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QAR: Enhancing Comprehension and Test Taking Across Grades and Content Areas

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Teachers today face increasing demands to ensure their students achieve high levels of literacy. They may feel overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching reading comprehension strategies that foster the integration, interpretation, critique, and evaluation of text ideas. The challenges are compounded because students of diverse backgrounds often enter classrooms reading far below grade level. In this article, the authors describe how Question-Answer Relationships (QARs) can provide a framework for comprehension instruction with the potential of closing the literacy achievement gap. QAR can serve as a starting point for addressing four problems of practice that stand in the way of moving all students to high levels of literacy:The need for a shared language to make visible the invisible processes underlying reading and listening comprehensionThe need for a framework for organizing questioning activities and comprehension instruction within and across grades and school subjectsThe need for accessible and straightforward whole-school reform for literacy instruction for higher level thinkingThe need to prepare students for high-stakes testing without undermining a focus on higher level thinking with text.
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206
© 2005 International Reading Association (pp. 206–221) doi:10.1598/RT.59.3.1
TAFFY E. RAPHAEL
KATHRYN H. AU
QAR: Enhancing comprehension
and test taking across grades
and content areas
The authors describe how Question Answer
Relationships (QAR) can provide a
framework for comprehension instruction
with the potential of closing the literacy
achievement gap.
P
romoting high levels of literacy for all chil-
dren is a core responsibility for today’s
teachers. In this article, we describe the po-
tential of Question Answer Relationships (QAR)
for helping teachers guide all students to higher
levels of literacy. We set this description within the
current instructional and assessment context, with a
particular focus on what it means to teach to high
levels of literacy and why it is especially impor-
tant to ensure that such instructional activities reach
all students.
Educators agree that students must meet high
standards for literacy achievement. In a democratic
society, success depends on an informed citizenry
who can participate effectively in the democratic
process—reading a wide range of materials, inter-
preting and evaluating what they read, drawing
conclusions based on evidence, and so forth.
Furthermore, with increasing accountability at the
district, state, and national levels, U.S. teachers
know that they are often judged on the basis of how
well their students perform on mandated, high-
stakes tests. And certainly high levels of achieve-
ment in literacy are important for learning across
the curriculum, for independence in engaging with
print for personal satisfaction, and for success in an
increasingly information-based economy.
But what does it mean to achieve high levels of
literacy? Recent national panels and current re-
views detailing what it means to comprehend text
help inform us about current policies and future
trends (e.g., Pressley, 2002; Snow, 2002; Sweet &
Snow, 2003). For example, the RAND report
(Snow), commissioned by the U.S. Department of
Education, identifies literacy proficiency as
reached when a
reader can read a variety of materials with ease and in-
terest, can read for varying purposes, and can read
with comprehension even when the material is neither
easy to understand nor intrinsically interesting.... [P]ro-
ficient readers...are capable of acquiring new knowl-
edge and understanding new concepts, are capable of
applying textual information appropriately, and are
capable of being engaged in the reading process and
reflecting on what is being read. (p. xiii)
This same view is reflected in the current
National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP; Donahue, Daane, & Grigg, 2003), the only
federally funded large-scale testing program in the
United States, and the framework for the NAEP
2009 reading assessment (National Assessment
Governing Board, 2004) pushes the definition for
proficiency even further. For example, students will
be expected to read comfortably across genres with-
in fiction, nonfiction, procedural texts, and poetry.
They will be required to successfully answer ques-
tions, 70% to 80% of which call for the integration,
interpretation, critique, and evaluation of texts read
QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas
207
independently. Traditional questions that simply re-
quire readers to locate and recall information will
constitute only a third to a fourth of the questions
that students will face. Over half of the higher level
questions will require students to provide a short or
extended written response rather than simply to se-
lect from multiple-choice options. To be judged as
proficient in reading fiction, students must demon-
strate that they can think deeply about and write in
response to questions that address themes and les-
sons, elements of plot structures, and multiple
points of view. To demonstrate high levels of litera-
cy when reading nonfiction, students will need to
draw on their knowledge of text organization (e.g.,
description, causal relationships, logical connec-
tions) and be able to identify important details in
texts, graphs, photos, and other materials.
The kind of strategic knowledge assessed on
national and state tests, now and in the future, is
central to the achievement of high levels of literacy.
In this context, the gap between the literacy
achievement of mainstream students and students
of diverse backgrounds must be a central concern
(Au, 2003). Students of diverse backgrounds dif-
fer from mainstream students in terms of their eth-
nicity, socioeconomic status, or primary language
(Au, 1993). In the United States, for example, stu-
dents of diverse backgrounds may be African
American, Latino American, or Native American in
ethnicity; come from low-income families; or
speak African American Vernacular English or
Spanish as their primary language.
As displayed in Table 1, the existence of an
achievement gap between students of diverse back-
grounds and mainstream students is underscored
by 2002 reading results (Grigg, Daane, Jin, &
Campbell, 2003). These results show that, as a
group, students of diverse backgrounds have fallen
four years behind their mainstream peers in reading
achievement by the time they reach grade 12. The
average 12th-grade black student’s score (267) is at
the same level as the average 8th-grade Asian/
Pacific Islander student (267), and slightly below
that of the average 8th-grade white student (272).
Similarly, an average 12th-grade Hispanic student’s
score (273) is only 1 point above that of an aver-
age 8th-grade white student. This gap is present as
students move through the elementary grades, and
it only becomes worse.
Many theories have been proposed to explain
the literacy achievement gap, identifying factors
within and beyond the purview of the classroom
teacher. We focus here on an area that falls within
the control of individual classroom teachers and
their school colleagues: diverse students’ currently
limited opportunities for high-quality instruction in
reading comprehension. Research shows that, in
comparison to their mainstream peers, students of
diverse backgrounds tend to receive a great deal of
instruction in lower level skills and little instruction
in reading comprehension and higher level thinking
about text (Darling-Hammond, 1995; Fitzgerald,
1995). This emphasis on lower level skills fre-
quently results from lowered expectations for the
achievement of students of diverse backgrounds,
reflecting the mistaken belief that these students
are less capable of higher level thinking than main-
stream students (Oakes & Guiton, 1995). Using
this misguided logic leads to the erroneous con-
clusion that instruction in lower level skills is a bet-
ter match to the abilities of students of diverse
backgrounds.
