Beyond Decoding: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Language Comprehension Interventions on K–5 Students’ Language and Literacy Outcomes

Silverman, R.D., Johnson, E.M., Keane, K., & Khanna, S. (2020). Beyond Decoding: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Language Comprehension Interventions on K–5 Students’ Language and Literacy Outcomes. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S207– S233. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.346

The debate over the science of reading has focused primarily on decoding (i.e., connecting letters and sounds to read words) and whether to use phonics to teach it. However, research on reading has included much more than decoding. Language comprehension, which allows readers to derive meaning from text, is an equally critical component of reading. Research has suggested that explicit instruction on the components of language comprehension—vocabulary and semantics, morphology, and syntax—can support language and reading comprehension. To inform the field on the science of reading as it pertains to language comprehension, in this meta-analysis of recent language comprehension interventions (n = 43) in U.S. elementary schools, the authors examined whether effects vary depending on participant and intervention characteristics. Findings suggest positive effects on custom measures of vocabulary, listening comprehension, and reading comprehension but not on standardized measures of these outcomes. Results also indicate positive effects for English learners and promise for multicomponent interventions and those that include technology. Much more research is needed on how best to support language comprehension for underserved populations (e.g., students from low-income backgrounds) and how interventions can be optimized to support generalizable language and literacy outcomes. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

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