Struggling readers do not understand why they have difficulty comprehending. In order to assist these children we need to understand why and where their difficulties are occurring. (For the purposes of this discussion I am assuming the child’s visual perceptual skills are intact.)
A breakdown in Reading Comprehension can occur at different stages in the processing of language
Vocabulary and Prior Knowledge
Learning to read written texts is not the same as learning to understand written texts. Reading comprehension involves understanding the vocabulary, seeing relationships among words and concepts, organizing ideas, recognizing the author’s purpose, evaluating the context, and making judgments
Many children who successfully learn to read in grade one or two are unable to understand books they need to read by grade three or four. One of the reasons for this is lack of adequate vocabulary.
Prior knowledge is an important aspect to successful reading and studies have shown that lack of cultural familiarity with the subject matter has a greater impact on reading comprehension of a passage than the pre-teaching of vocabulary.
The child’s ability to recall information and make inferences is enhanced when they are familiar with the subject matter.
Before children learn to read, they are dependent on oral language and pictures to understand the world around them. Once they obtain knowledge of phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (letters), they begin to use their understanding of print and sounds to read words. For children who experience decoding difficulties, word recognition is like a traffic jam on a highway. Regardless of their level of listening comprehension, they have to learn the process of word recognition, much like every car on the highway must slow down and pass through the bottleneck. Once decoding is mastered, and students become fluent readers, they are able to develop proficiency in reading comprehension.
Fluency is not an issue in listening, as the speaker controls the pace, but is needed for reading comprehension because of working memory constraints.
For children who experience difficulties with word recognition, struggle with decoding words, or read very slowly, the information in the text is often inaccessible.
Reading quickly enough so that it sounds like “natural” language contributes to a student’s comprehension; the reading flow and focus on comprehension are not disrupted by decoding
Cognitive Speed/Working Memory
The information that we read needs to be held in working memory in order to comprehend it. If reading fluency is poor, then it becomes less and less likely that the needed information is still active in working memory, making comprehension less and less likely
There are many different purposes for reading. Sometimes you read a text to learn material, sometimes you read for pure pleasure, and sometimes you need to follow a set of directions. As a student, much of your reading will be to learn assigned material. You get information from everything you read and yet you don’t read everything for the same reason or in the same way or at the same rate. Each purpose or reason for reading requires a different reading approach.
Two things that influence how fast and how well you read are the characteristics of the text and the characteristics of you, the reader.
Characteristics of the text:
- Size and style of the type (font)
- Pictures and illustrations
- Author’s writing style and personal perspectives
- Difficulty of the ideas presented
Characteristics of the reader:
- Background knowledge (how much you already know about the material or related concepts)
- Reading ability – vocabulary and comprehension
Good readers employ strategies before, during, and after reading that help them comprehend text. The following strategies have been identified:
- Begin reading with an understanding of the purpose for their exploration of the text,
- Bring to the table what they already know (their schema), and associate what they read to that basis,
- Predict before they read and then adjust as necessary their predictions as they move through the text
- Self-monitor (listen to themselves when they read) and stop to reread when they recognize that they are losing meaning
- Have a broad oral toolbox of vocabulary (words they understand the meaning of when they hear them or when they use them in speech)
- Pause to ponder and consider (think deeply, in other words, analyze, interpret and evaluate).
Reading comprehension is a complex process in itself, but it also depends upon other important and complex lower-level processes. It is a critical foundation skill for later academic learning, many employment skills, and life satisfaction. It is an important skill to target, but we should not forget about the skills on which it depends.
Reading comprehension is one of the pillars of the act of reading. When a person reads a text he engages in a complex array of cognitive processes. He is simultaneously using his awareness and understanding of phonemes (individual sound “pieces” in language), phonics (connection between letters and sounds and the relationship between sounds, letters and words) and ability to comprehend or construct meaning from the text.
This last component of the act of reading is reading comprehension. It cannot occur independent of the other two elements of the process. At the same time, it is the most difficult and most important of the three
Reading comprehension should not be confused with “reading ability”. Reading ability, as it is commonly understood, means the ability to read the words on a page, but does not necessarily mean that what is read is understood. Being able to “decode” or to read words on a page is an essential part of reading, but can often be misleading, as some children are able to read words with great accuracy and sound very much like “adults,” but are unaware of the meaning attached to the sounds they have produced.
Reading fluency (the ability to recognize words quickly and effortlessly) plays an important role in reading comprehension because if word recognition is difficult, the child will use too much of his processing capacity reading individual word and this in turn interferes with the ability to comprehend what is read.
“Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”
This sentence created by Noam Chomsky in 1957 is grammatically and syntactically correct. Whilst you may be able to read and understand each of the words individually, this nonsense sentence demonstrates the difference between being able to read words and comprehend text.
As practiced readers we may take this distinction for granted since the acts of reading and comprehension occur almost simultaneously for us. For developing readers this relationship is not as apparent, but is essential for them to become strong, capable readers.
Reading comprehension is defined as the level of understanding of a text message. This understanding comes from the interaction between the words that are written and how they trigger knowledge outside the text.
Reading Comprehension does not just happen; it requires effort. Readers must intentionally and purposefully work to create meaning from what they read.
There are four levels/stages of reading comprehension. These stages are not necessarily chronological or independent of the others, but do vary in degree of cognitive difficulty (or, in other words, in how much “thinking power” is needed).
The four stages are:
- Analysis & Evaluation
This refers to the ability to understand what is being read. This requires that the child understands the subject matter and the language used to convey it. As social creatures, we often engage in story-telling practices in our homes and so the ability to understand a story is usually a naturally developing skill. Remembering, organizing and expressing this understanding (i.e., re-telling a story), however, is practiced and learned
– Drawing inferences
– Tapping into prior knowledge / experience
– Attaching new learning to old information
– Making logical leaps and educated guesses
– Reading between the lines to determine what is meant by what is stated.
This forces the student to build his or her understanding of the subject matter by using the facts presented to read between the lines for the true meaning of what was meant.
Asking questions like “Why do you think…?” or “Do you remember this from earlier in the story? Tell me about it…” encourages analytical thinking.
This level involves
– Understanding key themes or ideas
– Using ones understanding to analyze, and solve other texts and problems.
The child is required to apply what he has learned from reading to real life events or situations.
You can encourage this kind of interaction with texts by either asking your child what kind of connections they see (i.e., text to text, text to world, text to self, etc.) or by encouraging them to act based on the application they see.
This level is based on the student’s own feelings towards the material or author. It is considered more abstract than any of the other levels because personality, likes and dislikes can affect this level. Creation need not necessarily be writing an original story, but could include activities like creating a commercial, writing a play, writing a poem from the perspective of a character, etc.
Without comprehension, reading is nothing more than tracking symbols on a page with your eyes and sounding them out.
As their reading materials become more diverse and challenging, children need to learn new tools for comprehending these texts.
Content area materials such as textbooks and newspaper, magazine and journal articles pose different reading comprehension challenges for young people and thus require different comprehension strategies. The development of reading comprehension is a lifelong process that changes based on the depth and breadth of texts the person is reading.
Developer: Early Ascent LLC
Reading Raven is phonics-based engaging learn-to-read app that provides step-by-step reading lessons designed to help young children build a solid foundation for reading. The developer suggests this app from age 3 to 7 years, but I feel that 3 years is a little young and it is more suited for children from 4 ½ – 5 years.
There are five lessons included in the app, each working on a group of five letters (individual letters, plus words that start with those letters). All letters except Q and X are covered. The /th/ sound is also included.
- Letter Recognition: A letter falls, and the child has to match it to the same letter below. As it falls they hear the letter sound, once they correctly match it they hear the letter name, sound and a word beginning with that letter
- Tracing letters & words: The app shows the letter outline and the correct letter formation and the child then traces the letter/word. The app allows them to go outside the lines, but they do need to touch dots at the start and end of each stroke. When they finish, the outline disappears and you see how they wrote the letter.
- Letter Sounds: The child hears the sound of a letter and identify which letter (of several) makes that sound
- Initial Sounds: this is similar to the letter matching, but this time the child has to match the falling letter to a picture of a word that starts with that letter.
- Word Matching: A word falls and the child has to match it to the same word below.
- Identifying words: The child hears a word and must pick the written word (of several) that matches it.
- Building words: The child has to put the letters together in the right order to make a word.
- Reading words/sentences: The child practices reading short words, then moves on to short and then longer sentences. As the child reads they move their finger along a bar under the words and their voice is recorded and played back to them.
- Identifying Word Groups: The child has to recognize words that start or end with the same sound and teaches rhyming.
The words are 1-4 letters long and the sentences are 2-8 words long, some sight words and punctuation marks are also introduced. Each lesson has its own theme e.g. it occurs underwater or in the snow or in outer space.
The child earns stickers as a reward for doing the activities, and uses these to decorate Reading Raven’s tree house. The stickers illustrate the words the child has learned and the stickers can be moved around and resized.
App Review Checklist & Rating Chart: Total Score /20
(Adapted from www.speechgadget.com)
GENERAL INFORMATION & OPERATION
|Content is appropriate
|No in app purchases required for use
|Students can launch and navigate in the app independently
|App is fairly priced and/or comparable to other similarly priced apps
|App can be customized for different users
|App can be used for single user or groups
|Content/data can easily be exported
|User data is saved from session to session
|Design graphics/sounds are appealing
|App is interactive, engaging & motivating for user
|App is designed to target speech/language skills
|App is designed to target auditory processing – phonemic awareness
|App can be adapted to target speech/language skills
|App encourages critical thinking and higher level language
|App has good potential for interaction between user and therapist
|Response to errors is specific and results in improved performance
|Targeted skills are practiced in an authentic learning environment
|App offers complete flexibility to alter settings to meet students needs
|App can be used across a variety of age/developmental groups
Total Points: 16/20 Points
5 Stars 17 – 20 points
4 Stars 13 – 16 points
3 Stars 9 – 12 points
2 Stars 5 – 8 points
1 Star 1 – 4 points
Most things about this app are great and it is difficult to single out any one feature. Some special features that I like include:
- On any activity, you can have the full voice instructions repeated by tapping the listen icon.
- You can skip ahead or replay any activity by swiping forward or backward on the Reading Raven character.
- The app dynamically adapts to the user’s motor skills. If the child is going slower, then the screen adapts to the child’s pace.
You also have the option to work in normal (Abc), uppercase (ABC) or lowercase (abc), and to choose which of four font styles to use. The settings are child-proofed – you have to answer maths questions to access them.
Areas for Improvement
- From a South African Perspective, the letter /Z/ is pronounced “zee” and the /R/ is pronounced as /err/ so a U.K. voice over would be nice (although I think that our kids are well tuned into the American accent.
- The app cannot be customized for different users and I couldn’t find a way to “erase” all the previously earned stickers and start over in order to get around the lack of customization.
- Although the app is easy to navigate independently, there are no progress reports for parents to check and see how the child is doing and therefore the app is probably better used with parent supervision.
- I would have loved to have given this app a five star rating, but for use as a therapist the inability to customize it for different users, use it in a group and export data was a limiting factor.
For individual use this is a 5 Star App!
Teach your child to read by reinforcing many of the preliteracy skills required for the development of reading.
Get it while it’s on sale at $1.99