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The Listening and Reading Comprehension Link

by Joan Sedita | 1 | 2 Comments

I recently read a piece by Monica Brady-Myerov in Language Magazine in which she addresses the importance of teaching students listening skills. That same day I was reviewing the final proof for my updated training book, The Key Comprehension Routine: Primary Grades that includes an updated chapter about the foundational role of oral language and listening comprehension. The coincidence caused me to devote this blog post to listening comprehension!

After identifying the importance of listening comprehension in general, Brady-Myerov’s piece goes on to focus on how important teaching listening skills is for students with English as a second language. In particular, she talks about how TV and radio can be used as a valuable teaching tool to promote second-language acquisition. Some of you may recognize Monica’s name – she is an award-winning public radio reporter. I often listened to her on NPR when she was a senior reporter at WBUR here in Boston. Listening to her reporting certainly gave me an opportunity to improve my listening comprehension!  In her piece, she provides excellent suggestions for how to use radio and video to develop listening comprehension and academic vocabulary knowledge for English language learning students.

Brady-Myerov references a paper by Tiffany Hogan published last year in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology in 2014 that reviews evidence showing that listening comprehension becomes the dominating influence for all students on reading comprehension starting in the elementary grades. It is great piece if you want to review the research related to this topic.

Here is what is included about the connection between listening and reading comprehension in the new Key Comprehension Routine book I referred to above:

Oral Language Leads to Literacy: Listening and Reading Comprehension

The simple view of reading comprehension (Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Hoover & Gough, 1990) is a widely accepted model of the reading process (Hoffman, 2009). According to the simple view, development in two basic areas makes reading comprehension possible: decoding 
skills and listening skills. Comprehension requires increased automaticity of decoding accompanied by an increase in the same general cognitive and language abilities that enable listening comprehension. The simple view has been represented in the following formula (Moats, 2009; Hoffman, 2009):

Reading = Decoding x Language Comprehension

According to the simple view, decoding and language (i.e., listening) comprehension ability are necessary for reading comprehension. If students lack decoding skills, they can still comprehend with strong listening comprehension ability – as long they can listen to text being read. However, if students have weak listening comprehension ability, they will also have difficulty with reading comprehension, even if they learn how to decode well.

Carlisle and Rice (2002) explain how the relationship between reading and listening comprehension changes as children learn to read:

In the first few years of learning to read, children with age-appropriate language development can understand much more challenging books through listening than they can read. As first graders, for example, they might listen to books like Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg with comprehension and enjoyment. However, they do not have the necessary word reading skills to read such a book on their own. They can read Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham because the simple words in this story are in their reading vocabulary; however, this book, while it is enjoyed for its humor, presents few challenges to their language comprehension. (p. 22)

They go on to explain that the relationship between listening and reading comprehension becomes stronger over the elementary years, as children gain the word-reading skills they need to read text that matches the level of their language comprehension. By about fifth grade, reading comprehension and listening comprehension are more closely related than they are for younger students.

This does not mean teachers should wait to teach comprehension until decoding skills are in place! It is essential for teachers to teach comprehension strategies, such as identifying and stating main ideas, summarizing and retelling, generating and answering questions, and using graphic organizers or story maps to aid in the recall of stories or information from expository text. Discussion of text, development of vocabulary and background knowledge, and analytic thinking can all be done through oral language and discussion before students are able to read material that is challenging enough to teach comprehension.

Order a copy of our new book here.

Joan Sedita

Joan Sedita is the founder of Keys to Literacy and author of the Keys to Literacy professional development programs. She is an experienced educator, nationally recognized speaker and teacher trainer. She has worked for over 35 years in the literacy education field and has presented to thousands of teachers and related professionals at schools, colleges, clinics, and professional conferences.

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  1. Jacqueline Kelley

    Fascinating the need for great listening skills/comprehension.

  2. Jacqueline Kelley

    How phonemic awareness is essential for reading.



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