My first year of teaching was as a first grade teacher and I thought I was prepared for teaching reading and reading comprehension skills to children -and I probably was. What I was not prepared for was the realization that even though I was good at teaching reading and reading comprehension skills, I could only do so much. Each student’s brain had to make sense of the reading and reading comprehension skills they were being taught and I had no control of whether this would happen or not. Most of my student’s brains did make the required neural connections and they began reading, but some did not.
One of the epiphanies I had early in my career is that children can be excellent readers and not understand or have any reading comprehension related to what they have read. This phenomenon is known as word calling. Word callers have word recognition skills and can decode – sounds words out, but they pay little attention to the meaning of the words. In other words, they have inadequate reading comprehension skills. They may also have very good visual memory skills and be able to remember what the visual configuration of words. As a new teacher, I was surprised students could read words but not answer questions about what they had just read.
Research has shown that children who have good reading comprehension skills know how to be involved in thinking about what they are reading and not just reading words. What this says to teachers, whose responsibility it is to teach reading comprehension skills, is they need to teach children reading comprehension strategies. Some of the most effective research-based strategies are teaching children:
1) to think about personal experiences related to what they are reading,
2) to look at the text to discover how it has been organized – what happened first, next, and last,
3) to look at pictures and the text to make predictions about what will happen next,
4) to conjure up mental pictures that reflect what they are reading,
5) to make deductions or draw conclusions about what they are reading,
6) to pay attention to special symbols such as punctuation, and
7) to check their understanding often.
Had I known about these kinds of strategies for teaching children reading comprehension skills when I was a new teacher, I think I would have been more successful with those few students who didn’t learn to read with initial instruction. I did learn how to support reading comprehension skill development as I matured as a teacher and as I continued my education in reading and special education.
Research has been conducted over the years and has added to the professional knowledge-base related to improving reading comprehension skills in poor readers. As the medical technology of MRI’s, CAT scans, and PET Scans, is utilized to watch how the brain processes information while children are reading, we will learn even more about the processes of reading comprehension.
There are many resources to help teachers learn how to teach reading comprehension skills to children. These can be found online or can be purchased from reading text publishers. You can check out the links in this article or look at the additional resources at the end of this article for a head start on finding more information on reading comprehension skills.
Reading Disability, Dyslexia, Learning Disability Prevention
Reading Disabilities and Dyslexia