We conducted our first Comprehending Comprehension conversation, but had no idea what to expect. Would people talk? Would people ask questions? Would Doug and Trina have anything useful to contribute? We are still not sure about this last one, but…people did talk – and for that we are truly grateful. Besides working through some technical difficulties, we believed it went well overall. We hope the conversation will continue and eventually lead to actionable solutions and partnerships.
In true conversation form, the content was unscripted and unplanned. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t helpful and can’t be captured for later consumption. Here’s our recap.
Listening comprehension and reading comprehension: Are they the same or different? Of course, that is a loaded question. Why would we pose such a question when to most people, the obvious answer is that they are different? First, let’s get clear definitions of the constructs involved. We subscribe to the Simple View of Reading (although we could get behind the Narrow View of Reading too…thanks Alan Kamhi!). Reading comprehension is the product of word recognition and listening comprehension. Because it is a multiplication formula, if either word recognition or listening comprehension were zero, their product would also be zero.
- Reading comprehension = ability to understand printed text (see the text)
- Listening comprehension = ability to understand spoken text (hear the text)
- Word recognition = ability to translate printed text into pronounceable words
*Although in some contexts “decoding” only refers to a special type of word recognition (i.e., recognizing printed words using a sound-by-sound strategy), we will use it to refer to all types of word recognition for ease of language.
*Trina learned from her linguist friends that “text” refers to both spoken or written samples. It will help us here too.
Language = “Socially shared code or conventional system for representing concepts through the use of arbitrary symbols and rule-governed combinations of those symbols.” – Owens, 2008).
In reading comprehension, one decodes a story/passage and in listening comprehension, one listens to a story/passage. The input is visual for reading comprehension but aural for listening comprehension. Because of the availability of printed material during reading comprehension, the input is not fleeting like it is when the text is heard. Because of a fleeting input source, listening comprehension depends on strong auditory memory skills. However, visual memory skills are taxed during reading comprehension. Attention and other executive functioning skills seem to be relevant for both listening and reading comprehension, but there is less research on how these factors contribute to comprehension across modalities. Print includes punctuation that helps the reader know when and how to pause or how to interpret a phrase (e.g., dialogue), but in listening comprehension the listener can use the speaker’s prosody (rhythm and intonation of speech), gestures and facial expressions to glean clues about meaning. Are these suprasegmentals part of language, or are they part of the entire communication process added to language? This is an important question to consider when asking whether oral language and written language are the same or different.
Many suggest that reading comprehension is more challenging than listening comprehension because written texts are typically more complex…in other words, they include more challenging words and sentence structures. This is certainly true if we compare written textbook academic language to that of oral conversation. However, IF the same text is delivered in print and aurally, there are minimal text characteristic differences…only delivery differences. Another thing that makes people think that reading comprehension and listening comprehension are different is the way in which they are typically assessed. In schools, listening comprehension is rarely assessed (which also means it is rarely the focus of intervention). If it is, it most likely takes the form of pointing to pictures after hearing either a single word or a short phrase or sentence. Sometimes, it is measured by having the student listen to a short story or passage and answer recall and inferential questions about it. In contrast, educators often measure reading comprehension (or attempt to measure it). Different measurement approaches include counting the number of words a child retells after decoding a story/passage, using a cloze procedure (filling in the missing word), answering recall and inferential questions after decoding a story/passage, or using reading fluency as a general indicator of comprehension. What’s important here, is that we can’t fairly compare listening and reading comprehension unless the tasks involved in their measurement (or teaching) are equivalent. Otherwise, task differences are to blame, not construct differences. In a recent study, we used parallel and interchangeable texts loaded with complex academic language to examine the relationship between listening and reading comprehension. We delivered identical texts to second and third graders in two different delivery modalities: print and aural. Students responded using the same task format in both conditions: oral retelling, answering recall questions, and defining words based on context clues. We found that there was a very strong correlation (e.g., r =.79) between reading comprehension and listening comprehension.
So why does it matter if listening comprehension and reading comprehension are the same or different? Here are our thoughts on this; If listening and reading comprehension are generally the same then this is good news! We can assess listening comprehension BEFORE students can fluently decode and that would tell us how much a student would comprehend if they decoded the text instead of listened to it. Insight into students’ reading comprehension abilities in early grades would likely lead to more differentiated and intensive intervention opportunities for struggling students BEFORE they have to take high stakes tests and BEFORE they fail.
Right now, because schools are not routinely measuring listening comprehension or measuring it in a manner that aligns with reading comprehension, vulnerable groups of students (e.g., economically disadvantaged, English learners) are not receiving appropriate interventions to prevent reading comprehension problems (i.e., listening comprehension interventions). The preponderance of data suggests that listening comprehension abilities limit what one can comprehend when reading and that schools do not need to wait until reading comprehension can be reliably measured (i.e., second or third grade) to work intensively on listening comprehension. As noted by one of our friends in our online conversation, the RAND (2002) report indicated that we need an increased focus on valid and reliable comprehension assessment: “Unfortunately, most currently used comprehension assessments reflect the purpose for which they were originally developed—to sort children on a single dimension by using a single method. (p. 53)”
This limited focus on single features, such as vocabulary, narrows the curriculum and will not lead to successful reading comprehension. While we promote solutions that include strong phonics instruction, we worry that the lack of routine measurement of listening comprehension in early grades makes it easy to forget how important it is for reading success. So to conclude, we believe listening comprehension and reading comprehension are same enough…to use listening comprehension as a proxy for reading comprehension during early grades.
Here are a few of our favorite articles on the topic. Just click and read!
Short & Sweet Readings
If We Don’t Look, We Won’t See https://rb.gy/yykokp
Comprehension Difficulties https://rb.gy/otd1js
Recommended Readings (just a small selection of really good articles)
Predicting 2nd Grade Listening Comprehension https://rb.gy/dnen5k
Linguistic Comprehension and Narrative Skills Predict Reading https://rb.gy/rihl17
Language Deficits in Poor Comprehenders https://rb.gy/h2ypcl
Relationship Between Listening and Reading Comprehension https://rb.gy/cyypwz
Speaking Out for Language https://rb.gy/imroxo
Unique and Common Effects of Decoding and Language https://rb.gy/gfhuln
Simple View of Reading https://rb.gy/6jxif4
On the Importance of Listening Comprehension https://rb.gy/1gd4wg
Case for the Narrow View of Reading https://rb.gy/asno1r
Modeling the Early Language Trajectory https://rb.gy/oraorf
Using Parallel Measures to Examine Listening and Reading Comprehension https://rb.gy/rpmyov
Reading for Understanding (RAND) https://rb.gy/vzg2hs
Early Screening for Decoding- and Language-Related Difficulties https://rb.gy/wt4ldf
Beyond Decoding https://rb.gy/wy5eo3
Science of Language and Reading https://rb.gy/wisxau
Reading Disorders Revisited: The Critical Importance of Oral Language https://rb.gy/ikuqw0
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