High school students are often required to learn course material by reading on their own and, in most cases, this material is in the form of expository texts. Students with learning disabilities may find expository texts more difficult to read than narrative texts. With expository texts, the structure varies; the text is very dense conceptually; and the text contains a great deal of unfamiliar vocabulary. Students with learning disabilities generally lack prior knowledge that would assist them with comprehension (Sáenz & Fuchs, 2002).
Some issues arise from the fact that most students are expected to have strong reading skills by the time they reach secondary school, and teachers can make the assumption that their students are able to gain the required knowledge from reading. Studies have shown that teaching reading strategies to students with learning disabilities improves comprehension (Gersten et al., 2001; Mastropieri et al., 2003; Swanson, 1999). When students are taught how to identify the main ideas in a text and summarize them, their performance in the subject significantly improved.
Berkeley and Riccomini (2013) tested an approach for improving the textbook reading comprehension of high school students. The researchers used a history textbook; however, they explained that this approach could easily be used with other subjects as well. QRAC-the-Code is an approach that teaches students to work like detectives, using different strategies to understand a text and to manage their reading comprehension.
- Question: Students use the subheading of a textbook section to form questions about the subject being studied.
- Read: Students then read the section and pause.
- Answer: Students ask themselves whether they can answer their question, based on the information they read. They circle Yes or No on a checklist. They answer their question if they can.
- Check: Students check the answer to their question in order to be sure that it is correct and that it is a good summary of the section they read. If they cannot answer their question, they use one of the fix-up strategies provided.
Below are some examples of instructions and questions to use as you guide students through the strategy:
- Did you understand the vocabulary? Look at the definitions of words, particularly those in boldface.
- Are there clues in the characteristics of the text? Study the maps and figures.
- Do you know something else about this topic? Use your previous knowledge.
- Were you unable to find the answer to your question? Try to summarize the section!
- What is being talked about in this section?
- What happens in this section?
- Explain what this section is about in less than 2 sentences.
- Are you really stuck? Re-read the section and try again!
The follow-up sheets should place minimal demands on the students in terms of writing; as to avoid distracting them from the main task at hand: comprehension.