Effective Comprehension Strategies 

with Nonfiction Texts for Fifth Grade: 

An Action Research Study

Robin Applegarth

Megan Leonard

Beth Schmidt

Karen Shanahan

 

 

Abstract

Children’s understanding and application of comprehension strategies are essential to their success as listeners, speakers, readers, and writers.  In order to increase the comprehension of students, comprehension strategies need to be explicitly taught in the classroom.  Although there has been recent research found emphasizing the importance of teaching and applying effective comprehension strategies for nonfiction text, there has been little research conducted that focuses on specific strategies.  Therefore, the group members have conducted an action research study over a week and a half time period pertaining to two comprehension strategies, Question-Answer-Relationship (QAR) and Survey-Question-Read-Record-Recite (SQ3R).  Overall, both strategies proved to have some impact on the students’ comprehension within the limits of the study.  However, one of the comprehension strategies appeared to be more effective than the other one in terms of the students’ written responses to the nonfiction texts and their overall reactions to learning a new strategy.  To conclude, specific comprehension strategies are beneficial for teachers to teach and implement in their classrooms, in order to help increase the comprehension of all students.

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

     The intent of this action research study was to identify effective comprehension strategies to increase comprehension in fifth grade students when using nonfiction texts, with a focus on the utilization of two comprehension strategies.  According to the National Reading Panel (2000) research suggests that “teaching one comprehension strategy can lead to an improvement in understanding and that teaching multiple comprehension strategies can have an even more profound impact (Pressley, 2000)” (Duke, 2004, Teach Comprehension Strategies section, ¶ 4).  With the limited amount of research found regarding the utilization and implications of specific comprehension strategies, the members of our group felt it would be advantageous to conduct an action research study pertaining to two strategies, QAR and SQ3R.  We were interested to determine whether or not explicitly teaching two comprehension strategies would have a positive impact on fifth grade students’ overall comprehension of nonfiction texts.  Therefore, the question that was addressed through the action research study was, which strategy, Question-Answer-Relationship (QAR) or Survey-Question-Read-Recite-Record (SQ3R), will increase the comprehension of fifth grade students when reading nonfiction texts?    

 

 

Literature Review

     After much discussion, the members of our research group collectively decided that it would be important to explore various strategies to help students learn and apply comprehension strategies more effectively and productively with nonfiction texts.  Comprehension is a vital aspect of the language arts curriculum.  According to Stahl (2004), there are many roles of comprehension strategies.  Therefore, there are a variety of ways to instruct comprehension techniques, so no two teachers will approach teaching the strategies in the same manner (Barton & Sawyer, 2003, ¶ 1).  Furthermore, there are numerous definitions of comprehension available from a multitude of resources.  In terms of our research study, the group members found the terminology ‘text comprehension’ to be the most applicable.  Text comprehension is defined as “the ability to understand or get meaning from text (any type of written material)” (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001, p. 471).  Understanding what is being read is the reason for reading and therefore is a critical component of all learning.  If readers can read the words in the texts, but cannot understand what is read, then they are not really making meaning as they read.  Therefore, providing students with comprehension strategies can help them determine the meaning of what is being read.  When teachers teach comprehension as a strategic process, it enables the readers to make connections with what they are reading and then allows them to move beyond a literal recall of the texts (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001).  “The unstated premise is that children who actively engage in particular cognitive strategies (activating prior knowledge, predicting, organizing, questioning, summarizing, and creating a mental image) are likely to understand and recall more of what they read” (Stahl, 2004, ¶ 5).  Overall, students need to be able to apply comprehension strategies before, during, and after reading, in order to be strategic and successful readers. 

The sole purpose of nonfiction is to convey information about the natural world and the social world.  Learning how to successfully read nonfiction is essential to succeeding in school, the workplace, and in society.  Unfortunately, many students and adults struggle to comprehend nonfiction text (Duke, 2004).  It seems to be an issue that emerges as students begin to read nonfiction.  Therefore, students need to be exposed to nonfiction texts beginning in the primary grades before they are immersed in a multitude of nonfiction texts in the intermediate grades and beyond. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):

 

About one third of American fourth graders read proficiently at their grade level.  Another third have only partial mastery of the knowledge and skills appropriate for reading at the fourth grade level, and the bottom third of the population fails to reach even that low level of performance (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004), (Williams, 2005, p. 6).

 

Furthermore, according to McCrudden, Perkins, and Putney (2005), “learning to read is an effortful, long-term process that requires sustained motivation on the part of the reader” (¶ 1).  This is such a telling statement and one that educators need to factor in when teaching their students on a daily basis.  This is even more pertinent when it comes to nonfiction texts because these types of texts tend to be more difficult for students to read than fiction texts.  

It is imperative that educators acknowledge the affects self-efficacy and motivation have on students’ ability to read and comprehend texts.  In the research by McCrudden et al. (2005), they found that when explicit strategy instruction and practice with reading strategies occurred, students’ self-efficacy and interest increased.  These findings also correlated with previous research conducted by Kitsantas, Zimmerman, and Cleary (2000), who found that when students observe and practice a modeled skill, their self-efficacy and interest increases (McCrudden et al., 2005, ¶ 1).  Overall, as educators, it is important that we keep this information in mind and utilize a motivational approach to teaching on a consistent basis in the classroom, especially when it comes to something that students may find difficult, such as comprehending nonfiction texts. 

Expository text plays a key role in reading especially from the fourth grade on because students stop reading as many narrative texts and begin reading more expository texts.  Kendra Hall, Brenda Sabey, and Michelle McClellan (2005) from Brigham Young University conducted a study on expository text comprehension.  According to their study entitled, Expository Text Comprehension: Helping Primary-Grade Teachers Use Expository Texts to Full Advantage, “expository, or ‘informational’ texts convey and communicate factual information.  These texts contain more unfamiliar vocabulary and concepts, fewer ideas related to the here-and-now, and less information directly related to personal experience” (Hall et al., 2005, p. 212).  As a result of how the text is structured, students need to be explicitly taught how to use expository text effectively.  With that being said, several instructional programs have been created, in order to help increase the comprehension of expository text.  These programs focus on vocabulary, text structure, or text signals.  “Text structure awareness has been shown to be an important foundation for facilitating text comprehension and recall (Dickson et al., 1998)” (Hall et al., 2005, p. 215).  Regardless of what program teachers may utilize in their classrooms though, it is important that they are knowledgeable of the different elements of the program being utilized and how to most effectively integrate them into their instruction.

In addition, it has been found that students who are taught expository text comprehension strategies are better able to compare and contrast and write better summaries than students who did not receive explicit instruction in comprehension strategies.  This type of instruction is typically taught in the intermediate grades.  However, recently there has been a greater demand for expository text to be implemented beginning in the primary grades, even if it is just exposure, such as in a read aloud format.

According to Hall et al. (2005), early childhood and primary grade educators are focusing their instruction on narrative texts and neglecting exposing their students to expository texts.  “In fact, this neglect of expository text in the primary grades may be a major contributor to the prevalent decline in reading achievement, especially beginning in the fourth grade (Shall et al., 1990)” (Hall et al., 2005, p. 212).  However, teachers can assist students with their comprehension of expository texts by teaching them the structure and the format of different expository texts beginning in the primary grades.  It is important that teachers carefully select well structured, quality readings and then correctly model the comprehension strategies to be applied to these texts, in order for students to increase their comprehension of nonfiction texts.  Furthermore, according to Hall et al. (2005), “quality expository text comprehension instruction as a part of literacy instruction in the early grades may play a part in providing young children with the preparation they need to meet these increasing requirements and succeed in both school and their lives” (p. 231).  This is such an important statement made by the researchers and one that educators who teach students in the early grades need to be aware of and vigilant in integrating expository instruction within their language arts curriculum through meaningful and developmentally appropriate practices.

