Improving Comprehension: Part 4

Welcome back to the Improving Reading Comprehension Series!

Don't forget to check out Parts 1-3!
Part 1: Research and Questions
Part 2: Purpose and Methods
Part 3: Evidence from the Classroom

Results and Conclusions

As you could see from the previous post with the evidence from my classroom, there were many things I learned from completing this inquiry in my classroom.  It did not only benefit me as an educator but also the students learning. Here is a short summary of the findings!

As you could see from the charts, there were a few things that were very evident:

  • most ELL students are well below the grade level norm
  • there is a vast disconnect between reading comprehension and reading fluency in ELL students
  • those who excel in reading fluency often do not understand what they are reading
  • there is a difference in reading achievement in fiction and non fiction texts
  • Good progress in reading comprehension and fluency in ELL students is possible with the right strategies
Once the data showed the trends and proved the disconnect between fluency and comprehension, I was able to begin testing some different theories to see what worked best for students. Initially I had not planned to have motivation as part of this inquiry, but through the inquiry found that it was an essential part in reading achievement - for any student, but especially for ELL students. I also unexpectedly found the differences in reading achievement between fiction and non-fiction texts. From this inquiry I learned the following things:
  • ELL students have higher achievement in reading when motivated (through fun tasks, challenges, book clubs, opportunities to think outside the box)
  • ELL students benefit from having attainable and measurable reading goals
  • Vocabulary is one of the largest, if not the largest obstacle in reading comprehension for ELL students
  • ELL students build vocabulary through explicit teaching of meaning
  • Vocabulary is best learned in context rather than by giving the definition, making close reading a very effective strategy for teaching vocabulary
  • Choosing appropriate vocabulary words is even more important than I previously thought
I found that often times a challenging vocabulary word that will not come up very often in the future is not worth working on, but can simply be explained so the student can understand the sentence or paragraph. The words to focus on are the words that are used frequently, but it can often be challenging to pick out the words that the students may not know. They always seem to surprise me. Following these high frequency vocabulary words, subject specific words are important in context. It is also important not to overwhelm the students with too many words! Quality over quantity here; it is more beneficial for the students to fully understand a few words rather than somewhat understand a lot, or lose the meanings altogether.

 What do you think? Please leave your comments below!


  1. I am also a teacher teaching ELL students (Grade 2) and what I found was that interest is the most important component when motivating students to read. Once the students have developed phonemic awareness it truly brings the letters, words, and stories to life for the students. The student become more confident when the reading is decodable based on reading strategies and phonic lessons taught during class.

  2. WOW... this is a really good piece, and it puts it all into perspective!

    Working in the same environment and population, I have experienced much of the same situations that you have mentioned. Reading and comprehension of a certain text, is the most challenging part of reading as ELL learners. Knowing most letters and sounds, it is "easy" for them to sound out words and read it, but knowing what it means is the challenge.

    I have various leveled reading groups in my classroom. The students that I know are capable of reading and comprehending, can read independently, while the intermediate group would read either with me or a teaching assistant and discuss the meaning of words. These two group mostly have mastered "high frequency words". The group that really find reading and sounding out words challenging, I work on "high frequency words" most of the time, engaging them with hands-on fun activities.

    I agree that vocabulary words are better learned in context, than in isolation. Therefore, I do not necessarily like to teach "spelling words" as such. I have tried to connect the spelling of words and their meaning, in order for them to recognize the word, as well as understand what it means, and in turn be able to use it within context when writing or when retelling what they have read.

    Thank you again, enjoyed reading about your experience and findings. :)

    1. Hi Chantelle! Thanks for your comment.
      I definitely feel the same way about spelling words. I do not think they are effective for ELL students unless used in the correct way. With this being said, we cannot just take any old spelling words, they must be carefully selected to represent a phonics rule and coincide with a story or at least context so the students can make meaning from them. It is not useful for them to be able to spell words that they don't understand!

      Thanks again :)

  3. Hi Lindsay,

    Excellent study here. Totally agree when it comes to those vocabulary words, learn them in context and in as many contexts we can, in a variety of ways (text, movies, art, drama). Repeat, repeat, repeat throughout the year. Spelling words, agree. Absolutely useless to memorize a selection of words without meaning attached. Word walls- illustrated words the children need for that unit only. Yes- When will they have to use words like defecting! or apprentice! I agree we have to look more closely at that.
    For our students we have to be careful of the vocabulary words we use, the resources we use and finally vertically and horizontally align standards so that all children can access the curriculum and learn with quality not quantity.

    Thank you for sharing Lindsay

    Thank you for sharing :-)

  4. I love following this reading series! As I am also an ELL teacher, I am finding your results to be very interesting and helpful. The part that struck me the most in this post was your statement about quality over quantity. While I know this to be true, I am happy for the reminder. Often I want me ELL students to learn so many new vocabulary words so that they have a better comprehension of what they are reading. However, you are right that it is better we focus on less and have them truly understand it. I will alter my techniques for my next English lessons.

    I also found it interesting that the vocabulary is learnt better in context rather than a separate lesson. With ELL students I made the assumption it would be better to introduce the vocabulary to my students prior to them reading so that they would understand it once they reached that part. However I see why it is more beneficial to have them learn through close reading.

    Thank you for sharing these results with us! I feel inspired to try some new things with my students!

  5. Motivation - You have noted a very good point there with that one. I see motivation as being the first key to unlocking an ELL students ability to comprehend what they are reading. Not only do ELL students need motivation to read, but native speakers as well. Whether we read for enjoyment, or to learn something new, native speakers are more motivated because we have the vocabulary needed in order to understand what we are reading. Therefore we get enjoyment out of what we are reading or we learn about what we are reading easier than say someone who is does not understand the subject specific words (if that makes any sense). From reading your findings it has made me think about where reading comprehension really begins. It obviously starts with the student picking up a book and being motivated to read it and understand what they are reading.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your comprehension series! It is so relevant to me and has made me really think about what I am doing to help my wee ones with comprehension. At this stage they are learning phonics and some sight words, but I am making sure that they have the ability to question and think about the text that I read to them. I am also flooding their little minds with new vocabulary whenever I talk or read to them. I am sure this will help when it comes time for them to read.

    Well done Lindsay. I will continue to follow your blog with much interest :)