These stereotypes of students of diverse back-
grounds are especially harmful at a time of rising
standards for reading performance. As noted earlier,
a high proportion of test questions—within the next
five years, approximately three quarters to four
fifths of questions on the NAEP reading assess-
ment—require students to use higher level think-
ing, such as making reader–text connections or
examining the content and structure of the text
(National Assessment Governing Board, 2004;
Donahue et al., 2003). As indicated above, studies
suggest that many students of diverse backgrounds
are not receiving the kind of comprehension in-
struction that would prepare them to perform well
TABLE 1
Average 2002 NAEP reading scores
Ethnicity Grade 4 Grade 8 Grade 12
White 229 272 292
Black 199 245 267
Hispanic 201 247 273
Asian/Pacific
Islanders 224 267 286
The Reading Teacher Vol. 59, No. 3 November 2005
208
on assessments that are increasingly oriented to-
ward higher level thinking with text. It is clear from
research that all students need instruction in read-
ing comprehension, especially the kind that focus-
es on the strategies required to answer and generate
challenging questions (Taylor, Pearson, Peterson,
& Rodriguez, 2003).
In our work with schools enrolling a high pro-
portion of students of diverse backgrounds, we find
that teachers often experience difficulty making the
desired changes to instruction. Typically, these
teachers have become accustomed to instruction
focused on lower level skills rather than on higher
level thinking and reading comprehension. Or they
are unsure of how to teach different comprehension
strategies in a way that allows students to see how
the strategies work together to facilitate an under-
standing of the text. The consequences of weak in-
struction for all students, but particularly for those
of diverse backgrounds, may extend far beyond
testing, likely limiting their opportunities for high-
er education, employment, and overall advance-
ment in society.
In summary, current practice and future trends
place increasingly heavy demands on teachers to
ensure that all of their students achieve high levels
of literacy. Teachers may feel overwhelmed by the
challenges of bringing students to these high levels
of literacy, due to uncertainty about how to teach
reading comprehension strategies to foster the inte-
gration, interpretation, critique, and evaluation of
text ideas. The challenges are compounded by the
fact that students of diverse backgrounds often enter
classrooms reading far below grade level.
We believe QAR provides a framework that of-
fers teachers a straightforward approach for reading
comprehension instruction with the potential of
eventually closing the literacy achievement gap.
QAR can serve as a reasonable starting point for ad-
dressing four problems of practice that stand in the
way of moving all students to high levels of literacy:
The need for a shared language to make visi-
ble the largely invisible processes underlying
reading and listening comprehension.
The need for a framework for organizing
questioning activities and comprehension in-
struction within and across grades and school
subjects.
The need for accessible and straightforward
whole-school reform for literacy instruction
oriented toward higher level thinking.
The need to prepare students for high-stakes
testing without undermining a strong focus
on higher level thinking with text.
Two decades ago, research showed that QAR
could reliably improve students’ comprehension
(Raphael & McKinney, 1983; Raphael & Pearson,
1985; Raphael & Wonnacott, 1985). In the two
decades since, literacy educators in a broad range
of settings have demonstrated its practical value
and shared their experiences in professional jour-
nals (e.g., Mesmer & Hutchins, 2002), textbooks
(e.g., Leu & Kinzer, 2003; Reutzel & Cooper,
2004; Roe, Smith, & Burns, 2005; Vacca et al.,
2003), and on the World Wide Web (e.g., www
.
smsd.or
g/schools/diemer/ and http://gallery.
carnegiefoundation.org/yhutchinson). In the re-
maining sections of this article, we discuss the rea-
sons underlying the “staying power” of QAR and
its usefulness across a variety of settings. We frame
our discussion in terms of the four problems of
practice the QAR framework can address.
Making the invisible visible
through QAR
The vocabulary of QAR—In the Book, In My
Head, Right There, Think & Search, Author & Me,
and On My Own—gives teachers and students a
language for talking about the largely invisible
processes that constitute listening and reading com-
prehension across grades and subject areas.
Teachers know the value of modeling and thinking
aloud to make visible the thought processes in-
volved in higher levels of thinking, but it can be
frustrating trying to convey complex ideas without
a shared vocabulary. Thus, QAR first and foremost
provides teachers and students with a much-needed
common language.
How many times and in how many classrooms
have conversations (such as the one that follows)
taken place when students answer questions after
reading or listening to text? In this fifth-grade
classroom, students have read and are now writing
answers to questions about Hatchet (Paulsen,
1987). Brian, the main character, is the lone sur-
vivor of a plane crash. He has as his only tool a
hatchet. The teacher, Ms. Bendon, notices Alex
looking upset as he reads and rereads the text.
(Pseudonyms are used for teachers and students.)
Ms. Bendon: Alex, you look like you might need help.
What can I do for you?
Alex: I don’t get it.
Ms. Bendon: Can you tell me what it is that you don’t
get?
Alex: I don’t know. I just don’t get it.
Ms. Bendon: Can you tell me the question you are
having trouble with?
Alex: [Turns to the page of questions sitting
to the side, and points to the question,
“How do you think Brian’s hatchet might
come in handy?”].
Ms. Bendon: OK, let’s think about this. What could
you do to help answer this question?
Alex: [shrugs]
Ms. Bendon: [taking the book from Alex] I think you
know a lot to help you answer this ques-
tion. Just think about this some more
and I’m sure you’ll be able to think of
some reasons.
Alex: OK.
Ms. Bendon knew that Alex had background
knowledge about hunting, survival strategies, and
the use of hatchets and other tools. Thus, she
walked away believing that Alex would be fine, be-
cause she had cued him to reflect on his background
knowledge rather than refer to the text. But instead
we see Alex move the question page aside and go
back to his already frustrating rereading strategy;
to him, the process of answering the question re-
mains mysterious. He may believe the right answer
is found only in the text. He may not want to take
risks by using his own knowledge and experience.
He may not realize the importance of using his
background knowledge in question-answering ac-
tivities. There are many possibilities for why he
“doesn’t get it,” but they remain unidentified and
unarticulated in the absence of a language frame-
work to talk about questioning and related strate-
gies. The original articles written to introduce QAR
explained the common vocabulary, but they did not
provide guidance about the best approach for intro-
ducing this language. Over the years, it has become
increasingly clear that there are advantages to in-
troducing QAR language in terms of three binary
comparisons: In the Book versus In My Head, Right
There versus Think & Search, and Author & Me
versus On My Own.
Too often, students of diverse backgrounds are
denied access to the language needed to discuss
strategies and questions, because the lessons they
receive focus largely on lower level skills. We have
observed that lessons in the reading programs often
used in these classrooms tend to be based on texts
that do not challenge or interest students. Questions
tend to be limited to the Right There category, and
students are not taught strategic or critical thinking.
The classroom examples that follow show how
teachers can move away from these limitations to
provide more effective instruction, especially for
students of diverse backgrounds.
Developing QAR’s shared language
In QAR classrooms during the first few days of
school, Ms. Bendon and other teachers introduced
students to the basic principle underlying QAR:
that generating and answering questions draws on
two core sources of information. As illustrated in
Figure 1, these sources are the texts that we read
and our background knowledge and experiences;
or, in the language of QAR, information that is In
the Book or In My Head, respectively. Teachers use
QAR language as they emphasize the importance
of both sources of information. Furthermore,
teachers use QAR language to help students learn
to use strategies effectively. For example, they
explain how skimming or scanning might lead to
details for an In the Book QAR (a typical locate/
recall strategy) or how using clues from the title and
chapter headings can point to relevant background
knowledge for answering an In My Head QAR (a
relatively simple interpret/integrate/infer task).
Students like Alex may still say, “I don’t get it,
but they are more able to describe the strategies
they’ve used and the kind of help they need. For ex-
ample, Alex could explain that he has tried three In
the Book strategies—rereading, skimming, and
scanning—but can’t find an answer explaining how
a hatchet could help. Ms. Bendon could convey that
this is an In My Head QAR and, thus, there are more
effective strategies to use for this particular question.
Once freed from his focus on the text, Alex could
QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas
209
be directed to consider his background knowledge.
Furthermore, he could help a peer, Samuel, who has
never used tools such as hatchets or gone hunting
with family members. Faced with the same question,
Samuel could tell Ms. Bendon, “I know it’s an In My
Head but I went to my head and there’s nothing
there. Can I talk to Alex?” Armed with QAR lan-
guage, students can communicate about what they
are doing and request the help they need to answer or
ask questions effectively.
Students learn about QAR through the com-
parisons illustrated in Figure 1. To differentiate
among the QARs, teachers emphasize the source of
information needed to answer the question. Mr.
Blanco, a sixth-grade teacher, begins QAR instruc-
tion by analyzing the differences between In the
Book and In My Head QARs. The text in the lesson
is an adapted newspaper article about a heroic go-
rilla who rescued a toddler at a zoo (Bils & Singer,
1996). Mr. Blanco and his students read short
The Reading Teacher Vol. 59, No. 3 November 2005
210
FIGURE 1
The QAR framework as a developmental progression
Text-to-theme
connections
Text-to-self
connections
Text-to-world
connections
Explanation
Description
Sequence
Simple list
In the Book
Right There
Think & Search
Author & Me
On My Own
In My Head
From Raphael and Au (2001, pp. 4 and 5). Used by permission of the publisher, McGraw-Hill/Wright Group.
segments, each followed by two questions, one In
the Book, one In My Head. The article begins,
A crowd of visitors at Brookfield Zoo looked on in hor-
ror Friday afternoon as they watched a toddler tumble
more than 15 feet into a pit, landing near seven goril-
las. But as zoo patrons cried out for help, expecting
the worst for the 3-year-old boy lying battered on the
concrete below, an unlikely hero emerged. (Bils &
Singer, p. 1)
The two questions Mr. Blanco asks students to an-
swer and analyze are (1) What caused the visitors
to look on in horror? and (2) What do you think
makes a hero an unlikely one?
Answering the first question requires readers to
use the information in the first two sentences of
the text, that a toddler fell 15 feet into a gorilla pit.
The horror might be attributed to the length of the
fall, the toddler landing in the midst of the goril-
las, or the toddler lying battered, but the limited
information relevant to answering the question is in
the text. In contrast, answers to the second question
will vary considerably, depending on the back-
ground knowledge and experiences of the reader.
QAR instruction should not wait until students
are able to read independently. Ms. Rodrigues, a
first-grade teacher, introduces her students to the
QAR language through listening comprehension
activities during her read-aloud program. Like Mr.
Blanco, she begins by introducing the categories
of In the Book and In My Head. She reads a book’s
title to her class, then holds up the book and fields
the children’s comments and questions. She focuses
children’s attention on the relationships among
what they know, the information provided by the
text, and their questions. She records children’s
questions on sticky notes, which she puts on the
cover of the book, then asks students to consider
sources for answering their questions. She then
models how their questions require information
from their heads or from the text, introducing the
formal language of In the Book and In My Head
using a large wall chart.
For example, early in the year, Ms. Rodrigues
displayed the cover of the text, Anansi and the
Magic Stick (Kimmel, 2001). The students looked
closely at the cover and began to make comments
and ask questions. Martin looked closely at the il-
lustrations on the cover and asked, “Why is there a
tomato floating on the water?” Ms. Rodrigues wrote
his question on a sticky note and placed it, along
with other students’ questions, on the front cover.
She then asked the students to think about where the
information to answer their questions might come
from. For Martin’s question, Viola suggested that
“he could look inside the book when he is reading
it and maybe it will say.” Ms. Rodrigues reinforced
that as one possibility, then asked, “What if you fin-
ish reading the book, and you still don’t really have
an answer? What if the book doesn’t exactly tell
you?” In this way she introduced the possibility that
not all questions may be answered in the text. The
students then read the story and paused to talk about
relevant information for answering their questions.
Following the reading, Ms. Rodrigues created a
two-column chart, with In the Book and In My
Head each heading a column. She modeled how to
think about the questions they had asked in terms
of the source of information needed for answers,
placing a sticky note for each question in the ap-
propriate column on the chart.