Hall et al. (2005) further discovered that emerging readers are able to recognize expository language in texts, as well as recall the content of what was read more effectively.  The researchers stated that the more exposure to expository material could potentially enhance the readers’ already existing abilities, which will then prepare them for work being expected in the later grades (Hall et al., 2005).  Therefore, comprehension strategies are necessary to help organize and make sense of expository text.  When students have comprehension strategies that they utilize when reading nonfiction texts, they can then make meaning in a more thorough and applicable way.  Based on the findings of Hall et al. (2005), providing systematic and focused instruction of expository text as early as the second grade proved beneficial to the students’ general understanding of the texts being read.  Overall, the research implied that explicit instruction with expository texts is needed across the grade levels, in order for an increase in comprehension to occur for all students.

Additional research has also found that explicit instruction with expository text has proven to be beneficial for all students.  Joanna Williams, Kendra Hall, Kristen Lauer, K. Brooke Stafford, and Laura DeSisto (2005), all from Teachers College at Columbia University, conducted a study that resulted in similar findings as the Hall et al. (2005) article regarding explicitly teaching students about expository texts.  Williams et al. (2005), noted the following in their article entitled, Expository Text Comprehension in the Primary Grade Classroom:

 

Middle-school students who were given explicit instruction recalled more information on an essay test than did students who received more traditional instruction that included general comprehension questions and summarization.  In addition, the structure-trained students identified more main ideas than did the other students, an indication that explicit instruction in structure facilitates the development of a well-structured mental representation (p. 539).

 

It further suggested in this study that the knowledge gained from utilizing the Text Structure Program can be incorporated into different academic content areas (Williams et al., 2005).  However, this point was made regarding the impact explicit instruction has on middle-school students, so the researchers recommended that more research be conducted in different grade levels, in order to determine if explicit instruction would be beneficial as it relates to their study for all grade levels.  The group members also felt that further studies on this particular topic would be advantageous in learning how to teach expository texts more explicitly and effectively in different leveled classrooms.  This study, as well as the Hall et al. (2005) study, suggested that expository text is harder than narrative text due to the unfamiliar text structures (Williams et al., 2005).  However, expository text is an area of reading that needs to be taught more effectively to students, so they can be successful when reading various nonfiction texts and then comprehending what is read, especially since a large portion of reading from the fourth grade on is from textbooks.

Gavin Brown (2003), an assessment researcher at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, suggested that using informational texts is advantageous.  In his research article entitled, Searching Informational Texts: Text and Task Characteristics That Affect Performance, he advocated that students need to be taught how to use informational texts.  “One reason that informational texts may be important to older students is that they motivate them to widen their knowledge of content areas and interests (Newman, 2002)” (Brown, 2003, Reading Informational Texts section, ¶ 2).  Brown (2003), as did Williams et al. (2005), suggested that the patterns of expository text differ from narrative text, which makes them more difficult to read overall.  However, it is important that students learn how to get over the complexities of text structure in expository text, in order to read and comprehend texts.  Brown’s study (2003) further suggested that there is a high correlation between the ability to use text structure and a students’ general reading comprehension.  “The ability to search informational texts, to recognize the organizational structure of text, or to construct appropriate search terms based on the incorporation of various implicit elements are sophisticated skills that can be taught” (Brown, 2003, Discussion section, ¶ 6).  Again, this research article emphasized the importance for explicit instruction to occur in all classrooms because students must be taught strategies for how to use the text structure of nonfiction texts, in order to comprehend what is read.

Students also need to be able to effectively locate appropriate information, in order to respond to questions independently, which cannot necessarily be answered using only their prior knowledge.  In the article entitled, The Application of Question-Answer- Relationship Strategies to Pictures, by Emma Cortese (2003), she suggested that “the absence of comprehension is related to not knowing the relevant questions to ask, and not knowing how to find the relevant answers” (p. 374).  Therefore, it is important that teachers are cognizant of the different comprehension strategies available, as well as their roles, in order to help students become strategic learners.

Jennifer Conner’s (2006) article entitled, Instructional Reading Strategy: QAR (Question-Answer-Relationship) discussed the QAR strategy, which was created by Taffy Raphael.  The article described QAR as a “reading strategy in which students categorize comprehension questions according to where they got the information they needed to answer each question” (Conner, 2006, Description of QAR section, ¶ 1).  Conner (2006) wrote that this comprehension strategy is successful with both fiction texts and nonfiction texts because it assists students in monitoring their comprehension of the texts being read.  There have been several different terminologies created for QAR.  For our research purposes we will be focusing on the terminology of “Right There” questions, “Think and Search” questions, “Author and You” questions, and “On Your Own” questions (Raphael, Highfield, & Au, 2006, p.10).  By writing questions based on the text, teachers are giving students the opportunity to learn how expository text works and how to navigate through it.  This type of strategy connects to Hall et al.’s research (2005) that suggested explicit instruction in comprehension strategies is beneficial for students to learn and more importantly learn how to utilize effectively.  “Question-Answer-Relationships (QAR) teaches students to consider and use the information in the text and their personal knowledge when responding to questions surrounding a text they have read”  (Stahl, 2004, ¶ 10).  Therefore, it is important that teachers who are using the QAR strategy in their classrooms provide ample opportunities for their students to relate what they are reading to their personal experiences.  Doing this not only will increase the students’ understanding of what is being read, but also on their responses to the texts.  Overall, learning and applying various comprehension strategies are important for readers because these strategies can provide access to knowledge that may not already be part of their personal backgrounds and experiences.

In the article entitled, Comparison of Two Strategies for Teaching Reading Comprehension Skills, by Helen Ezell, Stacie Hunsicker, and Maria Quinque (1997), two instructional methods involving the QAR comprehension strategy were taught to fourth grade students.  The students were taught the QAR strategy either through peer-assisted learning with students or teacher-assisted learning with students working alone.  Although there was “no significant difference between the two groups on standardized reading assessments or performance on intervention probes, the students did increase their comprehension skills” (Ezell, Hunsicker, & Quinque, 1997, ¶ 1).  Both groups of students were further compared against each other with several measures.  The study found that both groups of students “increased their reading comprehension skills from pre-test to post-test; however, no significant differences were found between the two groups of students on any of the measures” (Ezell et al., Results section, ¶ 4).  Overall, the researchers concluded that using the QAR strategy helped the students to increase their comprehension whether it was taught by the peer model or by the teacher model.  This article reinforced for the group members why we selected the QAR strategy as one of the comprehension strategies to research further, in order to see its effectiveness when reading nonfiction texts.

