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  1. Venable, Gail Portnuff MS, CCC-SLP

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Improving Reading Comprehension, by Joanne F. Carlisle and Melinda S. Rice. Baltimore, MD: York Press, 2002. Paperback, 300 pages, $35.00.


Improving Reading Comprehension will be an indispensable resource for speech language pathologists (SLPs), resource specialists, classroom teachers, and others interested in teaching students with reading difficulties. The book brings together research from the fields of regular education, special education and speech language pathology, and shows how this research can guide teachers in making informed decisions about the best methods to use with their own students. It provides a wealth of guidance for SLPs-both for their direct work with students and for their collaboration with classroom teachers on language and literacy instruction. It would be an excellent text to use in graduate training programs and inservice training for working professionals.


A look at the chapter titles reveals the scope of the book:


* Instruction in Reading Comprehension: Goals and Challenges


* The Nature of Problems with Reading Comprehension


* Fluency and Its Relation to Reading Comprehension


* Comprehension Strategy Instruction


* Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension


* Sentence Comprehension Instruction


* Texts and Discourse Comprehension


* Teaching Comprehension at the Elementary Level


* Comprehension Instruction in Content Areas


* Assessment of Reading Comprehension


* Implementation of Effective Practices in the Schools


* Grappling with Decisions about Reading Instruction for Struggling Readers



Each chapter begins with a set of thought-provoking questions to be answered in the text. After the questions, the chapter reviews relevant research in depth, clearly delineating whether significant effects have been found only for normal readers or for students with learning disabilities as well. Then the authors present other issues that teachers need to think about to make informed instructional decisions. Each chapter concludes with a set of commonly asked questions and answers that extend and refine the practical discussion. Every chapter includes extensive references.


A look at the chapter on Comprehension Strategy Instruction illustrates the format of the book. Many teachers and therapists have learned that instruction in reading comprehension strategies has been shown to improve reading comprehension, but teachers may be uncertain about which strategies should be taught to which students, and how. In this chapter, the authors describe in detail a broad range of comprehension strategies that have been used with students, within the categories of Preparatory (e.g., accessing prior knowledge), Organizational (e.g., summarizing and mapping), Elaborative (e.g., inferencing and constructing visual images), and Executive (e.g., recognizing and repairing comprehension breakdowns) strategies. The authors then discuss which strategies have been shown to help students with learning disabilities and which have not. The Commonly Asked Questions section suggests that teachers can maximize the effectiveness of their strategy instruction by considering the characteristics of the learner as well as the nature of the text and the purpose of the task. With respect to learner characteristics, for example, the authors suggest that although good readers may be able to handle multistep strategies and learn more than one strategy at a time, poor decoders may have deficits in working memory that would make it difficult for them to read and to apply complex multistep strategies at the same time. Such students might benefit from simpler procedures with fewer steps.


The chapters on Sentence Comprehension Instruction and Vocabulary may be of particular interest to SLPs. In the former chapter, the authors discuss the impact of poor grammatical awareness on reading development and the types of sentences that cause students particular difficulty. They describe activities that have been shown to improve sentence comprehension. In the Vocabulary chapter, the authors discuss the relationship between vocabulary and reading comprehension, and the effects of reading difficulties on vocabulary development. They then delineate the methods of instruction that can best be expected to help students with learning disabilities improve their vocabularies.


The final chapter of the book presents seven vignettes that show teachers, administrators, parents, and students confronting real life problems. These vignettes are designed "to help readers review and integrate the knowledge they have acquired from the different chapters." The authors encourage readers to use vignettes and accompanying discussion questions to stimulate group problem-solving.


In Improving Reading Comprehension, Joanne Carlisle and Melinda Rice have integrated research and practice, and combined the research findings of multiple fields of study. They have made a unique contribution with this boundary-crossing book.