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.