Every night my son Michael reads to me. The words seem to flow off the page effortlessly as he reads material way above his grade level. Then why is it that Michael, now in 5th grade can’t pass a reading test and continues to do poorly on standardized testing?
This is not an unusual reading scenario. There are many Michaels out there who have expertise in all four of the five areas of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and fluency) but not in comprehension. The problem is that the reason we read is soley for comprehension. In the beginning years of elementary school, students are learning how to read, but by upper elementary they are reading to learn.
Michael has mastered the rules of reading and has excellent word recognition skills but he is simply reading the words as if they were another language without meaning. There are programs available which focus on comprehension and its many facets which include getting the main idea, making inferences, paraphrasing and summarizing, sequencing, following directions, drawing conclusions, utilizing context cues, understanding abstract concepts and cause and effect.
Whenever you pick up something to read, don’t you always have a purpose or reason? It is important for Michael to attempt each reading assignment with a clarified purpose for reading. Good readers have a reason to read and often stop and think about what the information is all about as they read. We also use our prior knowledge and experience with a topic as we read. Children from lower socioeconomic background may not have the wealth of experiences afforded to children from middle and upper socioeconomic groups and therefore could have a difficult time comprehending information of which they have no personal knowledge. The disadvantaged student tends to have a decreased vocabulary as well which limits his reading potential.
Good readers make conscious efforts to actively monitor what they read for comprehension. Students must be aware of what they do understand and what they do not understand in order to use the necessary “fix up” strategies for comprehension. They must actual think about what they are thinking which is a teachable metacognitive skill. Comprehension monitoring is crucial for effective reading. Here are some monitoring strategies you can try:
*try and restate what the author is saying in your own words
*look back through what you’ve read to find the missing pieces
*look forward to what comes next to clarify a misunderstanding
*identify any information that is unclear
*use the dictionary for any unfamiliar words
*model or think aloud about your own thinking while reading to your child
*make predictions of what you think may occur next in the story
In addition to these strategies, encourage your child to use mental imagery as they read. Good readers are able to visualize during reading, creating a “movie” of the story with vivid pictures, settings, characters and events. The more they can use mental imagery the better their retention of the material. Have your child answer these six question words “who, what, when, where, why and how” with colorful visualizations.
The following are some suggestions for responding to reading comprehension questions.
When answering a multiple choice questions, cross out all the answers you think are wrong. Then go back to the story and see which answers remaining are correct. Underline numbers and dates so you can easily find them later. When answering questions about dates, do not reread the entire story, instead look for the underlined words. If you are not sure what a word means, read the sentence right before and after it. If they ask what a word means in the story, always go back and reread the sentence containing that word. Read the question, looking for key words, then go back to the story and look for the same key words to find the answer.
Comprehension is the reason for reading, but should your child have difficulty in basic word recognition and decoding skills, please refer to my upcoming article which will address these important reading issues.