Supporting Struggling Readers: The Self-Questioning Strategy

April 27, 2022

Key Takeaway: In evaluating the intervention strategies we employ with students, we must consider both global effectiveness and effectiveness for target populations, as the success of the intervention may differ depending on the student population it is serving. As educators, we strive to be measured in practice, so monitoring the impact of an intervention within our own unique context is one way to responsibly apply what we have learned from the research base. —Erin Madonna

Self-questioning (SQ) strategy intervention is designed to engage the learner in monitoring their own understanding as they read, increasing their active construction of meaning in the process. Previous studies have shown SQ to be an effective intervention for improving comprehension, and it is cited in both the National Reading Panel report (2000)1 and Willingham’s subsequent analysis (2006-2007)2 as being supported by conclusive evidence. Furthermore, “past systematic reviews for this student population have shown that combining self-questioning strategy with paragraph restatement/summarization,3 main idea generation, and text structure analysis4 have yielded positive outcomes.”

Daniel and Williams’ purpose in undertaking this review was to address the lack of specificity in previous syntheses pertaining to the effect of the SQ strategy instruction on the development of reading comprehension skills in struggling K-12 readers rather than on a heterogenous population as previous reviews have undertaken. 

Comprehension strategies have the potential to enable struggling readers to digest text as proficient readers would.5 There are two categories of SQ strategies that have been explored in previous studies: top-down and bottom-up. The top-down strategy puts the question-generation responsibility on the student, asking them to pose and answer their own questions while reading a text. The bottom-up approach involves the teacher generating questions prior to reading, with the student actively seeking answers during the reading of the text. One benefit of a top-down approach, as shared by the authors, is that students are able to generalize their use of the strategy to other contexts. “Teaching students to independently use the strategy through a top-down approach provides them with tools to problem solve comprehension failures independently. Hence, only interventions that used the top-down approach to learning self-questioning strategy were included in this synthesis.”

Ten studies met the criteria for inclusion pertaining to the diagnostic category of students: experiment design, isolated SQ strategy instruction utilizing student-generated questions, the use of measures of reading comprehension, and English language instruction. There were 129 students identified as having a reading-based learning disability, and 137 students identified as struggling readers were included in this review. Students with comorbidity of additional diagnoses were not included. The frequency, cohort size, and duration of the strategy instruction varied between the included studies.  

In discussing the results of the included studies as well as findings from their literature review, the authors highlighted some potential hypotheses indicated in the data:

  • The “self-questioning strategy may be more effective for students who are moderately below grade level in reading.”6
  • “Students who read three or more years below grade level may need more intensive interventions such as increased frequency and duration of sessions to gain proficiency in strategy use.”7 
  • The SQ strategy may be more effective with elementary students than with secondary students.8,9 
  • “While both explicit and non-explicit strategy instruction may be beneficial for improving struggling readers’ reading comprehension, explicit strategy instruction may improve generalization and allow students to use self-questioning strategy independently.”
  • “While self-questioning strategy may benefit some students, we recommend that teachers monitor students’ comprehension outcomes and if the strategy is not having the desired effect, to consider alternative reading comprehension strategies.”

This review did not find conclusive support for the effectiveness of isolated SQ strategy instruction for students identified with a learning disability or as a struggling reader, but it did identify avenues for further investigation. The authors were careful to note important limitations to the current synthesis, namely the scarcity of research directly measuring the isolated SQ strategy amongst students identified with a learning disability or as struggling readers, small sample sizes in the included studies, and the challenge of isolating the impact of the SQ strategy in studies looking at multiple interventions.

Summarized Article: 

Daniel, J., & Williams, K. J. (2019). Self-questioning strategy for struggling readers: A synthesis. Remedial and Special Education, 0741932519880338.

Summary by: Erin Madonna – Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted conviction that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of current multidisciplinary research.

Additional References: 

  1. National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
  2. Willingham, D. T. (2006–2007). The usefulness of brief instruction in reading comprehension strategies. American Educator, 30(4), 39–50.
  3. Sencibaugh, J. M. (2007). Meta-analysis of reading comprehension interventions for students with learning disabilities: Strategies and implications. Reading Improvement, 44(10), 6–22. Retrieved from
  4. Berkeley, S., Scruggs, T. E., & Mastropieri, M. A. (2010). Reading comprehension instruction for students with learning disabilities, 1995-2006: A meta-analysis. Remedial and Special Education, 31, 423–436. doi:10.1177/0741932509355988
  5. Pressley, M., Borkwski, J. G., & Schneider, W. (1989). Good information processing: What it is and how education can promote it. International Journal of Educational Research, 13, 857–867.
  6. Nolan, T. E. (1991). Self-questioning and prediction: Combining metacognitive strategies. Journal of Reading, 35, 132–138.
  7. Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Murray, C. S., & Roberts, G. (2012). Intensive interventions for students struggling in reading and mathematics: A practice guide. Portsmouth, NH: Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.
  8. Scammacca, N. K., Roberts, G. J., Vaughn, S., & Stuebing, K. K. (2015). A meta-analysis of interventions for struggling readers in grades 4–12: 1980–2011. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 48, 369–390
  9. Wanzek, J., & Vaughn, S. (2007). Research-based implications from extensive early reading interventions. School Psychology Review, 36, 541–561.]
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