Transferring strategy use effectively from a particular classroom context to other classrooms or to contexts outside the school has proven difficult (National Research Council, 2000; RAND, 2002a). Several quasi-experimental studies suggest the benefit of embedding strategy instruction in content learning (Guthrie et al., 1998a, b). The purpose of the strategy as a tool for understanding challenging text and the need to adapt the strategy to the activity are both more apparent when embedded in content. Students become more proficient at deliberate strategy use as a means for learning (Brown, 1997).
For well over a decade, research findings have confirmed the benefits of metacognitive strategy instruction (Pressley et al., 1989; Rosenshine and Meister, 1994; Rosenshine et al., 1996). In reviewing the studies that met their methodological standards, the National Reading Panel concluded, “when readers are given cognitive strategy instruction, they make significant gains on measures of reading comprehension over students trained with conventional instruction procedures” (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000:4-40).
Research also suggests that the classroom norms and practices that promote reading comprehension are those that enhance student motivation and engagement (RAND, 2002a). That motivation is important is hardly surprising given that reading comprehension requires effortful engagement of multiple cognitive processes. The RAND review concludes that teachers who give students choices, challenging tasks, and opportunities for collaborative learning increase their motivation to comprehend text. Both classroom observation (Turner, 1995) and quasi-experimental studies (Reeve et al., 1999) suggest the importance of student choice and autonomy that are limited but meaningful in increasing motivation.
Unlike word decoding, comprehension is not an isolated ability the mastery of which can be straightforwardly measured. Comprehension takes place at the intersection of the reader, the text, and the activity. Assessing progress of an individual student and diagnosing problems requires attention to that interaction. While the person must bring or develop the requisite skills, what is requisite will depend on the text to be comprehended and the purpose for which it is being read.