How to help your child reach reading comprehension

What is reading comprehension?

To many the old ‘reading study’ test where the teacher tested the rote repeating of what was presented in the text constitutes comprehension but, in reality, is a long way from actually achieving reading comprehension.  Reading comprehension involves an understanding of the message behind the text, allowing the learner to dig deeper into the purpose of the written passage.   

Without comprehension, reading becomes a frustrating activity.  In many cases, the learner can sound out the words in a text to decipher what has been written but, with limited comprehension, gains no enjoyment from the exercise.  Learning for understanding becomes a formidable task if the learner is not able to read with comprehension.

In some countries, kids as young as four learn to read and write. In others, they don't start until six. It is important to wait until a child is ready and willing to learn. Forcing the subject matter before a child is ready, might create a negative learning experience and may hinder the child’s perception of learning throughout their schooling career.

In his book, “Better Late than Early”, Dr Raymond Moore suggests that waiting allows children the opportunity to gain the maturity and logical skills necessary for formal work and prevents them from becoming frustrated and discouraged by attempts to handle the material before they are ready. 

How to build comprehension skills

How can we build reading comprehension skills and thereby create a reader who fully understands the concept and message the author intended? How can we ensure they gain meaning from what they read; which eventually contributes to all their instructional activities? 

Consider how important it is to every learner to have a purpose for each activity in which they participate.  To build reading comprehension skills the learner must understand WHY they are reading a particular passage or extract before they start.  Posing a question to the meaning behind a simple passage creates a mental activity which engages the reader to achieve comprehension.  

Questions that challenge the learner to determine the author’s purpose will ensure the learner:

  • becomes interactive and is involved not only with the text but also with the context in which their reading takes place – the first step in improved reading and comprehension skills.  
  • is given a strategy and purpose for why they are reading. 
  • becomes adaptable and begins to understand that there are different purposes for reading – to learn and retain, to plant a seed to encourage further research or for straightforward enjoyment of the author’s skill.  

A child retains information better when they are self-motivated and when they have an active interest in the subject matter. Encouraging reading comprehension promotes an optimal learning zone™, increased knowledge retention and student motivation

Your role in improving your child’s comprehension skills

Consider a simple reading exercise and how you can encourage your child to become actively and consciously involved in what they are reading.  The goal is to ensure they are aware of WHY they are reading and apply their reading skills before, during and after the reading activity. 

Set them a goal and allow them to apply their reading skills to analyse the presented text to achieve the goal.  

Examples of pre-reading questions and discussions

Consider this extract from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

“The very next day, the first Golden Ticket was found. The finder was a boy called Augustus Gloop, and Mr Bucket's evening newspaper carried a large picture of him on the front page. The picture showed a nine-year-old boy who was so enormously fat he looked as though he had been blown up with a powerful pump. Great flabby folds of fat bulged out from every part of his body, and his face was like a monstrous ball of dough with two small greedy curranty eyes peering out upon the world. The town in which Augustus Gloop lived, the newspaper said, had gone wild with excitement over their hero. Flags were flying from all the windows, children had been given a holiday from school, and a parade was being organized in honour of the famous youth.”

Pre-reading questions that encourage learners to read with a comprehension goal could include:

  • Do you believe Augustus Gloop had a fault? What was it?
  • Do you think the name Roald Dahl chose for Augustus Gloop was a good one?  What would you have called him if you had written the book?
  • Augustus Gloop became a hero in his town.  Do you think he was worthy of being called a hero?

A more scientific reading could also encourage reading for comprehension and foster a desire to delve more into the subject:

“Great concern over the reduction in bee populations has been expressed across the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa and the United States. While some people want to blame the loss of bees on spraying pesticides used to eliminate pests such as mosquitoes, several studies have shown the real reason to be changes in farming practices. Extensive farming of land has destroyed the bees’ habitat of fields of wildflowers. Whatever the reasons, the loss of bee populations affects human food supplies.”

Pre-reading questions that encourage learners to read with a comprehension goal and be inspired to research further could include:

  • In your opinion, why is the worldwide bee population seeing a decline? 
  • Why does the loss of the bee population affect human food supplies?

Strategies to promote reading comprehension

The easiest way to develop reading comprehension skills is to encourage the practice of daily reading and to ask key comprehension questions to test the child’s understanding. Practice makes perfect and a child who reads for at least 30 minutes a day will create positive learning habits and progress. 

Reading comprehension is a fundamental part of literacy. Fostering a love for reading and reading to gain knowledge and understanding, promotes a positive relationship between reading and learning. 

Reading to read is good.  Reading to understand is even better! 

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