The assessment of comprehension skills and development of a programme for enhancing comprehension skills for fourth grade students in the State of Qatar
This study aimed to explore the reading comprehension learning needs of fourth grade pupils in Qatar; to identify and test assessment techniques that may be helpful in studying reading comprehension; and to investigate the effects on reading comprehension of a metacognitive teaching programme. Exploratory interviews with fourth grade teachers showed that they focus on pronunciation, word-recognition and grammar. Pupils are not taught the strategies of comprehension and thinking while they read. A need was identified for innovative assessment activities and interventions to enhance reading comprehension skills. A quasi-experimental research design was chosen to investigate the effect of a metacognitive teaching programme in which two groups of pupils were compared on various measures of comprehension performance, including reading self-awareness and strategy use before and after a three month teaching programme: the standard Qatar reading programme for the control group and the Reading and Thinking Strategy programme for the experimental group. Reading comprehension was measured by a comprehension test and cloze test developed by the researcher. Strategy use and reading awareness were assessed by think-aloud tasks, the Index of Reading Awareness (Paris, Cross and Lipson, 1984), a Self-perception scale (Henk and Melrick, 1998) and metacognitive interviews. The reliability and validity of all measures were tested with classes of 4th grade pupils from three randomly selected schools in Qatar. The reading strategy programme was applied in a single school selected from among the three that had been involved in piloting the instruments. Valid, usable data was collected from 64 pupils: 31 in the control and 33 in the experimental group. The experimental group made significantly greater gains over all measures than the control group in association with the intervention showing the effectiveness of the metacognitive approach. The significant gains in reading awareness experienced by the experimental group extended to individual strategies: evaluation, planning, regulation and conditional knowledge. The metacognitive interviews and think-aloud protocols supported these findings. Following the intervention, the experimental group made more use than the control group of evaluation, self-questioning, monitoring and planning, and unlike the control group, used strategies in combination. It is concluded that, by training pupils in metacognitive skills, teachers can improve reading comprehension and help them to become active learners in the reading process.