The origins of SQ3R can be traced back as early as the 1940’s.  There were several different terminologies of SQ3R located throughout the literature articles that were read by the group members.  For our research purposes, we will be focusing on the terminology implemented by Francis Pleasant Robinson (1946): survey, questions, read, record, and recite.  According to Lipson and Wixson (2003), the SQ3R has recently earned the title of “the grandfather of study strategies” (Huber, 2004, p. 108).  Having said that, according to Hubur, “a virtually exhaustive search for SQ3R in the ERIC database revealed a blatant paucity of research in this area-not just on the effectiveness of the SQ3R method specifically, but on study strategies for upper-level informational text in general” (2004, p. 108).  Therefore, the utilization of the SQ3R strategy in the action research study will be implemented with the knowledge that was obtained from the literature articles regarding the lack of available research on SQ3R using nonfiction texts in the intermediate grade levels.

F.P. Robinson (2001), author of Effective Study, explained that the SQ3R strategy allows students to have a plan as they read nonfiction texts.  When using the SQ3R strategy, students write down important information found when skimming the text, then write down questions about the text, and try to answer the questions while reading.  Students also check their comprehension by recalling what the text is about, and finally reviewing all their information, in order to see the whole text (Robinson, 2001).  Overall, SQ3R allows students to look more closely at the structure of the text, in order to comprehend what is being read more meaningfully.  Brown’s study (2003) supported Robinson’s statements by claiming that the ability to use text structure enhances students’ general comprehension.  Therefore, it is imperative that teachers teach text structure, as well as various comprehension strategies, in order to improve student understanding and comprehension of nonfiction texts.

Karen Bell and Amy Caspari (2003) conducted a study entitled, “Strategies for Improving Non-Fiction Reading Comprehension.”  In their study, they used a strategy method called Collaborative Reading Strategies, or CRS.  The following are CRS’s main components: previewing, self-monitoring, identifying the main idea, and self-questioning and summarizing. Bell and Caspari (2003) found that direct instruction of the CRS strategy “did result in a positive change in students’ comprehension of non-fiction and improved independent comprehension of non-fiction” (Bell, 2002, p. 33).  Overall, the CRS strategy is similar to the SQ3R strategy because both methods have students preview the text, make questions, reflect or self-monitor, and review or summarize what was read.  Since the two comprehension strategies are similar in nature, the group members are interested to see if SQ3R will also have a positive impact on the students’ comprehension of nonfiction texts.  The study further suggested that CRS has been successful with regular education and special education students (Bell, 2002, p. 21).  Even though our research study will be mainly comprised of regular education students, there are some special education students in the two fifth grade classrooms.  Overall, Bell and Caspari’s (2003) study provides a positive outlook for explicitly teaching comprehension strategies to all students, regardless of their ability levels.

In the study entitled, “Improving Student Comprehension in Social Science by Teaching Reading Strategies,” researcher Beth Bauman (2002) studied the comprehension of fifth graders with nonfiction texts.  Bauman’s (2002) study suggested that creating questions before, during, and after reading improved students’ comprehension (p. 39).  Again, the SQ3R strategy is similar to the method used in this study because the second step for both is questioning.  Questioning allows students to monitor for understanding while providing time to reflect upon their work (Bauman, 2002, p. 39).  Furthermore, when students create their own questions, they are showing application and accountability for their own learning.  Bauman’s (2002) findings also suggested that using the questioning strategy helped to improve students’ responses to higher level thinking questions (p. 63).  In Bauman’s (2002) study, students further used the strategy of previewing.  Previewing, or surveying as it is called in the SQ3R strategy, helped the students tap into their prior knowledge.  Bauman (2002) concluded in her study that since the students previewed the text elements before reading, their achievement in comprehension increased (p. 63).  Overall, previewing and questioning are two aspects of the SQ3R strategy.  Bauman (2002) supported that both elements show positive results in student achievement of understanding the texts being read (p. 65).  Therefore, the group members feel that using the SQ3R strategy in our research study may potentially provide similar findings to those of Bauman’s study.  However, if the findings are not the same, it would be important for additional discussions and research to be conducted related to Bauman’s comprehension strategies and the SQ3R strategy and their effectiveness to overall student comprehension.

To conclude, this review of literature shows that there are many research studies and articles supporting the need for explicit instruction in expository, nonfiction texts, in order to increase reading comprehension overall.  In addition, the group members located many articles that outlined the two strategies, QAR and SQ3R, which were said to be successful in enhancing comprehension.  However, there seemed to be a lack of research studies conducted on these two strategies and on their effectiveness in the classroom.  Therefore, the group members felt the need to conduct an action research study to implement the QAR strategy and the SQ3R strategy, compare the results, and look at their effectiveness when using expository texts.  Overall, the intent of our action research study will be to identify whether or not the QAR strategy and/or the SQ3R strategy are effective comprehension strategies that teachers can integrate into their instruction, in order to increase students’ comprehension with nonfiction texts.

 

 

Methodology

            

Participants

     To conduct our qualitative research study, the group members used participants from two different school districts in Connecticut. Connecticut’s State Department of Education classifies schools by ERG, Education Reference Group, which ranges from the letter A to the letter I.  An ERG is defined as a “classification of a state’s public school districts into groups based on similar socioeconomic status and need” (Connecticut State Department website, 2006).  In order to determine ERG placement for each school district, the State uses income, education, occupation, poverty, family structure, home language, and district enrollment.  A convenience sampling was utilized with one hundred percent participation anticipated.  The population consisted of forty-two fifth grade students from two different communities.  The participants were from a higher middle class suburban town and a lower middle class rural town.  The fifth grade classroom that was located in a suburban area consisted of twenty students.  Out of the twenty students, eighteen were Caucasian, one was African American, and one was Biracial.  There were eleven boys and nine girls in this classroom.  In addition, four of the twenty students receive special education services.  The State Department of Education classified the school district for this classroom into ERG A.  The other fifth grade classroom that was located in a rural area consisted of twenty-two students.  All of the twenty-two students were Caucasian and of those students, two of them receive special education services.  There were nine boys and thirteen girls in this classroom.  The State Department of Education classified the school district for this classroom into ERG E.  Overall, all of the students used in the action research study were in an inclusive instructional environment, but were at varying ability levels.

Based on Central Connecticut State University’s policy pertaining to conducting an action research study, a Human Studies Form containing a written proposal was submitted (see Appendix A-1) along with “gatekeeper letters” from the principals of the schools that partook in the study (see Appendix A-2, A-3, and A-4).  In addition, an informational letter indicating what would be entailed in the study was sent home to the parents of the fifth grade students participating in the research study (see Appendix A-5).

 

 

Instrumentation

Over the course of the action research study, assessments were conducted to measure the effectiveness of the two comprehension strategies being utilized by the fifth grade participants.  Before beginning the study with the participants from the two schools, a member of the research group implemented a teacher created pre-assessment, interview questions, and post-assessment to a small sampling of fifth grade students from her school (see Appendices B-1 through B-4).  In order to make the field-study as credible and dependable as possible, the group member selected students that were similar to the students being represented in the study.  Furthermore, the rubric being used to score the two assessments in the field-test was the same one being used for the actual research study (see Appendix C-1).

 

Pre-Assessment

   After reading numerous articles pertaining to comprehension strategies and nonfiction texts, the group members were unable to locate previously utilized instruments that were applicable to our research.  Therefore, the group members decided it would be more advantageous and productive to create our own instruments to implement during our study.

