Building reading instruction around comprehension strategies is not only ineffective, it also takes the joy out of reading, writes Dan Willingham in his latest blog post.
The UVA cognitive scientist has long argued that while reading strategies have some value–principally in helping students understand that what they read should have some communicative value–it’s a huge mistake to think of reading comprehension as a transferable skill that can be learned, practiced, and applied to any text. Practicing reading strategies ad nauseam doesn’t confer any particular advantage. Data are hard to find on just how much time is spent in practice on “finding the main idea,” “determining the author’s purpose” and other such strategies in the average classroom. “But whatever the proportion of time, much of it is wasted, at least if educators think it’s improving comprehension,” Willingham writes, “because the one-time boost to comprehension can be had for perhaps five or ten sessions of 20 or 30 minutes each.”
Moreover, Willingham notes that the wasted time “represents a significant opportunity cost.” Why? Because building reading instruction around strategies “makes reading really boring”:
“How can you get lost in a narrative world if you think you’re supposed to be posing questions to yourself all the time? How can a child get really absorbed in a book about ants or meteorology if she thinks that reading means pausing every now and then to anticipate what will happen next, or to question the author’s purpose?
If one of the goals in reading instruction is to develop a love of reading, strategies instruction is not merely unhelpful, but counterproductive, he argues. “Reading comprehension strategies seem to take a process that could bring joy, and turn it into work,” Willingham concludes.