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«Many students have difficulties in comprehending texts. Some students can adequately decode but are not able to display any level of comprehension. ...»

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Many students have difficulties in comprehending texts. Some students can adequately

decode but are not able to display any level of comprehension. There is a significant step in

learning that takes a reader from the level of a competent decoder to that of a good reader

who can understand and use the text they are reading.

The hypothesis of this study is that the explicit teaching of the use of synonyms and

paraphrasing to grade 3/4 students who display reading difficulties will improve their comprehension.

Research tells us that paraphrasing is an effective strategy which helps students to improve their reading comprehension. The effective use of synonyms can help students to change a text into their own words and better link the text to their own experiences or prior knowledge.

This can support the student in making sense or meaning form what they read.

This study used 12 grade 3 & 4 students as an intervention and control group to examine the difference that this explicit teaching might make to comprehension. All students were struggling readers. A considerable amount of time was spent on the teaching and use of synonyms to support the paraphrasing strategy. The RAP acronym was taught to students in the intervention group to help them recall the steps required to paraphrase. Read the text, Ask yourself about the main ideas of the text, and Put it into your own words.

The results indicated that the strategy was successful and the comprehension scores of all students in the intervention group improved. The results indicated that the use of synonyms was a skill that all of the students in both the intervention and control groups were able to master with some degree of confidence. This was promising as this ability strongly supports the paraphrasing strategy.

The results of this study indicated that the use the RAP acronym to help recall was useful within this strategy for these grade 3 & 4 students. The results also suggest that a longer and more consistent approach to the intervention would be necessary for students to gain the necessary skills to become proficient paraphrasers and gain the best benefit from the use of this strategy. The evidence also suggested that successful understanding and use of the paraphrasing strategy and therefore better comprehension was dependent on explicit teaching.

Introduction Reading comprehension is a challenge for many young readers in our schools. The emphasis in recent years in catholic schools has been firmly based on giving young students strong skills in decoding. The resulting product which has emerged seems to be indicating that we have managed to produce young readers who are proficient and confident decoders but who lack the important skills required to comprehend the texts that they are reading.

Harris and Hodges (1995) in their Literacy Dictionary define comprehension as a process in which the reader constructs meaning by interacting with text. It would seem that there is often very little interaction taking place as our emerging readers churn through the decoding process to often emerge at the other end of the text with little understanding of what has occurred in it or any of the inferences or underlying concepts that may be within it. Gee (1998) states that reading is an active involvement with the text that results in comprehension and that not all readers acquire strategies automatically and need explicit instructions. The strategies that scaffold comprehension do not seem to have been explicitly taught as part of the model adopted in most catholic junior school classrooms over the last eight to ten years.

This research seeks to explore the strategy of paraphrasing and the use of synonyms as a vehicle to improving the comprehension levels of students in grade three and four who are at varying levels of competency in their decoding abilities but display reading difficulties.

Paraphrasing is one of the strategies that can be a great support to young readers. The Paraphrasing strategy has been demonstrated to significantly increase the reading comprehension of students with and without learning difficulties. (Katims and Harris 1997) Katims and Harris cite the work of Ellis and Graves in 1990 (Katims and Harris 1997) where research found that the use of the paraphrasing strategy significantly enhanced the reading comprehension of a group of middle school students with learning difficulties. They go on to find significant improvements in reading comprehension in their own research after explicitly teaching the paraphrasing strategy to middle school students in a classroom situation. (Katims & Harris 1997) Paraphrasing is the restating or rewriting of a text into your own words and it aims to generate a literal representation of a sentence read by substituting as many words and phrases in it as is necessary. (Munro, 2004) Fisk and Hurst (2003) state that paraphrasing is genuine rewriting which involves students being able to express the main ideas of a passage or text in their own words, it is not meant to be a word for word translation. This movement from substituting words or synonyms to expressing the same meaning in a completely different way is an enormous step in learning.

Paraphrasing is a strategy used at the sentence and paragraph level in the Multiple Levels of Text Processing model (Munro, 2005). Munro (2005) states that working on synonyms before paraphrasing assists the students in retelling a sentence, as they are able to begin to link new concepts to concepts that they already know and make sense of meaning within the scope of their current understanding. Comprehension is distinctly different to memorising what happened in a text. Fountas and Pinnell (2001) state that it is about selecting the most important parts of the text and being able to link this to known understandings and prior knowledge. The paraphrasing strategy supports this as it aims to convert a text into vocab and ideas that are already known to the reader and can therefore be more easily comprehended. In each case the research strongly acknowledges the importance of that link to prior knowledge or things that the student already understands as an important step in making sense of new texts.

The Paraphrasing strategy developed by Schumaker, Denton & Deshler (1984) is an after reading strategy that helps the reader to recall the facts of the text and the events that are contained in it and make meaning from them. The acronym RAP outlines the three basic steps within the strategy and can be an effective metacognitive tool to prompt the reader and support their use of the strategy.

Read the text Ask yourself what were the main ideas and details in the text Put the main ideas into your own words This acronym can reinforce the self-talk that encourages students to use the strategies taught.

It is important that the student understands the reason why they are using these reading strategies and is able to verbalise these reasons so that there is purpose in the learning.

Students will be more inclined to use a strategy that they KNOW is useful as opposed to one that they are told will help them. Fisk and Hurst (2003) state that students will benefit not only from knowing why paraphrasing is helpful but that actually seeing the practical applications of accurately restating another person’s ideas and this will motivate them to use the strategy more readily.

