist previously mentioned was used to record observed strategies and pertinent anecdotes in both settings.

Whole group instruction. Strategy instruction for the entire group occurred daily for nine weeks during story time. The students received teacher-modeled instruction on how to use prior knowledge to make text connections, how to use context clues to make meaningful predictions, and how to sequence the events of a story, as metacognitive strategies for comprehending the text. During this same time the students were also taught to use various types of graphic organizers to facilitate their application of the comprehension strategies. The graphic organizers the students constructed were collected and carefully analyzed to determine the students' understanding and application of comprehension strategies.

Small group instruction. To account for the varied levels of reading development among the students, groups were formed based on the archival records which included DRA scores, SAT-9 scores, and knowledge of sight words. The DRA and Sight Word Recognition scores were taken at the eighteen-week grading period just prior to the start of this project. Students' scores on the reading component of the Stanford 9 tests (SAT-9), administered during the fall of the school year, were the third piece of archival data used to establish reading levels. Students who scored above grade level on two or more of these assessments were placed in small reading groups together. Students who scored below grade level on two or more of these assessments were also grouped together for small group instruction. The remaining students were put into a group. Fifty-four percent of the students were at grade level, 21% were below grade level, and 25% were above grade level in their reading readiness (see Figure 6). Initially there were a total of five groups; however, after the first meeting it was necessary to split the group of above grade level readers into two groups. Two students in this group were able to read considerably faster than the others, and were causing a disruption to the group. The resulting set of small groups included two above grade level groups, three at grade level groups, and one below grade level group. Small groups consisted of two to five students. Trade books were chosen for each small group based on their reading readiness levels.


Within the three levels of readiness students were assigned trade books from a series appropriate for their level. The small group of below grade level readers read No, David! and David Goes to School by David Shannon. There was one group of students reading these trade books. Students who were reading at grade level were reading books from the Henry and Mudge series written by Cynthia Rylant. There were three small groups reading at grade level. The two remaining small groups read Mummies in the Morning by Mary Pope Osborne from the Magic Tree House series. Figure 7 contains a list of books used for the project. These trade books were chosen for the small groups based on recommendations by Fountas' and Pinnell's Guided Reading (1996). These authors offer specific recommendations on how to match books to students' reading abilities, interest, and needs. The researcher met with each small group once a week for thirty minutes. The groups met outside the classroom in a quiet area. During this time the students read their assigned books with the researcher stopping and engaging the students in a directed discussion of the text. The discussion focused around the reading comprehension strategies being taught; using prior knowledge, making predictions, and sequencing events.


Instruction of strategies. This project took place over a nine-week period. The strategies were introduced and taught in progression in order to give students the opportunity to become familiar with the use of one strategy before being introduced to a new one. The students were first introduced to the use of prior knowledge to make text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections. The next strategy introduced was predicting using prior knowledge. Finally, students were taught to use sequencing important details as a reading comprehension strategy. Explicit instruction of the strategies followed a pattern: introduction of strategy, modeling of the strategy by the researcher in whole group settings, small group guided practice, researcher-modeled use of graphic organizer in whole group setting; small group guided practice, and whole group independent use of graphic organizer. A detailed description of the progression of lessons and lesson plans may be obtained by contacting the authors.

Results and Discussion

Each student completed the IRA (Jacobs & Paris, 1987) to measure his or her level of cognitive thinking about reading prior to the project and during the last week of the project. The results of the IRA pretest and posttest were analyzed and compared using a t-test with an alpha level set at .01. This analysis revealed a significant difference between the pretest and posttest scores, t (24) = 2.807; t Stat 2.972; p < .007. Reading Awareness scores were higher after the implementation of reading comprehension instruction (M=22.17) than before explicit instruction (M = 19.42). The results are presented in Table 1.

In order to assess the effects of explicit instruction on students' levels of reading comprehension, the results of the DRA (Beaver, 1999) that was administered prior to the start of the project then after the intervention of small and whole group instruction, were analyzed.

Each student completed the DRA during the last week of the project and those results were compared to the archival DRA scores recorded prior to the intervention. The results were analyzed using a paired-samples t-test with an alpha level set at .01. This analysis revealed a significant difference between the pretest and posttest scores, t(24)= 2.807; t Stat 5.463; p < 1.489. DRA scores were significantly higher after the implementation of explicit instruction using whole and small group settings (M = 17.917) than before the implementation (M = 14.833). The results are presented in Table 2.

