Good readers employ strategies before, during, and after reading that help them comprehend text. As I mentioned in my last post “Causes of reading comprehension difficulties,” struggling readers do not understand why they have difficulty comprehending.
There is however, no definitive set of strategies for remediation of reading comprehension difficulties and identification of where comprehension is breaking down will assist in employing the correct strategy to facilitate Reading Comprehension.
In addition to employing reading comprehension strategies, it is important to implement the following:
Provide the Right Kind of Books
One of the most important aspects of facilitating Reading Comprehension is reading fluency. A child should be able to recognize at least 90 percent of the words without any help. Stopping any more often than that to try and decode a word makes it difficult to focus on the overall meaning of the story.
Reading activities can be divided into three categories, depending on when they take place:
A. Pre-Reading Strategies
i. SIGHT WORDS:
Improve Sight Word Vocabulary and consequently, Reading Comprehension
ii. ENRICHMENT & VOCABULARY:
The child is engaged in enrichment activities prior to reading the passage. In this way, students have the opportunity to activate and enhance existing knowledge before reading. Pre-teaching vocabulary words will also enhance comprehension.
iii. STORY GRAMMAR TRAINING :
From a very young age, most children are exposed to story books. These fictional texts (narratives) share a common, predictable structure called story grammar. This predictable structure enhances students’ comprehension whether they listen to the narrative or read it themselves. Improve Reading Comprehension by providing a framework for learning and remembering information.
Teaching story grammar structure emphasizes the importance of metacognitive or active reading strategies to improve comprehension. It directs students’ attention on story structure by teaching them to ask five “wh” questions about the settings and episodes of the story.
iv. PREVIEW COMPREHENSION QUESTIONS:
Encourage the child to preview comprehension questions. This will allow the child to focus on answering those questions as they read.
i. REREAD TO BUILD FLUENCY
By the end of Grade two a child should be able to read approximately 90 words a minute. Rereading familiar, simple books gives your child practice at decoding words quickly and facilitates fluency. The optimal number of readings has been found to be four.
ii. GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS
Graphic organizers, which provide a visual map for the reader, can be placed next to the text as learners read in groups or individually, aloud or silently. They are particularly useful in helping readers to understand the structure of a narrative or of an argument.
Graphic organizers also assist in encouraging visualization of information which also assists with comprehension.
Links to a variety of free graphic organizers can be found here: http://www.dailyteachingtools.com/free-graphic-organizers-w.html
iii. K-W-L STRATEGY
The K-W-L strategy stands for what I Know, what I Want to learn, and what I did Learn. By activating students’ background knowledge, it improves comprehension of expository text. (Expository text refers to writing where the purpose is to inform, describe, explain, or define the author’s subject to the reader)
iv. QUESTION-ANSWER RELATIONSHIPS
Increase correct answers to reading comprehension questions by considering both the text and the background knowledge. The question-answer relationships strategy helps students label the type of questions that are asked and to use this information to develop their answers.
“Right There” Label:
Words used to create the question and words used for the answer are Right There in the same sentence.
“Think and Search” Label:
The answer is in the text, but words used to create the question and those used for an appropriate answer would not be in the same sentence. They come from different parts of the text.
“On My Own” Label:
The answer is not found in the text. You can even answer the question without reading the text by using your own experience
Based on the questions, it is important to encourage the child to think about what they know and make predictions based on what they know and what they have read.
v. GENERATING QUESTIONS:
By generating questions, students become aware of whether they can answer the questions and if they understand what they are reading. Students learn to ask themselves questions that require them to combine information from different segments of text. For example, students can be taught to ask main idea questions that relate to important information in a text.
C. Post Reading
i. STORY RETELLING
Improve Reading Comprehension by retelling a story to partners, using outlines. By retelling students relate information from the story to their own experiences. In this way, they improve their reading comprehension and memory of story information.
ii. PARAPHRASING AND/OR SUMMARIZING
Summarizing requires students to determine what is important in what they are reading and to put it into their own words. Instruction in summarizing helps students:
- Identify or generate main ideas
- Connect the main or central ideas
- Eliminate unnecessary information
- Remember what they have read
Poor comprehenders do not necessarily have a comprehension impairment that is specific to reading. Rather, their difficulties with reading comprehension need to be seen in the context of difficulties with language comprehension more generally
Explicit teaching of comprehension strategies can be an effective intervention for these difficulties and impact significantly on later academic success.
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.