Regardless of grade level and whether students
read independently or participate in shared read-
ings or read alouds, teachers introduce students to
the language of QAR by analyzing the differences
between questions with answer sources in the book
and those where the answer source is students’ own
heads. Shorter texts work quite effectively for char-
acterizing basic differences between these two in-
formation sources, but as students become more
experienced with QARs, this simple distinction is
not sufficient to capture the range of strategies used
to answer and generate questions related to text.
Thus, teachers build on In the Book and In My
Head by introducing the four core QARs.
Once students are confidently and accurately
identifying In the Book QARs, teachers introduce
its subcategories, Right There and Think & Search.
Similarly, when students are confident and accurate
with In My Head QARs, teachers introduce its sub-
categories, Author & Me and On My Own (see
Figure 2 for definitions of each).
Longer passages (e.g., 3–5 paragraphs) are
used for this instruction so that students can more
easily see the differences between Right There and
Think & Search, as well as between Author & Me
and On My Own responses.
Mr. Blanco conducted QAR instruction within
a unit on immigration. For these QAR lessons, he
used the following passages from a short biography
QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas
211
of Cesar Chavez, displayed on an overhead trans-
parency:
Cesar Chavez moved from Arizona to California with
his family when he was ten years old. He and his family
worked as migrant farm laborers. Chavez attended
more than thirty-eight schools during his childhood.
After eighth grade, he worked full-time to help his fam-
ily until he left home to fight in World War II.
When he returned home after the war, Chavez learned
all he could about labor law and worked at organizing
protest marches for the rights of farm laborers. In 1962
he organized the National Farm Workers Association,
called La Causa, in Fresno, California. La Causa wanted
to stop using dangerous chemicals in the fields. “Our be-
lief is to help everybody, not just one race,” Chavez said.
Most farm owners refused to negotiate with La Causa.
Some reacted with violence, and local police usually
supported the owners. Chavez urged protesting work-
ers to leave their guns and knives at home. “If we used
violence, we would have won contracts long ago,” he
said, “but they wouldn’t be lasting because we wouldn’t
have won respect.”
La Causa called for Americans to boycott, or refuse to
buy, lettuce and grapes to show their sympathies for
the workers. The boycotts were so successful that
owners agreed to contracts with the workers.
By the time Chavez died in 1993 he had helped create
better lives for thousands of people. Senator Robert F.
Kennedy called Chavez “one of the heroic figures of
our time.” (Raphael & Au, 2001, p. 15)
Mr. Blanco used two questions, written on chart
paper, to introduce Right There and Think & Search
QARs: (1) How many schools did Chavez attend as
The Reading Teacher Vol. 59, No. 3 November 2005
212
FIGURE 2
The core Question Answer Relationships
In the Book
In My Head
Right There
The answer is in one place in
the text. Words from the ques-
tion and words that answer the
question are often “right there”
in the same sentence.
Author & Me
The answer is not in the text.
To answer the question, readers
need to think about how the
text and what they already
know fit together.
On My Own
The answer is
not in the text.
Readers need
to use their own ideas and experi-
ences to answer the question.
Think & Search
The answer is in the
text. Readers need to
“think and search,” or put
together different parts of the text, to
find the answer. The answer can be within
a paragraph, across paragraphs, or even
across chapters and books.
From Raphael and Au (2001, pp. 4 and 5). Used by permission of the publisher, McGraw-Hill/Wright Group.
a child? and (2) How did Chavez create better lives
for thousands of people?
He used a “transfer of control” model of in-
struction (see Au & Raphael, 1998; Pearson, 1985),
beginning by thinking aloud about the information
source for the first question. While saying he
thought this was an In the Book QAR, he high-
lighted the words schools and attended in the first
paragraph. He then described scanning the sen-
tence they appeared in for a number that would
make sense to answer the question. He circled
thirty-eight as he said aloud, “This is the answer to
the first question.” Then he wrote on the chart pa-
per, “Chavez attended 38 schools as a child.” He
used a similar process of modeling, highlighting,
and displaying an answer to the second question,
highlighting better working conditions, getting
higher pay, and learning to use boycotts rather than
violence.
Mr. Blanco then spoke about his own analysis
of the differences in what it took to answer the two
questions, drawing on the definitions in Figure 2
(Raphael & Au, 2001). He talked about how much
more difficult a Think & Search QAR can be for
many reasons. Think & Search QARs require that
readers find all the information that is relevant to the
question and then integrate that information into
one coherent answer. This is more challenging than
finding a detail in the text to respond to a Right
There question. Over time and through many exam-
ples, Mr. Blanco’s students learned to apply the
heuristic that their teacher had taught them to read-
ing, social studies, science, and other school sub-
jects, and to a variety of tasks—from answering
end-of-chapter questions in their content area sub-
jects to generating inquiry questions for research
projects and good discussion questions for student-
led book clubs.
To illustrate the differences between the In My
Head QARs—Author & Me and On My Own—
Mr. Blanco began with the following two questions
about the Chavez biography: (1) List characteris-
tics you most admire about Cesar Chavez and de-
scribe why you think these are admirable, and (2)
Whom do you admire in your family, and why do
you admire them? Continuing the same instruc-
tional approach, he paired these two questions to il-
lustrate the key difference between Author & Me
and On My Own. While both QARs require that
readers use information from their background
knowledge, to answer an Author & Me, readers
need to have read and understood the text. Unless
they had prior knowledge, most students would
be unable to list admirable characteristics of
Cesar Chavez without having read the selection.
However, an On My Own QAR does not require
students to read the text. For example, students
could describe a family member they admire with-
out reading or understanding the biography.
Organizing comprehension
instruction through QAR
QAR instruction can be adjusted for use across
grade levels and content areas because of the way
the categories form a progression of difficulty. This
provides an opportunity to coherently frame spe-
cific instruction in QAR, as well as more general
instruction in the range of high-level comprehen-
sion strategies students learn across grade levels.
The use of QAR as a framework for compre-
hension across the grades and school subjects may
be particularly helpful in schools serving many stu-
dents of diverse backgrounds. Often, under the
pressure to raise test scores, teachers in these
schools have been implementing highly structured
programs focusing on lower level skills. Teachers
usually report that they see gains in lower level
skills, such as word identification, but not in com-
prehension and higher level thinking. QAR pro-
vides a means for teachers to gain or regain a focus
on instruction in comprehension strategies in their
classrooms.
Initially, teachers introduce In the Book and
In My Head QARs. In early primary grades, some
teachers may use only these two categories and
may depend on teachers in later grade levels to in-
troduce the next level of categories. Others may be-
gin with the two categories but choose to introduce
the next level once certain students understand the
two sources well. Research has shown that by sec-
ond grade, students comfortably learn to distin-
guish between Right There and Think & Search
QARs (Raphael & McKinney, 1983). Further, re-
search studies have demonstrated that fourth
graders understand the differences among the four
core QARs (e.g., Raphael & Wonnacott, 1985).
Introduction of the core categories varies depend-
ing on the knowledge of the teacher as well as the
QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas
213
progress of students. However, anecdotal data from
teachers such as Ms. Rodrigues suggest that, with
appropriate instruction, even young students are
able to talk about all four QARs.
Across grade levels and subject areas, teach-
ers continue to use the QAR categories to frame lis-
tening and reading comprehension strategy
instruction (see Table 2). Although there are excep-
tions (e.g., reciprocal teaching, transactional strat-
egy instruction, Questioning the Author), many
approaches to comprehension instruction are based
on teaching individual strategies. However, read-
ers functioning at high levels of literacy use strate-
gies in combination and apply different approaches
to strategic thinking, depending on the genre or dif-
ficulty of the texts. Understanding how strategies
interrelate can be quite abstract for students faced
with the need to apply several strategies, as well as
quite demanding for teachers in terms of provid-
ing effective instruction. Table 2 conveys how
QAR can be used to help students see the relation-
ships among the strategies they are learning and the
task demands represented by different questions.
Table 3 shows how questions asked typically vary
across the reading cycle.
Thinking about QAR in this way provides a
framework that students can use to link strategies at
appropriate points in the reading cycle—whether
during their language arts instruction or in other
school subjects. Furthermore, the framework
guides teachers’ modeling of question-asking prac-
tices before (e.g., eliciting relevant background
knowledge), during (e.g., focusing on important
information, locating key terms, making inferences
about key plot events or character motivation), and
after reading (e.g., considering themes, building
arguments about author intent supported by text
evidence). Understanding and control of strategies
learned helps readers engage in the high levels of
literacy for which they are accountable in their
day-to-day classroom literacy activities and in
The Reading Teacher Vol. 59, No. 3 November 2005
214
TABLE 2
Using QAR to frame comprehension strategy instruction
QAR Sample comprehension strategies
On My Own 1. Activating prior knowledge (e.g., about genre, experiences, authors)
2. Connecting to the topic (e.g., self-to-text)
Right There 1. Scanning to locate information
2. Note-taking strategies to support easier recall of key information
3. Using context clues for creating definitions
Think & Search 1. Identifying important information
2. Summarizing
3. Using text organization (e.g., comparison/contrast, problem/solution, list,
explanation) to identify relevant information
4. Visualizing (e.g., setting, mood, procedures)
5. Using context to describe symbols and figurative language
6. Clarifying
7. Making text-to-text connections
8. Making simple inferences
Author & Me 1. Predicting
2. Visualizing
3. Making simple and complex inferences
4. Distinguishing fact and opinion
5. Making text-to-self connections
high-stakes assessments at the district, state, and
national levels.
Whole-school reform through QAR
The efforts of an individual teacher to provide
effective comprehension strategy instruction can
certainly contribute to improvements in students’
achievement. However, more than one year of in-
struction by an individual teacher is usually re-
quired to bring students of diverse backgrounds to
high levels of literacy and to ensure their contin-
ued success as readers. There has been increasing
recognition that to have the strongest effect on stu-
dents’ literacy development, we should look to the
school as the unit of change (Cunningham &
Creamer, 2003) and organize professional develop-
ment to promote teacher learning that leads to a co-
herent, schoolwide approach to literacy instruction.
Coherence is central to students’ literacy success
on informal and high-stakes assessments
(Newmann, Smith, Allensworth, & Bryk, 2001;
Taylor et al., 2003). Coherent efforts are particularly
needed for increasing the access of students of di-
verse backgrounds to the kind of reading compre-
hension instruction that will close the literacy
achievement gap.
In the United States, under the influence of the
federally funded Comprehensive School Reform
program of 2001, many schools—enrolling consid-
erable numbers of students of diverse back-
grounds—purchased packaged programs that
emphasized lower level skills (Viadero, 2004). The
problem with reform efforts based on packaged
QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas
215
TABLE 3
Using QAR to frame questioning within the reading cycle
Before reading On My Own
From the title or the topic, what do I already know that can connect me to the
story or text?
Author & Me
From the topic, title, illustrations, or book cover, what might this story or text
be about?
During reading Author & Me
What do I think will happen next? How would I describe the mood of the
story and why is this important?
Think & Search
What is the problem and how is it resolved?
What role do [insert characters’ names] play in the story?
What are the important events? (literary, informational)
Right There
Who is the main character? (literary)
Indentify the topic sentence in this paragraph. (informational)
What are some words that decribe the setting? (literary)
After reading Author & Me
What is the author’s message?
What is the theme and how is it connected to the world beyond the
story?
How can I synthesize the information with what I know from other sources?
How well does the author make his or her argument?
How is the author using particular language to influence our beliefs?
Think & Search
Find evidence in the text to support an argument.
programs is that they do not foster the kinds of con-
versations among teachers within and across
grades that can lead to coherent and cohesive liter-
acy instruction. Research (e.g., Anders &
Richardson, 1991; Duffy, 2004; Taylor, Pearson,
Peterson, & Rodriguez, 2005) suggests that a
schoolwide approach based on collaboration and
long-term commitment is more effective than top-
down models or packaged programs designed as a
“quick fix.” Our observations suggest that schools
serving students of diverse backgrounds often pre-
fer to rely on packaged programs rather than un-
dertaking the long-term professional development
efforts that are likely to be more effective. The rea-
sons that such schools favor packaged programs in-
clude large numbers of inexperienced teachers,
high rates of teacher turnover, and a lack of the ex-
pertise or funding needed to carry out systematic,
multiyear professional development.