Measures of strategy use during intervention. Reading comprehension was assessed during the intervention using a researcher developed Comprehension Strategy Checklist (see Figure 1.) and graphic organizers (see Figures 2-5). The checklist form was used during small group instruction to record all observations related to metacognitive strategy use. Anecdotes were recorded on this same form during both small and whole group instructional settings. The Comprehension Strategy Checklist sheets for each student were carefully analyzed looking for patterns of behavior or outcomes. Also, graphic organizers were collected and analyzed for students' application of the reading comprehension strategies being taught. Two patterns of use emerged during the project. Anecdotes first revealed a genuine use of prior knowledge in making text-to-self, text, and world connections that enhanced student understanding of what was being read. Also, the independent use of all strategies began to emerge as students used these strategies outside direct instruction during reading class. Students made connections and predictions during independent reading and while reading content-specific text not related to explicit instruction of these strategies. The intervention of explicit instruction included three reading comprehension strategies, prior knowledge, predicting, and sequencing. The analysis of anecdotal records revealing these patterns is presented in Table 3. Observations were recorded when students authentically used these strategies outside of explicit reading instruction time. Figure 8 reports examples of independent use of all three strategies.

The reading comprehension of the first-grade students in this project was measured using two quantitative instruments, the IRA, and the DRA. Both of these measures showed a significant increase in students' reading comprehension levels when baseline and posttest scores were compared using a t-test. Qualitative data which were collected through analysis of graphic organizers and anecdotal records on a checklist showed two patterns of behavior. Genuine connections to aid in understanding the text being read and independent use of the strategies taught were noted.

The results of this project seem to suggest that explicit instruction of metacognitive strategies is an effective instructional method. The explicit instruction of metacognitive reading comprehension strategies significantly improved these first-grade students' reading comprehension. Careful analysis of the anecdotal records and students' work samples as well as the results of the comprehension tests seem to suggest that the independent use of the reading comprehension strategies was effective across all groups for students of all reading abilities. These findings do not completely support those of Cross and Paris (1988) or Yuill and Joscelyne (1988) who concluded that reading comprehension instruction was not as beneficial for the more skilled readers they studied. However, the discrepancy in these findings may be due to the difference in age groups at which the explicit instruction was introduced. Cross and Paris used third and fifth grade students in their study. Yuill and Joscelyne conducted their project with eight-year-old students. The findings of this project, conducted with first graders, seem to suggest that the explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies should begin at an earlier stage in students' reading development. This supports the findings of Smolkin and Donovan (2001) who found that reading comprehension instruction should begin much earlier than it traditionally does. The findings of the present project also seem to suggest that students in primary grades may benefit from explicit instruction in reading comprehension at the same time they are learning to decode words for reading. Overall, it appears that the explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies for first grade students is a valuable teaching tool.

Implications for the Classroom

The results of this project seem to imply that the explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies should begin early in reading development. It appears that the reading comprehension of students may be positively affected by explicit instruction in strategy use, and that reading comprehension instruction should not be based solely on the comprehension of a particular text, as is common practice in many classrooms.

The results of this project further suggest that whole group instruction, which includes teacher modeling, paired with the opportunity for students to use the strategies independently, is appropriate to develop reading comprehension in young children. It appears that small group interaction to support whole group instruction may benefit students' use of reading comprehension strategies. These interactions provide a forum for discussion, provide an opportunity for scaffolding, and reveal understandings and difficulties students may be experiencing. During this project the use of small groups was most productive when the conversation was natural, rather than somewhat contrived from heavy reliance on written scripts. Students were more comfortable talking because they were making the decisions about where it was appropriate to stop for a discussion within the text. Because of this it is crucial that the teacher read the selected text prior to meeting with the small group to keep the conversation focused on what is happening in the story.

When teaching students to make connections it is important that they write and refer to the words they read in the books in an effort to keep their connections grounded in the text. Connections should be brief. Frequently students wanted to tell protracted stories connected to their personal experiences. If allowed to do so the comprehension may be of the student's experiential story rather than the text being read.

Reading comprehension instruction in the primary grade classroom is often specific to a text rather than global and applicable to all text. The purpose of this project was to determine the effects of explicit instruction of metacognitive strategies on the reading comprehension of one group of first graders. Whole and small group strategy instruction resulted in significant increases in students' use of reading comprehension strategies as well as their levels of reading comprehension. This approach appears to be an effective means of comprehension instruction for primary level students.


Beaver, J. (1999). The Developmental Reading Assessment. Lebanon, IN: Pearson Learning Publisher.

Cross, D. R., & Paris S. (1988). Developmental and instructional analyses of children's metacognition and reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(2), 131.

Dewitz, P., & Dewitz, P. K. (2003). They can read the words, but they can't understand: Refining comprehension assessment. The Reading Teacher, 56, 422-435.

Durkin, D. (1979). What classroom observations reveal about reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 14, 481-533.

Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (1996). Guided reading: Good first teaching for all children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Jacobs, J.E., Paris, S.G. (1987). Children's metacognition about reading: Issues in definition, measurement, and instruction. Educational Psychologist, 22, 255-278.