The first instrument implemented by the research group was a pre-assessment regarding the explorer, Marco Polo (see Appendix D-1).  This instrument was given before any changes were made to the current reading instruction being implemented in the two fifth grade classrooms.  The purpose of this instrument was to measure the students’ ability to answer various open-ended types of questions after reading passages from a selected nonfiction text prior to being taught a specific comprehension strategy.  There were three types of questions that the students were asked to respond to: text explicit, text implicit, and script implicit.  In the book, QAR Now: A Powerful and Practical Framework That Develops Comprehension and Higher-Level Thinking in All Students, Taffy Raphael (2006), the originator of QAR, clearly explained what each type of question meant and how they can be applied when reading texts.  Text explicit is when the “information necessary to answer the question is located in a single place in the text.  The reader would have to search for the information but would not have to engage in inferential thinking” (Raphael et al., 2001, p. 9).  Text implicit is when the “information necessary to answer the question is in the text, but the reader would need to engage in inferential thinking or, at the minimum, make inter-text connections” (Raphael at al., 2001, p. 9).  Script implicit is when the “answers come from the reader’s schema-the ‘scripts’ we have in our brains that help us to recognize familiar situations and use what we know to answer a new question” (Raphael et al., 2001, p. 9).  Overall, these three types of questions were used when formulating the open-ended questions for the pre-assessment and eventually for all the other questions that were created to be utilized when explicitly teaching the two comprehension strategies in our action research study.             

Prior to the implementation of the pre-assessment instrument, the group members decided that the two teachers should read the explorer passages and the response questions aloud to their students.  This would help to ensure that the intent of the study was intact and the students’ individual reading levels would not be a factor to skew their results.  It was determined that reading aloud the passages would not affect the students’ understanding of the questions being asked or how they responded to the questions.  The group members also decided to follow any IEP modifications for the special education students that were in the two classrooms.  The primary modifications implemented were to provide an alternative setting and additional time for the special education students to complete their written responses, if needed.                 

The results from the pre-assessment instrument helped the group members decide on the format and content of the response questions that would be given throughout the remainder of the study.  In addition, the students’ responses were scored and evaluated according to a modified rubric that was adapted from the Reading Response Rubric for the Simsbury Public Schools for grades three through six.  The rubric was appropriate to fifth grade expectations for student responses to open-ended questions and was used throughout the research study for all of the assessments and responses that were completed by the participants, in order to remain consistent and reliable.

The rubric that was implemented was based on a four-point scale.  Each question the students answered was given a score from a one to a four.  A score of one is considered to be below standard, which means that the response was either completely inaccurate or lacked understanding of the questions being asked and the content of the text being read.  A score of two is considered to be approaching the standard expectation, which means that the response may have been too vague, but there was an attempt to develop an understanding of the questions being asked and the text being read.  A score of three is considered to meet the standard expectation, which means that the response was answered accurately and was supported by details from the text being read.  A score of four is considered to be above standard expectation, which means that the response showed a higher level of thinking and an in-depth understanding of the questions being asked and the text being read.  There were also connections and inferences being made that may not have been explicitly stated in the text (see Appendix C-1).   

 

Six Mini-lessons  

After the initial pre-assessment was administered, two members of the research group explicitly taught and modeled the QAR strategy and the SQ3R strategy in their designated fifth grade classroom.  Each teacher used either the QAR strategy or the SQ3R strategy in daily instruction, which spanned approximately a week and a half.  Both of the teachers used the same articles from the Time for Kids magazine, in order to teach the different aspects of each comprehension strategy.  At the end of each modeling lesson, the students independently completed related open-ended comprehension questions pertaining to the nonfiction text passages about the various explorers being read.  The group members decided that each lesson would pertain to a particular explorer in the same Groundbreakers book series, in order to keep the information obtained consistent with our purpose for using nonfiction texts.  

The format of the comprehension questions was open-ended and required written responses.  In addition, oral questions were asked within the mini-lessons that connected to the comprehension strategy being modeled each day and therefore differed to some extent between the two classrooms.  However, the written comprehension questions that the participants responded to were the same.  Then the two group members who were not implementing the daily instruction scored the students’ responses with the rubric and shared their results with the other two members.  Discussions regarding the scores and any inconsistencies noticed were addressed by all the members and then collectively we reached an understanding with the results, analysis, and implications.  Overall, the daily comprehension activities were conducted with the intent to measure the effectiveness of the two chosen strategies to improve the students’ comprehension with nonfiction texts (see Appendices D-2 through D-13). 

 

POST-ASSESSMENT

After the six minilessons were completed, the students were given a post-assessment, similar to the pre-assessment, in order to identify which strategy, if any, showed an increase in their comprehension (see Appendix D-14).  The purpose of this instrument was to measure the effectiveness the two comprehension strategies may have had in improving the comprehension of the fifth grade participants.  The post-assessment used the exact same format and types of questions as the pre-assessment and was graded with the same rubric.  The results of the post-assessment were then compared to the results of the pre-assessment, in order to look for potential growth when using an explicitly taught comprehension strategy, which were compiled on a table.  In addition, the results of the students’ responses were compared between the two schools, in order to see any similarities and/or differences, as well as if one strategy appeared to be more advantageous to the students’ comprehension than the other strategy.    

 

Student Survey

Following the completion of the instructional portion of the study, including the two assessments, the students answered a survey pertaining to the specific comprehension strategy that was utilized in their classroom and its effectiveness when reading and answering the questions about the nonfiction texts (see Appendix E-1).  Again, the group members worked together to create a survey that would be easy for the students to complete and would provide valuable information regarding the comprehension strategies being implemented.  This survey was also shown to the field-testing participants, in order to receive their feedback regarding the format and content of what it entailed.  Overall, the field-testing students responded positively to the survey and felt that it was clear and understandable for fifth grade students to respond to.    

In the survey, the students were given four statements and were asked to circle whether they agreed or disagreed with each statement based on their individual experiences using the comprehension strategy they were taught.  In addition, a smiley face was included above each agree word and a frown face was included above each disagree word.  This was done to help provide a visual for the students to refer to while answering each statement, if needed.  The two classroom teachers provided no feedback or comments to the students before or during the completion of the survey.  

The purpose of the action research study focused on the effectiveness of the two chosen strategies to build the comprehension of fifth grade students.  However, the group members also wanted to know how the students felt about the particular comprehension strategy they were being exposed to and practiced utilizing, as well as if they would use the strategy on their own after the completion of the study.  Overall, the results from the survey were compiled onto a bar graph, which were then analyzed by the group members for any similarities and differences between the two strategies and the two classrooms (see Appendix E-2 through E-4). 

There were a few limitations easily recognized by the group members prior to beginning our action research study.  One was that the convenience sampling being used to conduct the study was not representative of all students in fifth grade because of their school’s locations, socio-economic status, and ethnicity, which was predominately Caucasian.  Furthermore, our participants were only fifth graders, so the conclusions made at the end of the study may not be applicable to other groups of students and grade levels.  Despite these limitations, beneficial information can be obtained about the importance of explicitly teaching various comprehension strategies to students so they can learn how to effectively understand what they are reading.

 

PROCEDURE

In order to increase the credibility and dependability of the results, many factors were controlled in our action research study.  First, all of the participants were in fifth grade and were from two elementary schools with similar demographics.  Second, the format for instruction was similar because the two participating teachers followed Columbia ’s Reading Workshop ‘mini-lesson’ approach.  Third, the questions were created amongst the group members and were written in the same format and included the same types of questions for each minilesson.  Fourth, the allotted time for instruction of the comprehension strategy in both classrooms was between sixty and ninety minutes, which included the mini-lesson, reading of the explorer passages and questions, and completing the written responses.  Fifth, the passages from the explorer books that were read were implemented in a predetermined order and the related written responses were completed on the same days in both classrooms. 