As a framework that is relatively simple and
straightforward, yet applicable across grade levels
and subject areas, QAR has potential for school-
wide professional development. The QAR frame-
work helps organize comprehension instruction
within and across grade levels and serves as a
bridge between study of the language arts and other
subjects. The application is clear for both day-to-
day classroom activities as well as high-stakes
assessments. In addition, it is not based on a par-
ticular ideology (e.g., it can be applied within basal
reading instructional programs or literature-based
instruction or content area instruction). The QAR
framework can be a starting point for conversations
that lead teachers to think deeply about reading
comprehension instruction to promote sustained
changes in practice.
For example, teachers at one of the largest ele-
mentary schools in Hawaii use QAR to frame com-
prehension instruction in their ongoing efforts to
improve their students’ reading achievement. To
implement a schoolwide focus on reading compre-
hension, teachers mapped their end-of-year targets
for student learning in terms of grade-level bench-
marks related to state standards. The QAR frame-
work laid out in Figure 1 helps a school with such
mapping. In this case, the first-grade teachers
agreed to teach In the Book and In My Head
QARs. The third-grade teachers agreed to teach
their students all four of the core categories.
Teachers in the fourth through sixth grades agreed
to emphasize Think & Search, which students
could use with both fiction and nonfiction texts.
At this school, teachers in special education as
well as in general education use the language of
QAR. One of the special education teachers devel-
oped approaches for teaching her students about
QARs by drawing on multiple modalities. She cre-
ated rhythmic chants for In the Book and In My
Head. She used sentence strips so that students
could physically match questions and answers. She
created charts for each category to help students
better understand the meaning of “sources of in-
formation.As shown in Figure 3, one of the charts
was developed as students brainstormed places that
information comes from before it eventually ends
up in our heads. She then helped students identify
which of these information sources could be read,
putting an R in the box by the source.
Having the common language of QAR can
help teachers know how to proceed when they are
seeking to improve comprehension instruction.
For example, when examining the results of their
classroom-based assessments, the first-grade
teachers at this school noticed that their students
had trouble making inferences. As they discussed
the problem, one of the teachers had an idea. She
explained to the other teachers that the problem
might lie in the fact that they had been teaching
only the QAR categories of In the Book and In My
Head. However, to answer questions requiring in-
ferences, children needed to know the category of
Author & Me. At the time, Author & Me was be-
ing introduced to students in later grades, but the
first-grade teachers decided that they should be-
gin teaching it.
Consistent QAR instruction across the grades
and school subjects establishes the foundation for
improved reading and listening comprehension. By
the time students are in intermediate grades, those
who have received consistent QAR instruction de-
velop sophisticated strategies to analyze questions
and use appropriate strategies and language for for-
mulating good answers. For example, Kathy
Highfield documented students’ use of QARs from
third through fourth grade (Highfield, 2003). She
found several examples of students’ theorizing
about how questions work as well as appropriate
strategies for answering questions. For example,
students in her classroom discovered that the word
you may signal that the question is either an On My
The Reading Teacher Vol. 59, No. 3 November 2005
216
Own or Author & Me, while they also recognized
that this is not always the case.
Highfield (2003) found that students learned to
value skimming or rereading strategies to locate
specific information in the text for Right There
QARs (and the occasional Think & Search), while
simultaneously recognizing the role of their prior
knowledge in answering questions. They even be-
gan to debate individual differences in the way
QARs might apply as they read and responded to
questions. Toward spring of fourth grade, Highfield
eavesdropped as two students debated whether a
question represented a Right There or an On My
Own QAR. After the debate had gone on for a few
minutes, one student explained that for her, it was
an On My Own because she already knew the in-
formation to answer the question, but for her peer,
it was a Right There, because she didn’t already
have the information and had to get it from the
book. Such metacognitive knowledge about ques-
tioning and related strategies supports students in
their day-to-day work with text, as well as when
they must take a high-stakes test.
Accountability and test preparation
through QAR
Educators in U.S. schools are under increas-
ing pressure to improve students’ reading perform-
ance, as measured by scores on standardized and
state reading tests. This pressure is greatest in
schools with histories of low test scores, and these
are schools that often have high proportions of stu-
dents of diverse backgrounds. In their attempts to
raise test scores, these schools inadvertently lower
the quality of educational experiences. For exam-
ple, one common response is to narrow the cur-
riculum to focus on tested subjects such as reading
and math, to the exclusion of subjects such as sci-
ence, social studies, the arts, and physical educa-
tion (Smith, 1991). Another common response,
often months prior to spring testing, is to spend the
bulk of instructional time on test preparation.
Test preparation typically takes the form of
having students complete workbook exercises with
items of a form and content ostensibly similar to
those on upcoming tests. In general, students prac-
tice by reading short passages and responding to
multiple-choice items. Most test preparation pack-
ages involve little or no instruction by the teacher.
The problem with practice-only activities is that
students who have not already acquired reading
comprehension strategies gain little or nothing
from the large amounts of time spent on these ac-
tivities. Some students will muddle through as best
they can, using the coping techniques at their dis-
posal, while other students simply quit trying alto-
gether. Teachers in schools following these
practices have reported to us that many students of
diverse backgrounds experience burnout and dis-
couragement. These students lack motivation by
the time large-scale testing actually occurs. For
these reasons, practice-only test preparation activ-
ities cannot be expected to improve the test scores
of most students of diverse backgrounds, much less
help them to become better readers and thinkers.
With QAR as the framework for teaching
listening and reading comprehension strategies,
within a rich curriculum in language arts and other
school subjects, teachers can help students be
strategic when faced with the texts and tasks on
QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas
217
FIGURE 3
Information source chart
Photograph by the authors.
high-stakes tests. As we described earlier, the trend
in national assessments is toward ever higher levels
of literacy, moving away from a heavy emphasis on
locating and recalling information to require that
students integrate ideas across texts, draw infer-
ences, critique, and evaluate.
To illustrate this trend, we present an analysis
of the 12 questions on a fourth-grade NAEP
reading selection, “Watch Out for Wombats!”
