What is Reading Comprehension?
Simply put, reading comprehension is a language related skill. Just as we comprehend what we hear with our ears, the student must read written words and understand what they are reading. However, it is a very complex process that requires many different skill sets.
Obviously, children must know how to decode and read somewhat fluently in order for them to understand what they are reading. If they are sounding out words as they go or reading too slowly, they lose the message the story is trying to convey.
Vocabulary development is also crucial to the process. If the child doesn’t have a strong vocabulary it will interfere with reading comprehension. If the child doesn’t have age appropriate expressive or receptive vocabulary, chances are he/she will have a weak reading vocabulary.
The grammatical complexity of a sentence and figures of speech are also important variables. It is may be easier for a child to comprehend: “I went to the park with Mary and saw John,” as opposed to: “While at the park with my friend Mary we ran into John.”
Connecting ideas within and between sentences as well as ideas to other ideas as the child reads are also critical to the comprehension process. Similarly, the student must know how to infer and “read between the lines” when it is not explicitly stated in the story.
Difficulties for Those Struggling with Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension requires that the child be able to get the main idea and details that support the main idea of a particular passage. The student needs to be able to draw conclusions, make inferences and be able to predict what might happen based on what was read. Additionally, a student must understand the sequence of a story since the actual story telling may not be in sequence, recognize cause and effect situations, and be able to compare and contrast information related in the story.
The executive functions of working memory and attention also come into play. Attention allows information to be taken in and working memory allows the child to hold onto information that has already been read so the story makes sense. Children with learning disabilities need help strengthening these skills.
When most people read, they comprehend the story based on prior knowledge. However, children don’t necessarily have those experiences to draw from. They learn from being read to, watching television and movies, and listening to class discussions. If a child is struggling with reading comprehension, it may be because they are having trouble understanding how to relate to or follow the story. Giving context and focus to a reading exercise is one way to assist children struggling with reading comprehension. It is often beneficial to provide the child with some background about the story and events that they are reading about so that it makes sense to them.
Solutions for Those Struggling with Reading Comprehension
While this may all seem daunting for a child who is dyslexic and still attempts to sound out words or has no real fluency (speed in reading), there are resources to help: A parent can join Bookshare, the largest online library for free digital text-to-speech. Please note: Bookshare requires a specialist to fill out a form verifying that your child has been found to have a reading or learning disability that prevents him/her from reading traditional books. Therefore, an evaluation has to be done such as the ones described under “Educational Evaluations” on my website.
Sometimes schools and / or public libraries have assistive technology (digital text to speech books) can be offered to your child. There are also numerous free online sources but the selection of material is limited. Some examples include: Storynory, Lit2Go, LibriVox, and Project Gutenberg.
There are also new technologies such as the Read and Write program by Texthelp.com – please note there is a nominal fee for that service. However, they do provide text to speech for books as well as a host of other services. And, yes, Audible books via Amazon is still around.
Treatment: Reading Comprehension Specialist Tutor
Needless to say, not every teacher can work with children with impaired reading comprehension. Special programs need to be implemented and a specialized tutor who is a speech pathologist (SLP), learning disabilities teacher consultant (LDTC), and reading specialist who contours programs to meet the child’s specific reading and writing needs is the place to start.