Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders


Date of this Version



Published in Focus on Exceptional Children, Volume 44, Number 3 (November 2011), pp. 1-20.


Copyright © 2011 Love Publishing Company.


Reading comprehension involves two primary processes: (a) decoding printed text and (b) understanding language accessed through the process of decoding. In the early years of reading development, children’s ability to comprehend text is largely constrained by individual differences in decoding printed text; however, once decoding becomes automatized, reading comprehension is largely dependent upon one’s skills in language comprehension (Catts, Hogan, & Adlof, 2005). In recent decades, numerous studies have investigated how children develop decoding skills and how, when these skills do not develop normally, educators can effectively intervene (e.g., Denton & Mathes, 2003; Simmons et al., 2008; Vellutino, Scanlon, Small, & Fanuele, 2006). Beyond decoding, the substantial role that language skills play in the achievement of skilled reading comprehension has largely been ignored. This is surprising, given that skilled reading comprehension is critical for modern life; success in education, productivity in society, and almost all types of employment require rapid and thorough assimilation of information from text. Further, there are children who develop good decoding skills but fail to develop comparable levels of reading comprehension. A profile of good word reading in the presence of poor comprehension affects approximately 10% of school-age children (Nation, 2005; Yuill & Oakhill, 1991) and demonstrates that skills other than decoding are important for successful comprehension. Clearly a focus on the skills that support text comprehension is essential within the teaching of reading (and communication skills more broadly). In this paper, we provide an overview of a large empirical evidence base that shows that the language skills of inferencing, comprehension monitoring, and use of text structure knowledge are critical to successful comprehension. Because these language skills are not reliant on word reading abilities, we chose to focus on how to stimulate them through shared book readings in early childhood.