[PS-2.24] It didn't say that: Teachers' knowledge and ability to foster inference-making skills

Paor, A. , Martin-Chang, S. & Tansey, S.

Concordia University

Studies of basic language constructs have shown positive correlations between teacher-knowledge and students' reading ability. Fewer studies have examined teacher-knowledge of comprehension, including one crucial component, inferencing. We investigated teachers' self-perceptions and understanding of reading comprehension, and explored possible links to their ability to foster inferencing-skills. Elementary teachers (N=70) were surveyed about their self-perceptions and their comprehension knowledge. Explicit knowledge included identifying subtypes of questions. Literal questions focused on either Main Ideas, dealing with the gist of the story, or Details. Inference questions were based on textual evidence, but required the reader to use background information to supplement answers that were not overtly stated. Causal Inferences explained how/why events occurred. Informational Inferences enriched the characters and the setting. Understanding the Main Ideas and Causal Inferences are most critical for comprehension. The survey showed that teachers' explicit comprehension knowledge was low (M=.45), yet they perceived themselves as 'very good' at 'teaching reading comprehension' and 'inferencing'. This pattern of poor calibration between self-ratings and ability, replicates many studies of teacher knowledge. Encouragingly, teachers who rated themselves high at 'fostering a love of reading' were more knowledgeable about popular young-adult literature (ART-Y) and had higher explicit comprehension scores. Teachers were also given a passage from a popular youth novel and asked to generate comprehension questions. Sadly, the most frequently asked questions focused on the least important information for deep comprehension: literal-details. However, teachers fell into one of two patterns, those who wrote literal-detail questions were least likely to write inference-questions. Moreover, teachers with more explicit comprehension knowledge in Grades 4-8, (where inferencing-skills are a main instructional focus), were most likely to write causal inference questions (and ask fewer literal-detail questions). Therefore, teachers' explicit knowledge may be an important contributing factor to fostering children's inferencing ability and ultimately, to improving reading comprehension.