Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension

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:

  • Understanding
  • Analyzing
  • Applying
  • Analysis & Evaluation

 

Understanding/Literal Comprehension

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

 

Analyzing/Interpretive/Inferential

–       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.

 

 

Applying/Evaluative

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.

 

Evaluation/Creating/Appreciative

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.

How do language difficulties affect learning?

How do language difficulties affect learning?

Language is the primary medium of learning. Everything we are expected to learn is either heard or read. Our skills are demonstrated through words or written language.

Language-based learning disabilities are problems with age-appropriate reading, spelling, and/or writing.

It is therefore not surprising, that language difficulties can interfere with academic performance. Language is not just another subject at school; it is the means by which all other subjects are learned.

The vast majority of children with learning disabilities have a language-based disorder which is amenable to treatment.

The following difficulties may suggest that a child has language difficulties:

  • Expressing ideas clearly, as if the words needed are on the tip of the tongue but won’t come out. What the child says can be vague and difficult to understand (e.g., using unspecific vocabulary, such as “thing” or “what-ya-ma-call-it” to replace words that cannot be remembered). Filler words like “um” may be used to take up time while the child tries to remember a word.

 

tip of the tongue

 

  • Learning new vocabulary that the child hears and/or sees (e.g., in books)
  • Understanding questions and following directions that are heard and/or read
  • Recalling numbers in sequence (e.g., telephone numbers and addresses)
  • Understanding and retaining the details of a story’s plot or a classroom lecture
  • Reading and comprehending material
  • Learning words to songs and rhymes
  • Telling left from right, making it hard to read and write since both skills require this directionality.
  • Learning the alphabet
  • Mixing up the order of letters in words while writing
  • Mixing up the order of numbers that are a part of maths calculations
  • Spelling
  • Memorizing the times tables
  • Maths difficulties particularly “word sums”
  • Telling time

Oral and written language impairments are easier to identify because they can be heard or seen. However children who have difficulty processing language present more of a challenge.

These are the children who “fly under the radar” because their language difficulties are more subtle.

The following table adapted from Elizabeth Walcot-Gayda, Ph. D., Montreal, QC www.ldhope.com shows how these difficulties may manifest.

 

Examples of some cognitive manifestations of underlying language difficulties

Impairments in processes related to:

Perceiving

Thinking

Remembering

Learning

Language Processing

Difficulties in processing sarcasm or understanding when someone is joking Difficulty taking another’s perspective Difficulties in understanding: long or complex sentence structure; and with figures of speech Difficulties with: retrieving vocabulary words; orally presented task demands Difficulties with new vocabulary and responses to teacher-directed questions

Phonological processing

Sounds in words (e.g. bat/bag) are confused; poor sound sequencing in words; limited automaticity in decoding Difficulty with comprehension of content caused by lack of fluency in decoding Difficulty retaining sound/symbol correspondence Difficulty extracting essential concepts due to focus on decoding

Processing speed

Poor social interactions; does not keep up with fast-paced lessons Few connections between isolated bits of information in texts Slow linking of new with previously learned information Less material covered or takes extra time and much effort to cover material

Memory    

Few strategies when trying to remember content or concepts Difficulty writing since spelling may not be automatic Difficulty retrieving previously learned information Forgets spelling words after test; difficulty recalling significant events in history; any new learning is difficult

Attention

Difficulty knowing when to pay attention Poor reading of social situations; impulsive Poor concentration when putting ideas together Little effort expended for remembering Work may be disorganized; goes off on tangents,

Executive functions (planning or decision making)

Poor recognition of value of planning; impulsive Difficulty problem solving and understanding consequences of decisions Difficulty in linking new with previously integrated knowledge; Few strategies Difficulties in higher levels of learning, but has isolated pieces of knowledge

 

Most (but not all) children with underlying language disabilities DO NOT simply outgrow their problems.

It is not worth the “wait and see” approach only to find out that a small problem has become a bigger one that affects learning, literacy, social-emotional development and eventual vocational adjustment.