Did you ever read an article or passage and have no idea what you just read? Perhaps your mind was on something other than the text, or perhaps you were otherwise distracted by some outside force. If this has ever happened to you, then you know what it feels like to have difficulty with reading comprehension skills.
Many children have this problem and it causes great difficulty for them in academic settings. They can read a passage and have no recollection of the details of the text they just read, and they are, thus, unable to answer questions related to the article, chapter, or story at hand. Difficulty with reading comprehension can be frustrating and discouraging to readers of all ages and ability levels.
There are several reasons for difficulty with reading comprehension. First, poor decoding skills can cause the reader to spend all of his/her available attention on the decoding process. Little attention is left to absorb the content of the reading passage. Children with poor short-term memory also have difficulty with reading comprehension skills.
Second, children with reading fluency problems often have trouble with reading comprehension skills. When children stumble over words, they lose their attention to the content of the passage, and may have no recollection of the topic or details of the passage.
Third, poor vocabulary development can impact reading comprehension skills. When children are unfamiliar with the vocabulary in the text, they fail to glean the gestalt of the meaning of the passage. With a few unknown words, they may, thus, lose their focus on the content and end up just reading the printed words for the remainder of the reading time. Poor vocabulary development can be of particular concern for children whose first language is not English, for children with poor language skills, and for children of low socioeconomic status, who tend to be exposed to fewer words and varieties of words during the period of childhood.
How do we improve student’s reading comprehension skills? We can combat comprehension problems by addressing decoding skills, enhancing vocabulary knowledge, improving fluency skills and working on lengthening attention and focusing skills.
Adults can also model comprehension strategies and create comprehension exercises, such as re-telling of the text; using graphic organizers to list details from the passage; highlighting important information in the text; pre-reading the questions at the end of the chapter or creating questions for trade literature; asking clarifying questions; using visualization techniques; making connections to the students’ prior knowledge; linking the text to the students’ personal experiences; using Reader’s Theater to re-tell the story line; rereading the passage for accuracy, fluency, then comprehension; creating character development exercises; presenting prediction activities; summarizing the story; previewing the pictures, creating graphs, tables, and illustrations; previewing the vocabulary; and creating extensions of the text through art, music, and movement activities.
Teachers and parents can also model thinking aloud in response to text that is being read out loud to children.
Reading comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading. As readers, we seek meaning from that which we read, whether for enjoyment or to glean useful information. By supporting young readers in the area of reading comprehension through multiple avenues, we open their eyes to the benefits and the excitement of reading, and enable them to find fulfillment in the joy of literature.
Jenelle M. Erickson Boyd, M.Ed, is a NJ State Certified Reading Specialist and the Founder, Director, and Author of Lil’ Reading Scientists.