Episode 51 - Evidence-based Practices for Reading Comprehension with Amy Elleman, PhD

About Amy Elleman, PhD

Amy Elleman earned a B.S. in Psychology at the University of Maryland in Heidelberg, Germany. Dr. Elleman has experience as a teacher and administrator in programs serving students with learning and behavior difficulties. She earned her M.Ed. and Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University where she became interested in the early identification and treatment of reading comprehension difficulties. Dr. Elleman’s research focuses on the examination of factors central to reading comprehension. She has expertise in conducting meta-analyses and examining the efficacy of reading interventions through randomized controlled trials. Her current research includes examining factors related to vocabulary acquisition for students with learning difficulties, conducting a comprehensive meta-analysis of comprehension intervention studies, and examining the impact of knowledge and inference instruction for students with reading comprehension difficulties. Dr. Elleman currently serves as the director of the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) Literacy Studies Ph.D. Program, an interdisciplinary program dedicated to teaching doctoral students how to translate literacy research to practice.  

Episode Summary

Amy Elleman, PhD, joins the READ Podcast to discuss the evidence supporting reading comprehension development and implications for effective instruction. This episode builds upon previous READ conversations in conceptualizing comprehension as an integration of skills. In this episode, you will learn about 

  • the components and processes of reading comprehension. 
  • research frameworks applicable for educators of students at any age. 
  • evidence-based practices to promote comprehension. 
  • interventions for students who experience comprehension breakdowns. 

Dr. Elleman offers feasible and applicable insights for further learning and classroom implementation for any educator. 

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Dr. Danielle Gomez identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”

1. Defining Reading Comprehension 
Listen to 12:14 – 13:11 to learn more. 

Dr. Elleman cites the RAND’s definition of reading comprehension as the “process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language (Snow, 2002).  

“It's not just what's on the page and understanding what's on the page. It's bringing what you know to the page and the author's message that gets you to comprehension, and that interaction is what makes it so complicated.” 

2. A Deeper Dive into Reading Comprehension 
Listen to 13:59 – 18:14 to learn more. 

Dr. Elleman explains two types of models that inform our understanding of reading comprehension – component and process models.  

“I like the component models because they help educators know where problems may be happening and be able to identify those problems.” 

Dr. Elleman specifically cites three models that are applicable for educators in bringing the research on reading comprehension to practice. 

“The RAND Model [emphasizes] this interaction between the text, the activity and the reader all happening in this socio-cultural context. I think that it's a great way to plan instruction when we're thinking about comprehension.” 

3. Implications for Instruction 
Listen to 18:40 – 24:32 and 29:33 - 43:03 to learn more. 

Dr. Elleman applies the research on reading comprehension to effective instructional practices. 

  • Conceptualize instruction through an integrated lens, which includes knowledge and content literacy instruction, vocabulary, and strategy instruction like inference and summarization. 

“There's been this debate in the last 8-10 years about strategies versus knowledge. I don't see these as a dichotomy at all. An integrated approach our best route for making change for kids.”

  • Constrained skills refer to skills related to accuracy and word reading while unconstrained skills refer to skills that are important throughout childhood and life such as vocabulary and content knowledge.  
  • Effective instruction involves explicit teaching practices such as 
    • Use of inferential questions 
    • Teaching text structure and clues 
    • Promoting self-questioning and comprehension monitoring 
    • Intentional integration of background knowledge with text reading 

“With explicit instruction, you've reduced the cognitive load by giving someone an expert framework to work from.” 

4. Supporting Children with Difficulties 
Listen to 25:11 – 28:57 and 44:29 – 49:50 to learn more. 

“There is research to indicate that for kids who have specific comprehension deficits, that activation may not be natural, even when they have the requisite knowledge to work with.” 

Dr. Elleman uses the acronym, POEMS + Vocabulary (Carlisle & Rice, 2002) to explain comprehension breakdowns: 

  • P - Preparatory strategies such as activating background knowledge 
  • O - Organizational strategies such as explicitly teaching and incorporating text structure and frameworks while reading expository and narrative text 
  • E - Elaborative strategies such as inferencing 
  • M - Metacognitive strategies  
  • S - Summarization 
  • Vocabulary 


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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Gomez.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.

Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.