Reading comprehension, or the ability to extract information accurately from reading narrative or content area textbooks, is critical for school success. Many students identified with learning disabilities struggle with comprehending or acquiring knowledge from text despite adequate word-recognition skills. These students experience greater difficulty as they move from elementary to middle school where the focus shifts from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Although the group of students with learning disabilities vary with respect to their challenges in reading, some general characteristics of this group include problems identifying central ideas of a text, including its relationship to supporting ideas, differentiating between important and unimportant details, asking questions, drawing inferences, creating a summary, and recalling textual ideas. Typically, these students are passive readers that do not spontaneously employ task appropriate cognitive strategies nor monitor their ongoing understanding of the text, resulting in limited understanding of both narrative and expository texts. An evidence-based approach to comprehension instruction is centered on teaching students the cognitive strategies used by proficient readers. Within the framework of reading comprehension, the goal of cognitive strategies is to teach students to actively engage with the text, to make connections with it and their prior knowledge, so that learning becomes more purposeful, deliberate, and self-regulated.
Texts differ in the level of challenge that they present to students. Narrative texts are generally simpler to read as these are based on a temporal sequence of events and have a predictable story structure. In contrast, expository texts, such as social studies and science, can be particularly demanding as there are multiple and complex text structures based on the relationship of ideas about a particular concept or topic. Using principles of explicit instruction, all learners, including students with learning disabilities and English language learners, can be taught cognitive strategies that have been proven effective for increasing reading comprehension. Early research focused on the instruction in a single cognitive strategy to promote reading comprehension such as identifying story grammar elements and story mapping for narrative texts and identifying the main idea, summarizing, and text structure for expository texts. Later researchers embedded a metacognitive component, such as self-monitoring with a specific cognitive strategy, and also developed multicomponent reading packages, such as reciprocal teaching, that integrated the use of several cognitive strategies. Instruction in cognitive and metacognitive strategies is a promising approach for students with learning disabilities to support their independent use of reading comprehension strategies and for promoting academic achievement across content areas and grade levels.