Katims and Harris (1997) in their study, researched the use of the RAP acronym as a way of supporting students in remembering the steps to use in paraphrasing. Their findings support the teaching in ordinary classrooms of a cognitively based paraphrasing strategy to improve reading comprehension.

Improving reading comprehension involves the crucial element of explicit teaching. Reading is more than decoding and students need structure to give them cues to know which strategies to use. Duke (2003) discusses five necessary components for effective teaching of comprehension strategies.

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With these five components in mind, the teaching of the use of paraphrasing and the trigger acronym RAP can ensure that students can have their learning scaffolded into basic steps that encourage successful implementation of the strategy.

Munro (2004) states that it is generally agreed that a knowledge of how to predict, self question, infer, summarise, visualise and monitor comprehension facilitates reading comprehension. (Dole, Duffy, Roehler & Pearson, 1991; cited in Munro, 2004) Students need to have a sound understanding and proficiency in a range of reading strategies if they are to have the best opportunity to interact with the text at a meaning level and they need a knowledge of when to use them. These strategies to support comprehension need to be explicitly taught and will need to be acquired at a word, sentence, conceptual, topic and dispositional level if the reader is to become proficient in comprehending all types of text.

(Munro, 2005. Multiple Levels of Text Processing Model) It is evident that many students with reading difficulties do not have the skills to adequately comprehend texts. This inability to make sense of it at even a basic word or sentence level will often affect the self-efficacy of students and therefore their ability to stay on task and persevere with the task. The use of specific learning strategies helps students maintain interest and concentration during many learning tasks. (Clark et al, 1984; Nelson and Smith, 1992 as cited in Parker et al. 2002) Students are able to lean on a familiar process to scaffold their learning.

This study aims to investigate the teaching of the paraphrasing strategy and the use of synonyms which will give the students another strategy to use to help them to move past the basic decoding stage in their reading. It will investigate a strategy that seeks to empower students to be able to gain meaning form what they read.

The hypothesis is that the explicit teaching of the use of synonyms and paraphrasing to grade 3/4 students who display reading difficulties will improve their comprehension.

Method Design This study uses an OXO design. The progress in reading comprehension is monitored following the explicit teaching of paraphrasing as a reading strategy and the teaching and use of synonyms to support this strategy. Two groups of children in grades 3 & 4 with reading difficulties were used as an intervention and control group in this study.


The students chosen for this study are in grade three and four in primary school. Their ages range from eight years and three months to nine years and five months.( Appendix 1.) Students were chosen on the basis of being firstly identified by the classroom teachers as students who would benefit from assistance in developing their skills in understanding texts and secondly students who were not highly skilled at decoding but nevertheless able to decode more basic texts.

All students from grade 3 & 4 were tested using the Torch test and these results were also used to help identify suitable students to be involved in this study. All students chosen, other than one, scored between stanine 4-6 for their grade level on this test.

Students who were eligible were invited to be a part of this study if they wished. Six students were chosen to be in both the intervention and control groups.

Materials For the purpose of this study four pre test scores were obtained to help give an accurate understanding of the abilities of each of the students in both the intervention and control groups. The Reading Progress Test, Torch Test, Paraphrasing and synonym tasks (Munro)

–  –  –

Reading Progress Test ( Denis Vincent, Mary Crumpler, Mike de la Mare) These tests are British Tests which have been re-normed to suit Australian grades and ages and are based on the national sample of students included in the ACER Project on “Curiculum and Organisation in the Early Years of School.” ( De Lemos, 1996) This test was very difficult for the students and all students were subsequently tested at level 2 regardless of grade.

Paraphrasing Task John Munro. Group Test Synonyms Task John Munro. Group Test Fiction and non fiction texts were used.

The Talent Quest. By Jenny Giles, PM Level 24 Food Chains by Julie Hayden ( Focus 5 Set A) Troy’s Movie by Joy Cowley. Big Book Our Solar System by Julie-Anne Justus Weather – Rain and Us by Jillian Powell Fry Readability Procedure was used to assess suitable text levels.

Procedure The students were selected for the study as per the participants section of this report.

Existing results from the Torch tests were used as suitable pre-test scores. The Torch tests were conducted on the 3rd of March 2008.

After being selected for this study all students were also tested using the Reading Progress test at level 3. This test was found to be very difficult for most of the children and it was decided that all children would be tested at the level 2 test. Children were given about an hour to complete this test which was given to an entire class of grade 3/4 children at the one time.

One hour was more than enough time for most of the children and those who had not finished had completed as much as they were able to do.

All 12 children involved in the study were then tested using the Paraphrasing and Synonyms Tests (Munro) and the results were collected and recorded.

From the test results and the advice of the classroom teachers, the intervention and control groups were established. Both the intervention and control groups were as balanced as possible given the available data.

The control group would continue to participate in normal English classes based on the 2 hour literacy block used throughout the school.

The Intervention group was involved in 10 lessons based on the Paraphrasing teaching Strategy (Munro 2005). This strategy involved the students participating in lessons explicitly teaching the use of synonyms as substitute words in sentences to enhance their understanding of the text and paraphrasing of sentences and paragraphs within a text to clarify the meaning for students in their own words and thus their comprehension of the text. It should be noted that the scoring of the paraphrasing test involved simply adding the number of synonyms correctly used in the sentences as the students were not proficient in rewording the sentences in any other way.

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