Reading comprehension theories: A view from the top down

Panayiota Kendeou, Edward J. O'Brien

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

22 Scopus citations


Comprehension is complex and multidimensional. It depends on the execution and integration of many processes (for reviews, see Alexander & The Disciplined Reading and Learning Research Laboratory, 2012; Kendeou & Trevors, 2012; McNamara & Magliano, 2009; RAND, 2002). To understand a sentence, for example, one must visually process the words, identify their phonological, orthographic, and semantic representations, and connect words using rules of syntax to form an understanding of the underlying meaning. In this chapter, we do not focus on any of the factors that help readers at these lower levels of the comprehension process (Perfetti & Stafura, 2014). Instead, we focus on comprehension processes beyond individual words and sentences. These comprehension processes help readers understand and integrate meaning across sentences, make use of relevant background knowledge, generate inferences, identify the discourse structure, and take into consideration the authors’ goals and motives (Graesser, 2015). The end product is a mental representation that reflects an overall meaning of the extended written discourse. For all of these comprehension processes to be successful, many interacting factors play a role, such as reader characteristics, text properties, and the demands of the task at hand (Kintsch, 1998; RAND, 2002; Rapp & van den Broek, 2005). These factors individually and jointly influence reading processes and products. Achieving a basic level of comprehension that reflects the intended meaning of a simple text, however, is not sufficient. Individuals must also be able to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information within and across texts (Alexander & DRLRL, 2012; NAEP, 2013). These even higher-level processes result in deeper comprehension (Graesser, 2015) and learning from texts (Goldman & Pellegrino, 2015).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Discourse Processes, Second Edition
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781317417989
ISBN (Print)9781138920095
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Taylor & Francis.


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