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  1. Snyder, Lynn PhD
  2. Caccamise, Donna PhD

Article Content

This issue of Topics in Language Disorders (TLD) was motivated by two events. First, 25 years ago, one of us (Snyder, 1980) published an article in the inaugural issue of TLD that questioned whether professionals had prepared children with language disorders for school, with particular attention to the discourse-processing demands of reading. As the journal prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the currency of the original question is striking. At the same time, it seems appropriate to examine how perspectives on critical skills, such as reading comprehension, have evolved.


The second event consisted of interdisciplinary and interagency interactions the co-issue editors were experiencing as investigators on one of a number of projects funded by the Interagency Education Research Initiative (IERI) to scale innovative educational practices for widespread applications in schools. This work led us to interact with researchers from across the United States (and internationally), and also across disciplines, who were concerned with scaling up interventions for reading comprehension. The convergence of these two events highlighted for the issue editors that in the last 25 years, both researchers and practitioners in language disorders have paid increasing attention to discourse-processing skills, which allow readers to construct meaning from text they read. Although the field has come a long way in understanding the discourse processes that Snyder initially described in 1980, the relevance of the focus on discourse level abilities has not diminished.


We viewed TLD as the perfect forum for an update on current approaches to conceptualizing, measuring, and treating reading comprehension, not only because of the relevance of the topic, but also because of the journal's long tradition in promoting conversations among researchers and practitioners across disciplines. In some quarters, cognitive scientists, general educators, and speech-language pathologists might be thought to be unlikely bedfellows, but, as our interactions have shown, teams with members across these disciplines have become very productive. With TLD's interdisciplinary history, this anniversary issue seemed especially suited to conveying how interdisciplinary teams are advancing our understanding of how readers comprehend text and also promoting the development of innovative and powerful methods to facilitate and measure children's reading comprehension. Authors for this issue include cognitive scientists, developmental psychologists, experimental psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and a special educator. As this group of interdisciplinary authors emphasizes, it is a combination of theoretical and technological advances that have played a critical role in the ability both to understand what happens when readers encounter information in a text and what can be done to develop responsive, innovative interventions that promote deeper levels of comprehension in children and adults. As an interdisciplinary team ourselves, we edited this issue in order to provide TLD readers with the most current thinking and benchmark research in reading comprehension.


The first article, by Caccamise and Snyder, discusses recent theories about the nature of reading comprehension, with particular attention to the most prominent theory, the Construction-Integration model. It also introduces the second main theme of this issue by providing examples of technology-based interventions. The article that follows, which was contributed by Nation and Norbury, colleagues from "across the pond" at the University of Oxford, explores the reading comprehension difficulties of different groups of children with developmental disabilities, all of which are associated with oral language problems. Nation and Norbury also describe a model that can be used to understand the relationship between oral language and reading, disentangling different reading behaviors by referencing variations in underlying phonological versus nonphonological skills. This article has particular relevance for clinical practice in the schools.


In order to better identify children with reading comprehension problems, better models of assessment are needed. A third article, by Snyder, Caccamise, and Wise, addresses the issue of assessment. These authors review different assessment types and purposes, provide guidelines for the selection of reading comprehension assessment tools, and point to pitfalls to avoid. They also review two technology-based assessments of reading comprehension.


Assessment without intervention can do little to address concerns about disorders of reading comprehension. The next two articles in this issue examine different aspects of intervention for reading comprehension problems. The first, by Kintsch, from the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, discusses how to ask thoughtful questions that facilitate reading comprehension. This information leads to clear guidelines that clinicians and teachers can use to formulate their questions both for facilitating and measuring comprehension. Kintsch also describes a computer-based reading tutor designed to facilitate reading comprehension that incorporates the guided questioning outlined in the article. The second intervention-focused article, by Best, Rowe, Ozuru, and McNamara at the University of Memphis, addresses one of the greater reading comprehension challenges faced by many students in the upper elementary through postsecondary years, that is, the comprehension of science texts. These authors explore the difficulties that students encounter in science texts, in particular the problems they face when inferences must be generated. The authors then point the way to remedial strategies, including computer-based applications that can be used with individuals and groups to facilitate comprehension among students with varying levels of need for explicit connections within texts.


In many ways, we have developed this issue as a marriage of mind and technology. As researchers, we have discovered that technology-borrowing words from Star Trek, has allowed us "to boldly go where no man has gone before" in our understanding of how readers comprehend information in text. As clinicians and educators, we have also learned that nothing levels the playing field like a classroom full of children. It is our hope that this issue of TLD represents both of these worlds.


Lynn Snyder, PhD


Issue Editor, Professor, Department of Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences, Director, Center for Language and Hearing, University of Colorado at Boulder


Donna Caccamise, PhD


Issue Editor, Associate Director, Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado




Snyder, L. S. (1980). Have we prepared the language disordered child for school? Topics in Language Disorders, 1(1), 29-45. [Context Link]