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‘Let pupils actively engage with texts to improve their reading comprehension’

Young Dutch people’s reading skills have been declining for years. The main reason for this is that many have difficulty with reading at greater depth. Teach pupils to read actively in order to construct meaning is what Leiden researchers Paul van den Broek, Christine Espin and Anne Helder write in their report ‘Sturen op Begrip: Effectief Leesonderwijs in Nederland’ (Steering Towards Comprehension: Effective Reading Teaching in the Netherlands). They advise the Parliamentary Committee for Education, Culture and Science.

Pupils have difficulty understanding texts, especially comprehension at a greater depth. The result of national and international tests such as PISA 2018 show particular problems with reflecting on texts, integrating information from multiple texts and evaluating the reliability and persuasiveness of a text, for example when identifying fake news. These problems are increasing at a higher rate in the Netherlands than in other countries.

Effective reading teaching

There are several effective methods to improve pupils’ reading comprehension. They teach them to actively engage with texts in order to extract meaning from them. Pupils learn to pay close attention to what they read, to think systematically about the text and to actively seek connections.

To effectively teach pupils to read, teachers should have a thorough knowledge of these elements. They must also be able to combine them dynamically and flexibly in the classroom. It is essential that the teacher has the opportunity to do so and receives support from the school management, their colleagues and all others who are involved in education.

‘This knowledge should make it possible to buck the downward trend in reading skills.’

A lot is known about what is needed to teach pupils to read with good comprehension. To help translate this knowledge into teaching practice, the researchers give a number of concrete tips in their report. These tips can be used by teachers, school management and the government, but also in teacher training courses, refresher courses and early childhood education. ‘This knowledge should make it possible to buck the downward trend in reading skills and to give pupils a solid basis for reading comprehension,’ they conclude.

The report Sturen op Begrip: Effectief Leesonderwijs in Nederland (Steering Towards Comprehension: Effective Reading Teaching in the Netherlands) was presented to the Parliamentary Committee on Thursday.

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