(Donahue et al., 2003). An overview of the ques-
tions and their characteristics is presented in Table
4. There are 6 multiple-choice questions, 5 short
constructed responses, and 1 extended constructed
response. For 4 of the multiple-choice questions,
the QAR is Right There. For 1 of the remaining
multiple-choice questions, the QAR is Author &
Me, and for the other, Think & Search. Thus, even
multiple-choice questions on the NAEP may go be-
yond simple forms of comprehension. With the 5
short constructed response items, 3 reflect the
Think & Search QAR, while 1 is an Author & Me
and the other a Right There. For the extended con-
structed response, the QAR is Author & Me. In to-
tal, students are required to answer 5 Right There
items, 3 Author & Me items, and 4 Think & Search
items. This analysis shows the shift toward higher
level comprehension in current assessments and
also highlights the fact that there is not a simple
one-to-one correspondence between question for-
mat and QAR in current reading assessments.
Specifically, multiple-choice questions do not al-
ways have a QAR of Right There. It is clear that
teachers who want their students to perform well
on reading tests would be wise to provide instruc-
tion in all the QARs and the reading strategies as-
sociated with them, as listed in Table 2. Instruction
should foster students’ independence in the appli-
cation of QARs and reading strategies, as well as a
mindset toward critical evaluation.
Through QAR instruction, teachers do not
need to teach to a particular test but instead are able
to unpack the task demands of different types of
questions and alert students to these demands as
appropriate to the different tests students face. For
example, in 2003 on the Illinois State Achievement
Test, many students were not successful when re-
quired to write an extended response. The state’s
definition for success required that students meet
the following criteria:
Demonstrate an accurate understanding of
important information in the text by focus-
ing on the key ideas presented explicitly or
implicitly.
• Use information from the text to interpret sig-
nificant concepts or make connections to
other situations or contexts logically through
analysis, evaluation, inference, or comparison/
contrast.
Use relevant and accurate references; most
are specific and fully supported.
Integrate interpretation of the text with text-
based support (Illinois State Board of
Education, 2004).
Many students simply wrote a personal response
without making explicit connections to the text.
Others wrote about the text but did not include any
personal connections. Simply writing an extended
essay was not sufficient. To be successful, students
needed to identify the QAR as Author & Me and
compose a written response including both text
ideas and a personal connection.
Concluding comments
We believe QAR addresses four troubling
problems of practice today, particularly involving
students of diverse backgrounds who often receive
little literacy instruction oriented to promoting high
levels of thinking about text. First, QAR can help
address the lack of a shared language among teach-
ers and students for improving questioning prac-
tices, whether in the day-to-day life of the
classroom, in students’ activities outside of school,
or in high-stakes testing situations. Second, QAR
can bring coherence to literacy instruction within
and across grade levels by providing a framework
for a developmental progression for comprehen-
sion instruction. As a framework, QAR provides a
means for organizing comprehension strategy in-
struction. Third, QAR provides a focal point to be-
gin sustained efforts for whole-school reform
aimed at higher standards for literacy learning and
teaching. It is difficult to find points of contact that
bring teachers from kindergarten through middle
school to the table with the same high levels of in-
terest. Yet all readers at all grades can benefit from
The Reading Teacher Vol. 59, No. 3 November 2005
218
QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas
219
TABLE 4
Analysis of NAEP sample passage questions
Question Format QAR and Strategies
1. This article mostly describes how.... Multiple choice Think & Search:
• Identifying important information
• Summarizing
• Making simple inferences
2. Where do wombats live? Multiple choice Right There
• Scanning to locate information
3. Describe one way in which wombats Short constructed Think & Search
and koalas are similar and one way response • Visualizing
in which they are different. • Identifying important information
• Using text organization to identify
relevant information
• Summarizing
4. Use the information in this Short constructed Think & Search
passage to describe marsupials. response • Visualizing
• Identify important information
• Using text organization to identify
relevant information
• Summarizing
5. Where do wombats usually live? Multiple choice Right There
• Scanning to locate information
6. Choose an animal, other than a koala, Short constructed Author & Me
that you know about and compare it to response • Visualizing
the wombat. • Making simple and complex inferences
(to compare)
• Making text-to-self connections
7. Why are wombats not often seen Multiple choice Right There
by people? • Scanning to locate information
8. Describe the sleeping area of Short constructed Right There
wombats. response • Scanning to locate information
• Note-taking to support easier recall
9. To get food, the wombat uses its.... Multiple choice Right There
• Scanning to locate information
10. What would a wombat probably do Multiple choice Author & Me
if it met a person? • Predicting
• Making simple and complex inferences
11. Why has Australia set up animal Short constructed Think & Search
reserves to protect the wombat? response • Identifying important information
• Using text organization to identify rele-
vant information
• Making simple inferences
12. Give two reasons why people should Extended Author & Me
not have wombats as pets. Use what constructed • Identifying important information
you learned in the passage to support response • Making complex inferences
your answer. • Visualizing
Note. Questions retrieved June 14, 2005, from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ITMRLS/search.asp?picksubj=Reading
learning to think in terms of information sources
for answering and asking questions. Fourth, QAR
provides a responsible approach to preparing stu-
dents for high-stakes tests at different grade levels
and in a variety of subject areas, without detract-
ing from the high-quality instruction that leads to
high levels of literacy.
Using the QAR framework can provide bene-
fits to schools, teachers, and students for a rela-
tively small amount of time and effort. For schools,
the benefit comes in the chance to pull the grade
levels together around reading comprehension in-
struction. For teachers, the benefit is found in the
opportunity to improve instruction around ques-
tioning activities and reading comprehension. For
students, the benefit lies in gaining access to read-
ing comprehension and higher level thinking with
text—an opportunity often unavailable to those of
diverse backgrounds.
Raphael teaches at the University of Illinois at
Chicago. She may be reached there at 1040 W.
Harrison Street #1234, Chicago, IL 60607-
7133, USA. E-mail to taffy@uic.edu. Au teaches
at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
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QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas
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... -The type of question that readers must answer may influence their approach to reading (Raphael & Au, 2005;Rouet, 2006). Whereas literal comprehension questions may lead to more superficial understanding, it is agreed that questions requiring the integration of information contained in one or multiple texts have greater potential to foster deeper understanding and learning (e.g., Rosenshine, Meister, & Chapman, 1996). ...
