In previous blogs, we’ve discussed the importance of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary (morphology), and fluency. Today, we’re going to examine how these components work together to develop the most important reading skill of all, comprehension. The ability to read words and sentences is a critical step to comprehension. However, years of research have demonstrated that accurately reading words and sentences does not automatically transfer to understanding the material read.
Reading comprehension, simply put, is the ability to understand and gain information from what you read. It is an important step in the reading process as children move beyond learning to read and start the invaluable skill of reading to learn.
As children reach about the third grade, they should have a solid reading foundation. The focus of their instruction will no longer be on sounding out words but rather on gaining meaning from text. Putting the pieces together to develop a deeper understanding of literature and non-fiction text. Some key elements for strong reading comprehension involve vocabulary development, both oral and written, inference, and text structure. These higher order thinking skills along with decoding are imperative in order to gain meaning from reading the text.
As a side note, but a very important one, if your child is still struggling with phonological awareness, phonics, or fluency in the third grade, it is essential that you get them help from trained reading clinicians. Without these skills, it is unlikely that they will be successful and will fall further behind in school.
Although comprehension becomes the main focus of reading instruction in the third grade, it is an important component beginning in preschool. Comprehension difficulties usually fall in one of two categories. The first category of inaccurate word decoding skills will limit a student’s ability to understand the meaning of what was read. The second category for poor comprehension is demonstrated by weak language skills, understanding our spoken language and its subtleties. A student may encounter challenges with word reading, understanding the vocabulary and subtleties of our spoken language, or a combination of both.
Here are a few ways that you can help support and enhance your child’s reading comprehension skills.
- Always ask your child about what they are reading. Ask who the characters are, what the setting is, what problem the characters face, and what the solution is in fiction text. If your child is reading nonfiction, ask them what the topic of the text is, what the main idea is, and have them prove it to you by showing you examples in the text. These skills are perhaps the simplest and most foundational reading comprehension skills. If your child struggles with these even as young as kindergarten and first grade, it is not too early to get them online reading tutoring. Intervention from a trained reading clinician can help them stay on track and ensure they do not struggle later. If your child is older, say second grade or higher and cannot answer these types of questions, you should absolutely contact a reading clinician to have their comprehension assessed.
- Help your child create mental images, when appropriate. One of the most important comprehension skills is the ability to create pictures while you read. When you read with your child, ask them about what they are picturing in their mind as you read. Always ground their mental images in the text by asking why they picture what they do. Have them point out specific words or lines of text that informed their mental imaging.
- Encourage your child to ask questions. Before, during, and after reading you can encourage your child to ask questions about the text. For example, if they are reading a fiction text, you could ask what they think will happen, why a character is behaving the way they are, or what the characters could have done differently. In nonfiction text, you can ask them what they may know about the topic, what information is the author focusing on, or about any unanswered questions they have about the topic. This can be a great way to encourage further research on a topic that interests them.
As your child gets older and moves into upper elementary and middle school, you can encourage them to use post it notes as they read to ask questions, record unknown vocabulary words, and note any surprising information. This can be a great way for them to interact with the text and for you to monitor their understanding. Plus almost all kids love getting to use post it notes so it may even motivate them to read more.
These are a few ways that you can encourage your child to use comprehension strategies before, during, and after reading. They are essential for helping students understand what they read and gain information from text.
As students get older, this is the most important and most emphasized skill in school. Nearly all standardized text reading questions directly related to reading comprehension. It is also the most important skill that adults use regularly to function in society.
Our online tutoring program at RW&C incorporates reading comprehension as soon as our students are reading. Each and every lesson includes a time for reading a passage and applying a clinician selected and modeled reading strategy. Students who need comprehension instruction are given explicit instruction in that strategy, and their practice is monitored.
We also employ comprehension strategies at the sentence level if students are not developmentally ready to read an entire passage. When your child works with one of our reading clinicians, they will get the comprehension instruction that they need.
Unlike a box program or pre-recorded program, our clinicians respond to your child in real time, clearing up any misunderstandings and ensuring that your child understands their passage as they are reading it. We also work with you to practice these skills at home in a meaningful way.
If your child struggles with reading comprehension, get them the help they need today. Contact us for a screening to determine if your child needs intervention.
Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading.