Don't underestimate the importance of knowledge

I could read with a fairly high level of understanding a complicated paper analyzing education policy or corporate communications strategies or a Major League Baseball pennant race. But give me an article on Russian literature or economics and I’ll have a tough time. I’d at least have to slow way down and re-read a few times to grasp the meaning.

We talk a lot about the importance of teaching students strategies and the “skill” of reading (and that’s important!). But we should never underestimate the importance of knowledge for a person’s ability to read with a high level of comprehension. Studies have shown that knowledge is, in fact, MORE important than a student’s reading level in predicting comprehension. (See 1988 study by Donna Recht and Lauren Leslie)

Ask any teacher and he or she will tell you this is true: A student who reads at a low level can often read a highly complex article or book if he or she is interested in the topic and knows quite a bit about it going into the reading. It’s true for all of us, no matter our skill levels.

Dr. Dan Willingham has shaped my thinking around this topic quite a bit (here is one post by him where he cites the Recht & Leslie study), and I was reminded of this again last week when I heard him speak on the topic.

According to Willingham: Knowledge is obtained most efficiently through reading. So, students who do a lot of leisure reading in the early years are better equipped to become strong readers as they progress through school.

Read more, and you’ll read better!