Rereading Comprehension Pedagogies: Toward a Dialogic Teaching Ethic that Honors Student Sensemaking

Maren Aukerman


This conceptual essay critiques reading comprehension pedagogies that are part of the current educational landscape.  I argue that comprehension pedagogy generally reflects one of three differing orientations, each with its own assumptions about what comprehension is:  comprehension-as-outcome pedagogies, which emphasize getting textual meaning “right”; comprehension-as-procedure pedagogies, which emphasize knowing the “right” ways doing reading; and comprehension-as-sensemaking pedagogies, which take all textual interpretation seriously, regardless of “rightness.”  Comprehension-as-sensemaking pedagogies, in turn, can be distinguished as either primarily responsive – aimed at surfacing student understandings – or primarily dialogic – aimed at getting student understandings to refract.  Arguably, comprehension-as-outcome pedagogy dominates current reading instruction.  A focus on measuring and teaching toward “right” interpretations permeates almost all aspects of comprehension pedagogy even when one of the other orientations toward comprehension pedagogy is also at play.  While seemingly intuitive, this overarching outcome emphasis reifies textual meaning in ways that are both theoretically and ethically problematic.  I make the case that comprehension-as-sensemaking pedagogy should become primary instead.  I propose that comprehension-as-outcome and comprehension-as-procedure pedagogies should not be abandoned, but should be subordinated to dialogic comprehension-as-sensemaking pedagogy so that students’ textual sensemaking is more fully heard, respected, and examined in reading classrooms.


Dialogism; Reading Comprehension; Sensemaking; Theories of Reading; Ethics; Understanding

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Copyright (c) 2014 Maren Aukerman

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