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Abstract

For decades, researchers have asserted that K–12 teachers should embed reading comprehension instruction within each academic discipline, including ‘‘technical subjects’’ such as engineering. Recently, this assertion has become a source of controversy among researchers and practitioners who believe that time spent on teaching reading comprehension strategies may detract from time spent on more authentic activities such as engineering design. The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate whether and how elementary students’ applications of comprehension strategies overlapped with their application of engineering design processes. The authors provided comprehension strategy instruction to 57 third- and fifth-grade students as they read texts describing problems that could be solved through engineering. The authors used constant comparative methods to analyze students’ comments from small-group and whole-class discussions about the texts. A former reading teacher with a PhD in literacy education identified students’ application of reading comprehension strategies, while a former engineer with a PhD in engineering education identified their application of engineering design processes. The analysis indicated that 80.5% of comments that were coded as ‘‘comprehension strategy’’ were also coded as ‘‘engineering design process.’’ Particular comprehension strategies tended to co-occur with particular engineering design processes. This study challenges the assumption that time spent in applying comprehension strategies detracts from time spent in learning engineering design. Elementary students’ application of comprehension strategies occurred in conjunction with their application of engineering design processes, suggesting that comprehension strategy instruction and engineering design instruction can be conceptualized as complementary rather than competing.

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