The variables in the action research study were the two comprehension strategies that were implemented, the teachers who were implementing the strategies in their classrooms, and the participants involved in the study.  The teacher in School One utilized the QAR strategy for nonfiction comprehension instruction and the teacher in School Two utilized the SQ3R strategy for nonfiction comprehension instruction. 

 

FIELD-TESTING

After the Human Subjects Committee approved the action research proposal (see Appendix A-1), the field-test was immediately conducted with a small sampling of fifth grade students with similar backgrounds as the participants of the study regarding the pre-assessment questions and the post-assessment questions (see Appendices B-1 and B-3).  These participants were also interviewed regarding the format of the assessments and their reactions to the open-ended questions (see Appendices B-2 and B-4).  If necessary, the pre-assessment and the post-assessment questions would be modified following the field-testing. However, the group members did not find that modifications were necessary based on the field-testing participants’ responses to the comprehension questions and their overall feedback regarding the format of the assessments (see Appendices B-5 though B-6).

 

Day One: Pre-Assessment

After the field-testing of the pre-assessment, the post-assessment, and the interview questions was complete, the group members began organizing the necessary materials including selecting appropriate nonfiction texts, creating open-ended comprehension questions, and generating lesson plans that could be replicated in each classroom.  In School One, the teacher utilized the QAR (Question-Answer-Relationship) strategy with her twenty students.  In School Two, the teacher utilized the SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Record, Recite) strategy with her twenty-two students.

The two teachers proceeded to have their students complete the pre-assessment pertaining to the explorer, Marco Polo.  There was no instruction of any comprehension strategy provided prior to the completion of the pre-assessment.  The students were informed that they would be listening to passages about Marco Polo and then answering various questions related to what was read in the passages.  The two teachers then read the passages aloud to the students while they followed along in their own text.  When the passages were complete, the teachers read the eight questions pertaining to Marco Polo and then the students responded to them independently (see Appendix D-1).  Students with IEP modifications were provided with alternative settings and extended time to complete their written responses, if needed.      

   

Day Two

After the pre-assessment was given, the two classroom teachers began the implementation of the study with their participants.  Over the course of the study, the researchers explicitly taught and modeled an aspect of their specific comprehension strategy as a whole class and then the students completed related written responses pertaining to what was addressed in each lesson.  The two teachers followed the same ‘mini-lesson’ format based on Columbia ’s Reading Workshop model, as well as the same materials (see Appendix D-2).  This was done to ensure credibility and dependability in the data that was being collected from the participants.  In both of the classrooms, the daily allotted time for instruction was approximately sixty to ninety minutes.   

The second day of instruction was designed to be similar in both of the classrooms.  First, the teachers reminded the students of the pre-assessment that they took regarding the nonfiction text about Marco Polo.  Then the teachers began introducing either the QAR strategy or the SQ3R strategy as a way to help the students to better increase their understanding of different nonfiction texts.  The teachers began to model the first part of their specific comprehension strategy using an article from Time for Kids called, A Larger than Life President.  In School One, the teacher focused on the “Right There” aspect of QAR.  In School Two, the teacher focused on the “Survey” aspect of SQ3R.  Throughout the mini-lesson, the teachers explicitly taught and modeled how to use their comprehension strategy using “think alouds.”  Following the minilesson using the Time for Kids article, the teachers also provided time for active engagement as the students applied the comprehension strategy that was being taught.

After introducing an aspect of their comprehension strategy, the teachers proceeded to read selected passages about the explorer, John Cabot, while the students followed along in their own text.  When the passages were complete, the teachers read the four questions pertaining to John Cabot to the students and then they responded to them independently (see Appendix D-3).  While the students were writing their responses, the teachers were walking around the classroom providing clarification, if needed.  To conclude the lesson, the teachers reviewed what was taught about their comprehension strategy and allowed the students the opportunity to discuss the types of questions answered and how they approached answering each one.

 

Day Three

The third day of instruction was designed to be similar in both of the classrooms.  First, the teachers reviewed with their students what was learned in yesterday’s lesson pertaining to the comprehension strategy being utilized.  Next, the teachers continued explicitly teaching another aspect of their comprehension strategy.  In School One, the teacher focused on the “Think and Search” aspect of QAR.  In School Two, the teacher focused on the “Question” aspect of SQ3R.  Again, the two teachers taught a mini-lesson using an article from Time for Kids called, One Giant Leap, to appropriately model the comprehension strategy as a whole class (see Appendix D-4).         

After introducing the second aspect of the comprehension strategy, the teachers proceeded to read the selected passages about the explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon, while the students followed along in their own text.  When the passages were complete, the teachers read the four questions pertaining to Juan Ponce de Leon to the students and then they responded to them independently (see Appendix D-5).  While the students were writing their responses, the teachers floated around the classroom providing clarification, if needed.  To conclude the lesson, the teachers reviewed what was taught about the comprehension strategy and allowed time for the students to discuss the types of questions answered and how they approached answering each one.  

 

Day Four 

The fourth day of instruction was designed to be similar in both of the classrooms.  First, the teachers reviewed with their students what was learned in previous lessons pertaining to the comprehension strategy being utilized.  Next, the teachers continued explicitly teaching another aspect of their comprehension strategy.  In School One, the teacher focused on the “Author and You” aspect of QAR.  In School Two, the teacher focused on the “Read” aspect of SQ3R.  Again, the two teachers taught a mini-lesson using an article from Time for Kids called, One Who Belongs in the Zoo?, to appropriately model the comprehension strategy as a whole class (see Appendix D-6).

After introducing the third aspect of the comprehension strategy, the teachers proceeded to read the selected passages and questions about the explorer, Francisco Pizzaro, while the students followed along in their own text.  When the passages were complete, the students responded to four questions pertaining to Francisco Pizzaro independently (see Appendix D-7).  While the students were writing their responses, the teachers walked around the classroom providing clarification, if needed.  To conclude the lesson, the teachers reviewed what was taught about the comprehension strategy and allowed time for the students to discuss the types of questions answered and how they approached answering each one. 

 

Day Five

The fifth day of instruction was designed to be similar in both of the classrooms.  First, the teachers reviewed with their students what was learned in previous lessons pertaining to the comprehension strategy being utilized.  Next, the teachers continued explicitly teaching another aspect of their comprehension strategy.  In School One, the teacher focused on the “On My Own” aspect of QAR.  In School Two, the teacher focused on the “Record” aspect of SQ3R.  Again, the two teachers taught a mini-lesson using an article from Time for Kids called, Stay in the Game, to appropriately model the comprehension strategy as a whole class (see Appendix D-8).

After introducing the fourth aspect of the comprehension strategy, the teachers proceeded to read the selected passages and questions about the explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, while the students followed along in their own text.  When the passages were complete, the students responded to four questions pertaining to Ferdinand Magellan independently (see Appendix D-9).  While the students were writing their responses, the teachers walked around the classroom providing clarification, if needed.  To conclude the lesson, the teachers reviewed what was taught about the comprehension strategy and allowed the students time to discuss the types of questions answered and how they approached answering each one. 

 

Day Six

The sixth day of instruction was designed to be similar in both of the classrooms.  First, the teachers reviewed with their students what was learned in previous lessons pertaining to the comprehension strategy being utilized.  Next, the teachers continued explicitly teaching the aspect(s) of their comprehension strategy.  In School One, the teacher focused on reviewing the four aspects of the QAR strategy.  In School Two, the teacher focused on the “Recite” aspect of SQ3R.  Again, the two teachers taught a mini-lesson using an article from Time for Kids called, Seeds of Hope, to appropriately model and apply the comprehension strategy as a whole class (see Appendix D-10).

After reviewing the four aspects of the QAR strategy or introducing the fifth aspect for the SQ3R strategy, the teachers proceeded to read the selected passages about the explorer, Sir Francis Drake, while the students followed along in their own text.  When the passages were complete, the teachers read the four questions pertaining to Sir Francis Drake to the students and then they responded to them independently (see Appendix D-11).  While the students were writing their responses, the teachers floated around the classroom monitoring what they were doing and providing clarification, if needed.  To conclude the lesson, the teachers reviewed what was taught about the comprehension strategy and allowed time for the students to discuss the types of questions answered and how they approached answering each one. 

 

Day Seven 

The seventh day of instruction was designed to be similar in both of the classrooms.  First, the teachers reviewed with their students what was learned in previous lessons pertaining to the comprehension strategy being utilized.  In School One, the teacher again reviewed the four aspects of the QAR strategy.  In School Two, the teacher reviewed the five aspects of the SQ3R strategy.  Both teachers talked with their students about what was learned over the past five lessons.  Again, the two teachers taught a mini-lesson using an article from Time for Kids called, Back in Orbit, to appropriately model and apply their complete comprehension strategy as a whole class (see Appendix D-12).

After reviewing the aspects of their comprehension strategy, the teachers proceeded to read the selected passages about the explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh, while the students followed along in their own text.  When the passages were complete, the students responded to four questions that were read aloud to them by the teachers pertaining to Sir Walter Raleigh independently (see Appendix D-13).  While the students were writing their responses, the teachers walked around the classroom providing clarification, if needed.  To conclude the lesson, the teachers reviewed what was taught about the comprehension strategy and allowed the students the opportunity to discuss the types of questions answered and how they approached answering each one. 

 

Day Eight: Post-Assessment

After the conclusion of the six mini-lessons that were implemented daily using the two comprehension strategies, the students were given a post-assessment, which was created by the group members and was similar to the pre-assessment format.  The teachers reviewed the different aspects of their comprehension strategy with their students prior to the completion of the post-assessment.  The teachers then proceeded to read the selected passages about the explorer, Henry Hudson, while the students followed along in their own text.  When the passages were complete, the teachers read the eight questions pertaining to Henry Hudson to the students and then they responded to them independently (see Appendix D-14).

 

Day Nine: Survey

As a culmination of the action research study, the students were asked to respond to a teacher-created survey pertaining to the two comprehension strategies, QAR and SQ3R (see Appendix E-1).  The survey was similar to a Likert Scale where the students were asked to rate their experiences and feelings about the two assessments, the types of nonfiction passages read, and the written responses pertaining to the different explorers by either agreeing or disagreeing.  After the students completed the survey, the teachers provided a brief opportunity for them to share their overall thoughts about the comprehension strategy that was taught during the study aloud as a class.  The teachers remained objective during the discussion time and provided no specific feedback, which could be interpreted by the students to be their opinions regarding the comprehension strategy that was taught.

 

ANALYSIS AND RESULTS

 

After the completion of the week and a half implementation stage of the action research study, the level of effectiveness of the two chosen comprehension strategies was measured.  First, the two group members who were not involved in implementing the two comprehension strategies in the classroom scored the students’ responses based on the pre-determined rubric, in order to keep objectivity.  Then, the group members complied the results of the eight days of lessons onto tables for each class for further analysis by each type of question-explicit, implicit, and script implicit (see Appendices F-1 through F-8).  Next, the scores from the pre-assessment, the six mini-lessons, and the post-assessment were averaged into percentages and were then compiled onto a table for each school (see Appendices F-9 through F-10).  Finally, the group members compiled the results of the pre-assessment and post-assessment for each class onto a bar graph (see Appendix F-11).

From there, the group members looked at the potential growth of the students when using a particular comprehension strategy and then compared and contrasted the results between each school.  We also looked at individual student growth and whole class growth by examining the scores from each of the six mini-lessons, as well as from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment.  This analysis provided information regarding the effectiveness the instruction and the implementation of the comprehension strategies had on the students’ written responses.  Based on the results of the students’ written responses, it was determined collectively by the group members whether or not the strategy that was implemented in each classroom, QAR and/or SQ3R, should be considered an effective strategy for increasing comprehension in fifth grade students.  Finally, the survey that was completed by the students, which encouraged them to be honest with their opinions about the comprehension strategy they were taught and practiced implementing during the mini-lessons were tabulated and recorded on bar graphs (see Appendices E-2 through E-4).   

When the lessons were completed and the students’ responses were scored, the group members began to analyze the results from mini-lesson one to mini-lesson six, in order to determine growth, if any.  In School One, 13 out of the 19 students’ scores increased at least one number from the pre-assessment to the first mini-lesson.  From mini-lesson one to mini-lesson two, 2 out of the 19 students increased their scores.  Scores from mini-lesson two to mini-lesson three showed that 17 out of the 20 students increased their scores.  From mini-lesson three to mini-lesson four, 14 out of the 20 students increased their scores.  Scores from mini-lesson four to mini-lesson five showed that 10 out of the 20 students received higher scores.  Six out of the 20 students received higher scores on mini-lesson six than mini-lesson five.  Finally, 6 out of the 20 students increased their scores from mini-lesson six to the post-assessment (see Appendices F-1 through F-4).

Next, the group members analyzed the scores from School Two to look for growth, if any, from mini-lesson one to mini-lesson six.  School Two’s students’ scores showed that 12 out of the 22 the students received higher scores on mini-lesson one than on the pre-assessment.  One out of the 22 students increased his/her score from mini-lesson one to mini-lesson two.  Fourteen out of the 22 students received higher scores on mini-lesson three than on mini-lesson two.  From mini-lesson three to mini-lesson four, 20 out of the 22 students’ scores increased.  Two out of the 22 students’ scores increased from mini-lesson four to mini-lesson five.  Ten out of the 22 students received higher scores from mini-lesson five to mini-lesson six.  Finally, 6 out of the 22 students’ scores increased from mini-lesson six to the post-assessment (see Appendices F-5 through F-8).

After looking at the data tables of the two schools’ six mini-lessons, the group members decided to look more in-depth at the pre-assessment and the post-assessment.  In terms of School One, there were substantial changes seen from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment.  Out of the 20 students in the classroom, 19 of them went up, which equates to a 95% increase from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment.  The remaining student whose score decreased from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment went down by six points, which equates to a 5% decrease.  When looking at the data further, it was noticed that this particular student is a special education student.  Interestingly, the other three special education students demonstrated an increase in their scores from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment.  To illustrate, student number five went from 53% in the pre-assessment to 63% in the post-assessment, which is a ten-point increase.  Student number seven went from 50% in the pre-assessment to 72% in the post-assessment, which is a twenty-two-point increase.  Student number thirteen went from 63% in the pre-assessment to 75% in the post-assessment, which is a twelve-point increase.  

