Independent reading

Factors associated with increased reading comprehension in independent reading include:

  • a wide variety of texts
  • texts the student is able to read and understand with at least 95% accuracy
  • self-selected texts that the student is engaged with and motivated to read

Students need to practise reading texts they can read accurately and with understanding. Allington (2012)[1] and Ehri et al. (2007)[2] found that 98 per cent accuracy is essential for acceleration and anything below 90 per cent accuracy does not improve reading ability at all. Reading accurately with understanding solidifies word recognition, decoding, word analysis and builds confidence. It is also more likely to make reading enjoyable.

Students read more, understand more and are more likely to continue reading when they able to select the texts they read. In a 2004 meta-analysis, Guthrie and Humenick[3] found that the two most powerful factors associated with improving reading motivation and comprehension were student access to many books and personal choice of what to read.

The PAT units that are below a band of students' scale scores indicate the kinds of texts and text complexities that students in this band can mainly read and understand. The text and question annotations help teachers to better understand skills this student has largely mastered. This helps the teacher to support students to select appropriate texts for independent reading.

Note that PAT Reading does not assess reading fluency, so teachers need to assess this separately including asking some comprehension questions to ensure students understood what they read aloud.

Teacher scaffolding to build understanding

Teachers build students' reading comprehension skills by scaffolding students' reading of texts that are currently too complex for them to fully understand independently.

Effective teacher scaffolding to increase students' reading comprehension includes:

  • selecting short, worthy texts
  • choosing challenging texts and texts with a variety of complexities
  • encouraging students to:
    • read closely at a slow pace
    • re-read texts
    • 'read with a pencil'
    • notice confusing parts
  • analysing texts in literary conversations with students
  • asking text-dependent questions that require students to find evidence from the text
  • providing opportunities for students to hear fluent readers
  • thinking aloud when reading a text to model comprehension strategies.

There is currently a resurgence of interest in text complexity in the teaching of reading comprehension. Evidence from the United States suggests that the texts that students read have become less complex in grades 4 to 12 (Hayes, Wolfer, & Wolfe 1996)[4]. There is also evidence that students learn, and perhaps learn even more, when taught with challenging texts (Morgan, Wilcox, & Eldridge, 2000[5], O'Connor, Swanson, & Geraghty, 2010[6]).

Fisher, Frey and Lapp (2012)[7] outline the challenges of defining text complexity. They differentiate the qualitative and quantitative dimensions required to make judgments of text complexity. They suggest that effective strategies for teacher scaffolding of complex texts should include the selection of short, worthy texts that are read closely and re-read. 'Reading with a pencil' is a strategy they strongly endorse of encouraging students to annotate texts to demonstrate the issues that come to their minds as they are reading the text. Students should also be encouraged to note and discuss parts of the text that they find confusing.

Literary conversations, where students analyse, comment and compare texts, improve comprehension more than recalling, retelling or highlighting important information (Fall, Webb, & Chudowsky, 2000)[8]. Teachers can encourage students to engage in these kinds of text analyses, with teacher support. Once students have sufficient skill they can also conduct literary discussions with their peers.

It is important that readers are allowed to struggle a bit as they apply their skills in different situations. Students need some opportunities to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. Sometimes teacher intervention is best focused on discussion of erroneous ideas and supporting the students to rethink their misunderstandings rather than immediately providing the correct interpretation.

Text dependent questions, such as those modelled in PAT Reading Comprehension, require the student to read the text in order to answer the question. When teachers are posing open questions, students should be asked to provide evidence from the text to support their answers.

Hearing a fluent adult reader allows students to access and analyse texts they may not yet be able to read for themselves. It also models pronunciation of unfamiliar vocabulary and effective use of punctuation. Having a teacher think aloud during a re-reading of a text also models the kinds of strategies students need to learn to apply to help them to understand texts.

Units that are mainly in the same band as a student's scale score illustrate the kinds of texts and text complexities that are in the zone of proximal development for this student. The texts illustrate a variety of different of aspects of text complexity. Each text is not uniformly hard. Looking at the texts and questions in this band alerts teachers to some of the kinds of complexities that this student is still learning to deal with. Units just above the student's scale score are currently mainly challenging for this student. For scaffolding to be effective, teachers need to focus on the particular aspects that are complex for each text.


[1] Allington, R. L. (2012). What really matters for stuggling readers: Designing research-based programs (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon

[2] Ehri, L. C., Dreyer, L. G., Flugman, B., & Gross, A. (2007). Reading rescue: An effective tutoring intervention model for language minority students who are struggling readers in first grade. American Educational Research Journal, 44(2), 414–448.

[3] Guthrie, J. T., & Humenick, N. M. (2004). Motivating students to read: Evidence for classroom practices that increase motivation and achievement. In P. McCardle & V. Shhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research (pp. 329–354). Baltimore: Paul Brookes.

[4] Hayes, D. P., Wolfer, L. T., & Wolfe, M. F. (1996). Schoolbook simplification and its relation to the decline in SAT-Verbal scores. American Educational Research Journal, 33(2), 489–508.

[5] Morgan, A., Wilcox, B. R., & Eldridge, J. L. (2000). Effects of difficulty levels on second grade delayed readers using dyad reading. The Journal of Educational Research, 94(2), doi:10.1080/0220670009588749

[6] O'Connor, R. E., Swanson, H. L., & Geraghty, C. (2010). Improvement in reading rate under independent and difficult text levels: Influences on word and comprehension skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(1), 1–19, doi: 10.1037/a0017488
[7] Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2012). Text complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading, Newark: International Reading Association.

[8] Fall, R., Webb, N. M., & Chudowsky, N. (2000). Group discussion and large-scale language arts assessment: Effects on students' comprehension. American Educational Research Journal, 37(4), 911–914.