Seven Secrets to Reading Comprehension
Enhancing comprehension skills is a key element of reading instruction. A child will develop comprehension strategies progressively, moving past the word attack stage and into a deeper understanding of the text as a whole. Vaugh and Linan Thompson stated, “Comprehension is the active process of accessing previous knowledge and experiences, understanding vocabulary, making inferences and linking key ideas”. The following strategies help a child obtain meaning from text:
This strategy activates prior knowledge to make connections between new and known information which ultimately leads to a greater understanding of the text. Connections occur between the reader and his own experience (text-to-self), another text (text-to-text) or the world (text-to-world). Connections lend themselves to motivation (wanting to learn) which result in retention of new information. While reading with your child, ask questions that help make a connection, e.g., what does this remind you of? Do you remember when you did that? As a child refines her comprehension strategies, so does her ability to understand and absorb a book.
This strategy occurs when a reader can sort through the text and distinguish between the essential and trivial ideas. Diagrams help a child visualize the organization of a text which aids in understanding and retaining the information. Help your child sift through a passage and indentify the main idea, topic sentences and supporting details. Knowledge about story structure (settings, characters and plot) also helps a child identify themes, e.g., cooperation, respect. Identifying themes helps a child reflect on the text.
This strategy occurs when a reader continually asks about what he is reading which helps them grasp the text as well as the author’s intent. Ask how and why questions to seek clarification about the text. While reading a book with your child, asks questions, e.g., why did he do that? How will he do it. When my son was in second grade, his teacher encouraged him to use sticky notes to mark text that need further clarification, relate to areas of interest or contain useful information.
This strategy occurs inherently as a reader creates mental pictures while reading, e.g., seeing the main character move through the plot. The greater the imagination, the more likely a reader is to remember the text because she becomes engrossed in the book. While reading to your child, visualize aloud. Describe in detail the visual images that you are creating in your mind as you read the book. Using picture books filled with detailed pictures helps beginner readers make the connection between words and images.
This strategy uses knowledge to makes inferences and draw conclusions. A reader relies on the knowledge obtained from the text as well as prior knowledge to make predictions about what will happen next. While reading to your child, when appropriate stop and make predictions about what will happen next. Inferring is commonly referred to as “reading between the lines”.
This strategy occurs when a reader monitors his own reading both to ensure understanding and to respond appropriately when something doesn’t make sense. When a reader fails to understand the text, she should stop reading and use a “fix-up” approach to repair it. With this technique, before proceeding, she would obtain an understanding of the passage by rereading, identifying the unfamiliar words or phrases and asking questions.
This strategy retells a condensed version of the text, omitting the details while ascertaining the most important information. It also evaluates or makes judgments about the text and draws a conclusion. Help a child summarize what he learned by creating a list of the most important things. Recalling parts of the story (beginning, middle and end) and discussing the events and characters are other good activities. Ask questions like: did you predictions come true?
Dr. Cunningham stated, “Children are routinely asked questions after reading but are infrequently provided with demonstrations of the comprehension strategies needed to answer the question posed. In short too often assigning and asking are often confused with teaching”. Help develop your child’s comprehension strategies by asking a lot of questions before, during and after reading.
Dr. Pressley stated, “There is substantial evidence that children become much better comprehenders if they are taught to use the active comprehension processes that skilled readers use”. Learning to read is a complicated and arduous task that takes years to master. Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading that enables a child to obtain meaning from text.
Rath, L.K., Ed.D & Kennedy, L. (2004). The Between the Lions Book for Parents. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Vaugh, S & Linan-Thompson, S (2004). Research-Based Methods of Reading Instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.