In terms of School Two, there were varying degrees of change seen from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment, some positive and some negative.  Out of the 22 students in the classroom, 10 of them went up, which equates to a 45% increase from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment.  On the other hand, 7 out of the 22 students went down, which equates to a 32% decrease from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment.  The remaining 5 students out of the 22 students stayed at the same percentage from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment, which equates to 32%.  In terms of individual student progress, it is worth noting the results of the two special education students in School Two.  One of these students demonstrated an increase from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment, while the second student experienced a decrease.  Student number one went up from 37% in the pre-assessment to 41% in the post-assessment, which is a four-point increase.  On the other hand, student number thirteen went from 69% in the pre-assessment to 44% in the post-assessment, which is a twenty-five-point decrease.

After looking at the two schools’ data and analyzing the students’ scores, the group members decided to select one student from each classroom to look into further and discuss.  In School One, student twenty was selected for our sample.  Student twenty is an eleven-year-old Caucasian girl, who is of average academic ability.  Student twenty is diligent and hard working in the classroom.  In School Two, student fifteen was selected for our sample.  Student fifteen is a ten-year-old Caucasian girl, who is also of average academic ability.  Student fifteen is a conscientious student who is very involved in the various classroom activities.

The group members chose these two students because they were both girls with the same background and of average academic ability.  We felt that using students who possessed similar backgrounds, both academically and socially, would be appropriate to look at in more depth.  In addition, these two students also demonstrated progress to some extent using their particular comprehension strategy, QAR or SQ3R.  However, their rate of progression differed in terms of their scores, as well as in the different mini-lessons (see Appendices G-1 through G-4).  In the pre-assessment, student twenty received 21 points out of 32 points and student fifteen received 23 points out of 32 points.  In mini-lesson one, student twenty received 11 points out of 16 points and student fifteen received 10 points out of 16 points.  In mini-lesson two, student 20 received 8 points out of 16 points and student 15 received 9 points out of 16 points.  In mini-lesson three, student twenty received 10 points out of 16 points and student fifteen received 11 points out of 16 points.  In mini-lesson four, student twenty received 12 points out of 16 points and student fifteen received 13 points out of 16 points.  In mini-lesson five, student twenty received 15 points out of 16 points and student fifteen received 12 points out of 16 points.  In mini-lesson six, student twenty received 14 points out of 16 points and student fifteen received 14 points out of 16 points.  In the post-assessment, student twenty received 26 points out of 32 points and student fifteen received 18 points out of 32 points.  Attached in the appendices are student twenty’s and student fifteen’s work samples that they completed throughout the study.  The work samples include the pre-assessment, the six mini-lesson explorer questions, the post-assessment, and the survey (see Appendices G-5 through G-13).    

Overall, both students’ scores were approximately the same when the pre-assessment was administered.  In addition, both students appeared to progress throughout the six mini-lessons, until the post-assessment when student fifteen’s scores decreased.  Student fifteen’s performance represented the overall class scores on the post-assessment because the majority of students in School Two had post-assessment scores that dropped compared to their pre-assessment scores.  On the other hand, student twenty’s data reflected the performance of the majority of her classmates throughout the study, which was an increase in scores from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment.

After examining the raw data from the pre-assessment, the six mini-lessons, and the post-assessment, the group members analyzed the survey using bar graphs.  The survey, which is similar to a Likert Scale, showed that the majority of students in School One agreed with each of the four questions.  To illustrate, 18 out of the 20 students thought that if they had the QAR strategy before the first assessment was given, they would have been more successful.  Nineteen out of the 20 students found the QAR strategy to be helpful when taking the post-assessment.  Sixteen out of the 20 students answered that they would use the QAR strategy when reading on their own.  Eighteen out of the 20 students felt positively about reading nonfiction texts after learning the QAR comprehension strategy (see Appendix E-2). 

Students in School Two differed in their answers to the survey statements.  Twenty out of the 22 students thought they would have been more successful on the pre-assessment if they had been taught the SQ3R strategy before they answered the questions about Marco Polo.  Eleven out of the 22 students thought that the SQ3R strategy was helpful when taking the post-assessment.  Eighteen out of the 22 students answered that they would use the SQ3R strategy when reading on their own.  Seventeen out of the 22 students felt positively about reading nonfiction texts now that they have learned the SQ3R comprehension strategy (see Appendix E-3).  Overall, when comparing the survey results between the two schools, it was evident that the students in School One responded more positively about the QAR strategy than the students in School Two did about the SQ3R strategy.   

 

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS

The purpose of this action research study was to identify effective strategies to build comprehension in fifth grade students using nonfiction texts.  The study consisted of implementing two different comprehension strategies in two different fifth grade classrooms, in order to determine whether or not they were effective comprehension strategies.  Students in School One were exposed to the QAR strategy and students in School Two were exposed to the SQ3R strategy.  Each strategy was taught daily for a week and a half and included a pre-assessment, explorer comprehension questions, a post-assessment, and a survey.  The two comprehension strategies were then measured using a rubric to score each of the students’ written responses.  These instruments were initially field-tested by a group member for creditability and dependability.  Furthermore, the effectiveness of each strategy was determined by the group members at the conclusion of the study based on the pre-assessment data, the results from the six mini-lessons, the post-assessment data, and through the participants’ responses to the survey. 

According to Wade, Buxton, and Kelly, “students who are interested in a task are more likely to use effective learning strategies, such as elaboration of ideas, which in turn increases cognitive engagement and promotes understanding” (1999) (McCrudden et al., 2005, ¶ 5).  Based on the results of the survey responses, the majority of the students in School One were interested in using the QAR strategy.  On the other hand, School Two students found the SQ3R strategy to be lengthy and cumbersome.  Furthermore, the informal observations made by the two classroom teachers throughout the study reflected the importance of self-efficacy, which was discussed during the literature review.  Overall, the teacher in School One felt that her students were motivated and consistently tried their best when completing the written responses, for the most part.  Towards the end of the study though, the teacher in School One felt that her students did show a slight drop in motivation due to the constant written responses being done, rather than the actual application of the QAR strategy.  Overall, students in School One had to make a decision as to which question-answer-relationship to use out of the four total aspects and then only use one part of the strategy to answer each question.

On the other hand, the teacher in School Two felt her students were not very motivated and lost complete interest by the fourth mini-lesson.  The teacher observed that her students were complaining and less determined to complete the comprehension questions as the study went on.  It was concluded by the group members based on the data scores and teacher observations that the students in School Two also lacked motivation due to the fact they needed to go through five steps for each nonfiction text being read during the mini-lessons.

Overall, the fifth grade students who possessed self-efficacy appeared to have more success when responding to the various types of questions throughout the study.  “Having self-efficacy and interest along with knowledge of strategies can provide students with the ‘will’ and the ‘ways’ when encountering challenging tasks” (McCrudden et al., 2005, ¶ 1).  The article entitled, Self-Efficacy and Interest in the Use of Reading Strategies, which was previously mentioned in the literature review regarding self-efficacy, correlated with our findings in terms of the students’ motivation, their scores on the written responses, and on their responses to the survey statements.    

