My main struggle when teaching reading was always comprehension. My kids and clients tended to be able to read far more complex texts than they could understand. I realized the major impact that wh- questions had on the comprehension skill but there was another critical factor that lead to the inability to understand the text – reading fluency. Research suggests that fluency is related to comprehension in that if you are spending less effort pronouncing individual words you will be more likely to understand what you are reading. (Rasinki, 2003)
This makes complete sense. If you are spending all of your brainpower sounding out each word and laboriously trudging your way through a sentence – by the time you get to the end of that sentence, you have absolutely no idea what you read. You were too focused on saying each word that you had no time to being to process what each word meant and what the words meant together.
Before you even think of getting close to reading comprehension, make a real plan for improving fluency. Use repeated readings, visuals, poetry, and lots of modeling.
2. Use Visuals
Use visuals both when assessing and teaching reading comprehension. We use visuals in so many areas of our students’ lives it’s no surprise this strategy is helpful here too. Use visuals as prompts of the question you are asking, as response options, or aide in comprehension of the text.
3. Model your thought process
It’s also key to model your thought process when answering questions and comprehending the text. There are a huge range of strategies you and I use when reading. We visualize the text, we skim the content when we are done, we focus in on key words, etc. Talk through these processes. Provide some visual support for this modeling process by writing it out. Remember – words are visuals too. Write it out as you go through the modeling process.
4. Make it student driven.
Reading can be assessed in so many other ways beyond just the traditional question and answer format. Allow students to free write, free draw, or free talk what they read in a story. This approach is student driven and may give you the opportunity to see comprehension abilities that were previously difficult to identify. For free write, give your student a paper and pencil and tell them to write as much as they can about what they read. For free draw, have them draw about what they read. Prompt them to add detail and label their picture for further comprehension assessment. For free talk, have them tell you about what they read. Again you can use a timer here. For data purposes, you can count each correct fact as 1 and if you are using a timer you can calculate correct facts told per minute for a basis of comparison and progress monitoring.
5. Write the questions.
A simple option is just writing out the question which can be hugely helpful for some of our students. Remember text is a visual!
6. Use visuals within the story.
Add an interactive and concrete component to story books by adding moveable pictures. Not only will this give you a great tool for assess comprehension after reading but it allows students to engage with the book at a higher level. They get to be involved which will likely lead to a higher level of understanding.