Conference Paper
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Okuduğunu anlama her ne kadar herhangi bir metnin okunmasıyla o metinle ilgili birtakım hususları anlamak gibi düşünülse de aslında okuduğunu anlama üst düzey bilişsel becerilerdendir. Çünkü okuduğunu anlama bireyin okuduğu bir metinde yer alan bilgileri daha önceki bilgileriyle karşılaştırıp zihninde yeni bir anlam oluşturma çabasıdır. Okuduğunu anlama, bireyin sadece okullardaki akademik başarısını artırmak için yararlanacağı bir beceri değildir. Okuduğunu anlama becerisi, bireyin bir ömür gerek yazılı gerek görsel iletileri anlamlandırmasını sağlayacak bir beceridir. Bu becerinin bireyin hayatının hemen hemen her safhasında kullanılabilir olması, okuduğunu anlama becerisinin önemini de açık bir şekilde göstermektedir.
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While it may be obvious that one's ability to answer a question is dependent upon the knowledge one possesses relative to the question's topic, less obvious, but equally important, is one's ability to access appropriate information sources in search of a correct answer. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of a ten-week program designed to heighten fifth- and eighth-grade students' awareness of information explicitly stated in text, information implied by text, and information found only in the individual's knowledge base. In addition, the relative usefulness of prompting students to think of these three relationships between questions and sources of information was examined. Results indicated that while the training program was effective at both the fifth and eighth grades, the eighth-grade students benefitted as much from a 10-minute orientation to the concepts. Prompting students to use their knowledge of question-answer relationships was helpful in the fifth grade, but disruptive in the eighth.
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This study consisted of two experiments training fourth-grade students to recognize the relationship between comprehension questions and answer sources. In the first experiment, students who received four days of instruction about sources of information for answering comprehension questions did not differ from untrained control group students on three dependent measures. In the second experiment, the length of instruction was extended and conducted by teachers during their reading classes. Four teachers participated in two levels of training, a traditional half-day teacher workshop, or the half-day workshop supplemented by instructional materials and weekly monitoring by researchers with feedback. Six additional teachers did not receive any training, though their students participated in either a practice control group or a no treatment control group. When both trained and control group students were tested on the three dependent measures, significant effects for ability and question types were revealed in predicted directions. Performance of high ability students was superior to average and both were superior to low; performance on text based questions was higher than that on knowledge based questions. Both groups of trained students were generally superior to control groups in their quality of responses. /// [French] Cette étude consistait en deux expériences formant des élèves de neuvième á reconnaître le rapport entre les questions de compréhension de lecture et les sources de réponses. Dans la première expérience, les élèves qui ont reçu quatre jours d'instruction concernant des sources d'informations permettant de répondre aux questions de compréhension n'ont montré aucune différence par rapport aux élèves non formés du groupe de contrôle sur trois mesures dépendantes: a) la capacité de l'élève à identifier une question d'après le rapport entre la question et le lieu d'information de la réponse, b) la consistance entre l'identification du rapport question réponse et la source apparente d'information de la réponse, et c) l'exactitude et l'aspect complet de la réponse. Dans la deuxième expérience, le temps de l'instruction était prolongé et celle-ci dirigée par des enseignants au cours de leurs classes de lecture. Six enseignants ont participé à deux niveaux de formation: un atelier d'enseignants traditionnel d'une demi-journée, ou l'atelier d'une demi-journée avec un supplément de matériels d'instruction et un contrôle hebdomadaire par des chercheurs avec échange. Six autres enseignants n'ont reçu aucune formation, bien que leurs étudiants aient participé soit à un groupe de contrôle de pratique soit à un groupe de contrôle de non traitement. Lorsque les élèves formés et ceux du groupe de contrôle ont été testés sur les trois mesures dépendantes, des effets significatifs pour la capacité et les types de questions se sont révélés dans des directions prédites. L'accomplissement des élèves de haute capacité allait de supérieur à moyen et les deux de supérieur à bas; l'accomplissement sur les questions basées sur le texte était supérieur à celui sur les questions basées sur les connaissances. Les deux groupes d'élèves formés étaient en général supérieurs aux groupes de contrôle au niveau de la qualité de leurs réponses. De plus, les élèves dont les professeurs avaient reçu une formation plus étendue étaient plus aptes à identifier la source d'information requise par une question donnée bien qu'ils n'aient montré aucune différence dans la consistance ou la qualité de leurs réponses. /// [Spanish] Este estudio consistió de dos experimentos en los cuales se adiestraron estudiantes de cuarto grado a reconocer la relación entre preguntas de comprensión de lectura y las fuentes para las respuestas. En el primer experimento, no hubo diferencia en las variables dependientes entre los estudiantes que recibieron cuatro días de instrucción acerca de fuentes de información para contestar preguntas de comprensión y los del grupo control que no recibieron adiestramiento. Las variables dependientes fueron: (a) habilidad del estudiante para identificar una pregunta según la relación entre la pregunta y la localización de la información para contestarla, (b)concordancia entre la identificación de la relación pregunta-respuesta y la fuente de información aparente para contestarla, y (c) cuán precisas y completas fueron las respuestas. En el segundo experimento, se extendió el tiempo de duración de la instrucción y la misma se llevó a cabo por los maestros en sus clases de lectura. Seis maestros participaron en dos niveles de adiestramientos: un taller tradicional para maestros de medio día, o un taller de medio dia suplementado por materiales de enseñanza y visitas de seguimìento semanales y reacciones por parte de los investigadores. Otros seis maestros no recibieron adiestramiento alguno, aunque sus estudiantes participaron o en un grupo control de práctica o en un grupo control sin tratamiento alguno. Al comparar los estudiantes del grupo adiestrado con los del grupo control en las tres variables dependientes, se encontraron efectos significativos para habilidad y tipos de preguntas en las direcciones esperadas. La ejecución de los estudiantes de habilidad superior fue superior a los de habilidad promedio y la de ambos fue superior a los de habilidad baja; la ejecución en preguntas basadas en el texto fue superior a la de preguntas basadas en conocimientos. La calidad de las respuestas de los dos grupos de estudiantes adiestrados fue en general superior a las de los grupos control. Además, los estudiantes de aquellos maestros que recibieron adiestramientos más extensos pudieron identificar mejor las fuentes de información requeridas por una pregunta dada, aunque no hubo diferencia en la concordancia de sus respuestas o en la calidad de las mismas.