Furthermore, the students in School One appeared to be more successful when applying the QAR strategy to the comprehension questions they were asked to respond to throughout the study.  In the article entitled, The Application of Question-Answer-Relationship Strategies to Pictures, it stated that students were more successful in identifying QAR questions, as well as generating appropriate answers than other students who did not receive explicit instruction in the QAR strategy (Cortese, 2003).  Based on the overall results of the students in School One, as well as their responses to the survey statements, the group members felt our research correlated with much of the research that has been conducted regarding the QAR strategy.  The teacher in School One also commented that implementing the QAR strategy was helpful for her students to use when responding to the comprehension questions and will be a strategy she plans on utilizing in future instruction.

According to Feldt, Byrn, and Bral (1996), the SQ3R comprehension strategy is a “labor intensive and time consuming strategy” for educators to implement, especially if they do not practice using it effectively and on a consistent basis (Hubur, 2004, p. 111).  The teacher in School Two also commented that implementing the SQ3R strategy was overwhelming and time consuming, considering she had never applied it before in her instruction.  Due to the format involved for successfully utilizing the SQ3R strategy, the group members felt that it was too time consuming and not necessarily a student-friendly strategy to utilize, especially for students who may be experiencing difficulty with their comprehension.  In the study conducted by Bauman (2002), she concluded that when students preview the texts before they are read and create questions before, during, and after reading, their comprehension would improve.  Based on the overall results of the students in School Two, as well as their responses to the survey statements though, the group members are not completely convinced of Bauman’s study.  Therefore, we feel further research needs to be conducted regarding the SQ3R strategy and its relation to Bauman’s (2002) comprehension strategies.         

Overall, when reviewing the literature, the group members found that explicit instruction of the QAR strategy and the SQ3R strategy did improve the students’ comprehension when reading nonfiction texts.  In terms of our research question, which strategy, the QAR and/or the SQ3R will increase reading comprehension of nonfiction text, the group members concluded that the QAR strategy was more successful in improving the overall comprehension of the fifth grade students when reading nonfiction texts.  The group members found the QAR strategy to be more user-friendly and less overwhelming than the SQ3R strategy.  Furthermore, the data we collected also empirically supported our research findings.  However, the group members felt that further research studies pertaining to the QAR strategy and the SQ3R strategy are necessary in order to help validate our findings. 

After studying the raw data, analyzing the results, and having a discussion regarding the action research study, the group members felt there were a few changes we would have liked to have done in terms of our study.  First, the group members would like to have tried the SQ3R strategy in School One and the QAR strategy in School Two at a later time during the school year.  We are interested to see if the students’ written responses to the open-ended comprehension questions and their reactions to the comprehension strategies would stay the same or differ after being exposed to a different strategy.  Secondly, the group members considered that if both strategies were taught in the two classrooms, with half of the students learning QAR and the other half of the students learning SQ3R, we might have also seen different results.  Then the group members could compare and contrast the students’ scores to each other from the same school, rather than just between the two schools.  This data could either support and/or dispute our previous findings regarding the effectiveness of the QAR strategy and the SQ3R strategy.  Thirdly, the group members were interested in seeing whether or not the same fifth grade students would utilize the comprehension strategy they were taught on their own when responding to open-ended comprehension questions pertaining to nonfiction texts.  Therefore, the two group members who implemented the QAR strategy and the SQ3R strategy are planning on giving their students the survey to answer a second time, after allowing them the opportunity to apply the comprehension strategy on their own when completing class assignments.  The teacher in School Two is also interested in explicitly teaching her students the QAR strategy, in order to see if there would be any changes and/or discrepancies between the students’ responses and overall reactions to utilizing this strategy compared to the SQ3R strategy. 

There were a number of limitations easily recognized by the group members before, during, and after our action research study.  One was that the convenience sampling being used to conduct the study was not representative of all students in fifth grade because of their school’s locations, socio-economic status, and ethnicity, which was predominately Caucasian.  Furthermore, our participants were only fifth graders, so the conclusions made at the end of the research study may not be applicable to other groups of students and grade levels. 

A second limitation that became evident was the gap between the two schools being used for the study, according to the State Department of Education’s website pertaining to the school districts’ ERG rankings.  School One was classified in ERG A and School Two was classified in ERG E.  These rankings are four levels apart and are dependent on many factors, including education, occupation, poverty, family structure, home language, and district enrollment.  The group members considered that these differences could have affected the results of our study, to an extent.  To illustrate, School One is at the top of the ERG classification and based on the results of our action research study, the students in this school overall made more growth than the students in School Two.  As researchers though, the group members had no way of knowing whether or not School Two would be less successful when responding to the open-ended comprehension questions due to their lower classification on the ERG ranking.  Even though there was a gap, the group members needed to use these two schools, in order to conduct the study, because of availability and convenience.  Before beginning the study, the group members were aware that the two schools were different in some respects, but we were not aware of the extent of the gap, which can be seen as a significant limitation in our study.

 A third limitation, which may or may not have had an impact on the results of our study were the various instruments that the group members created and implemented throughout the study.  After reading numerous articles pertaining to comprehension strategies and nonfiction texts, the group members were unable to locate previously utilized instruments that were applicable to our research topic.  Therefore, the group members decided it would be more advantageous and productive to create our own instruments to implement during our study.   

Despite these limitations, beneficial information was obtained about the importance of explicitly teaching specific comprehension strategies to students, in order to help them effectively understand what they are reading.  In terms of our action research study, both comprehension strategies proved to have some impact on the students’ comprehension within the limits of the study.  The QAR strategy appeared to be more effective than the SQ3R strategy in terms of the students’ written responses and reactions to reading nonfiction texts.  Overall, the group members determined that explicitly teaching specific comprehension strategies are beneficial for teachers to teach and implement in their classrooms, in order to help increase the comprehension for all students.  

To conclude, as stated previously in the introduction, comprehension strategies need to be explicitly taught, modeled, and practiced in a meaningful way, in order for the students to improve in their understanding of what they are reading.  In the article entitled, The Case for Informational Text, it stated that not only do teachers need to expose their students to nonfiction texts, but they also must teach them how to effectively read the texts (Duke, 2002).  “Research shows that good readers are strategic in their reading and that explicit teaching of comprehension strategies can foster comprehension development” (Duke, 2002, Teach Comprehension Strategies section, ¶ 2).  The implication of our action research was to determine whether or not one, both, or neither of the two strategies being used should be implemented by classroom teachers when teaching their students how to comprehend nonfiction texts.  Based on the results we obtained throughout the study, the group members concluded that the QAR strategy appeared to be the more effective strategy to utilize compared to the SQ3R strategy, especially when reading nonfiction explorer texts.  However, further research using both the QAR strategy and the SQ3R strategy would be advantageous, in order to come to a more conclusive decision regarding the effectiveness of these two comprehension strategies for students at different grade levels and in different school districts. 

 

 

 

REFERENCES

 

Primary Sources

 

Barton, J. & Sawyer, D. M. (2003).  Our students are ready for this: Comprehension instruction in the elementary school.  The Reading Teacher, 57 (4).  Retrieved on October 8, 2006 from Questia.

 

Bauman, B. (2002).  Improving student comprehension in social sciences by teaching reading strategies.  Retrieved on October 5, 2006, from the ERIC database.

 

Bell , K. & Caspari, A. (2002).  Strategies for improving non-fiction reading comprehension.  Retrieved on October 5, 2006, from the ERIC database.

 

Brown, G. (2003). Searching informational texts: Text and task characteristics that affect performance.  Reading Online, 7 (2).  Retrieved September 20, 2006, from Reading Online database.

 

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