Journal for Language Teaching

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Butterfly effects in reading? The relationship between decoding and comprehension in Grade 6 high poverty schools

EJ Pretorius


Using the metaphor of butterfly effects, this paper considers how literacy inequalities in comprehension performance amongst Grade 6 learners in high poverty schools can be linked to skills that should have been developed in earlier stages of reading development. The reading comprehension skills of Grade 6 learners in the home language, Northern
Sotho, and in English in two disadvantaged primary schools were assessed over a 2-year period, using large group pen-and-paper tests. A smaller sample of learners were then also tested individually for decoding skills each year to see if decoding competence could shed light on the comprehension levels and differential reading effects amongst learners. Strong correlations were found between three measures of decoding skill
and reading comprehension. Oral reading fluency emerged as a strong predictor of comprehension. The pedagogical implications of these findings for early reading instruction in South African classrooms are briefly discussed.

Key words: Grade 6 reading, decoding, comprehension, academic literacy, high poverty schools
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