McLaughlin, M. (2003). Guided comprehension in the primary grades. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

National reading panel. (2000) Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Paris, S.G. & Oka, E. (1986). Children's reading strategies, metacognition, and motivation. Developmental Review, 6, 25-26.

Pearson Learning Group. (2005). Retrieved July 14, 2005 from http://www.pearsonlearning. com/dra/

Smolkin, L., Donovan, C. (2001). The contexts of comprehension: The information book read aloud, comprehension, and comprehension instruction in a first grade classroom. The Elementary School Journal, 102(2), 97-124.

Snow, C., Bums, M.S. & Griffin, E (Eds.). (1998). A cognitive and motivational agenda for reading instruction. Educational Leadership, 46(4), 30-36.

Yuill, N., & Joscelyne, T. (1988). Effect of organizational cues and strategies on good and poor comprehenders' story understanding. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(2), 152-158.


University of Arkansas


Rogers, Arkansas Public Schools
Table 1.
Results obtained from t-test for Reading Awareness Index
scores using an alpha of .01.

 Pretest Posttest

N Mean N Mean t t Stat p

24 19.42 24 22.17 2.807 2.972 .007

Note. Maximum score on pretest and posttest = 40.

Table 2.
Results obtained from t-test for Beaver Developmental Reading
Assessment using. 01 alpha.

 Pretest Posttest

N Mean N Mean t t Stat p

24 14.833 24 17.917 2.807 5.463 1.49

Note. Maximum score on DRA = 44.

Table 3.

Results obtained from analysis of anecdotal records collected
during stralegy instruction

Comprehension Strategy Independent Use Enhanced Comprehension

 N N

Connections 6 6
Prediction 4 4
Sequencing 3 3

Figure 7. Books used during the comprehension strategies project.

Comprehensive List of Trade Books Used During Whole and Small Group

Allard, Henry G. Miss Nelson Is Missing
Brett, Jan. The Hat
Osborne, Mary Pope. Mummies in the Morning
Prelutsky, Jack. Awful Ogre Rises
Rylant, Cynthia. Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night
Rylant, Cynthia. Henry and Mudge Take the Big Test
San Souci, Daniel. North Country Night
Shannon, David. No, David!
Shannon, David. David Goes to School
Sharmat, Marjorie & Craig. Nate the Great and the Crunchy Christmas
Sharmat, Marjorie. Nate the Great and the Snowy Trail
Wood, Audrey. King Bidgood's in the Bathtub
Wood, Audrey. The Napping House
Yolen, Jane. Owl Moon

Figure 8. Independent use of metacognitive comprehension strategies.

Comprehension Observation of Independent Graphic Organizer
Strategy Use of Strategy Used

Prior Knowledge:
Text-to-self During week four of the Words from the
 project a student was observed text were recorded
 sharing an unsolicited on sticky notes
 connection. Jumping out of during reading and
 his seat the student stated, later recorded by
 "I have a text-to-self the students' onto
 connection! When I read 'he graphic organizers
 opened his wide mouth' it (See Figure 2).
 reminded me I went on a walk
 and saw a snake."

Text-to-text Students were observed using
 the correct terminology. The
 researcher observed a student
 holding two books and stating
 "I made a test-to-text. These
 two books are both about frogs
 and polliwogs."

Text-to-world Independent use of genuine
 connections were recorded in
 small group and whole group
 instruction. During small
 group a student asked "What's
 this word?"

 "Tomb robber," the researcher
 replied. "That's someone who
 would break into the pyramid
 to steal what had been left
 with the mummy."

 "Oh, those bad guys on the
 news kicked in the ... the
 thingees;'she shared.

 "Do you mean gravestones'?"

 "Yes, they kicked over the
 gravestones on the news,"
 she agreed.

Prediction The student makes the Students recorded
 prediction "I'm thinking that what was happened
 the mummy is going to come in the text they
 in." The student checked her had just read and
 prediction and circled the followed with a
 plus sign to indicate that her prediction about
 prediction was correct. what would occur
 next (See Figure

Sequencing The student indicates "they Students used a
 went owling", "Pa called hoo, story graph to
 hoo, hooooooo", and "they saw sequence the
 a owl" as being the most events of a story
 important events in the story. they had read. The
 student then
 indicated which
 events were
 perceived as being
 most important
 (See Figure 4).

 The student writes and Students used a
 illustrates the beginning of graphic organizer
 the story as David is late. to sequence the
 The middle of the story is beginning, middle,
 David has gum and the student and end of a book
 writes David cleans desks as they had read (See
 the end of the story. Figure 5).
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Author:Eilers, Linda H.; Pinkley, Christine
Publication:Reading Improvement
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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