I hear all the time from parents who say things like “My 8 year old can read at a 4th grade level. The only problem is that he doesn’t understand what he’s reading.” In other words, the child can “decode” but does not “comprehend.” Comprehension means that the reader has understood the message on the printed page. Or in simple terms, the reader has grasped the “main idea.”
I believe that the definition of reading must include comprehension because without understanding, what is the use of reading?
So what are some activities to encourage the language skills that will enable your child to develop the most effective comprehension skills in reading?
A very common, but misguided approach is to ask a child questions about specific points in a given story (e.g., “how do you think the girl felt?” “why did the boy want to?” and so on). But being able to regurgitate specific details does little or nothing to move a child to see the main idea which is the key to reading success.
To help your child attain this vital skill, try the following: read a story aloud – without asking questions. Then at regular points, start a short summary of what you have just read —and have your child complete (“fill in”) the summary. (e.g., “So the boy was hoping to get to the cave but he …”)
Then have your child say the complete (short) summary (e.g., “So the boy was hoping to get to the cave but he could not find it.”). This gives children the opportunity to speak in long, sophisticated sentences and that does wonders for comprehension as well as helping to develop their verbal skills.
Answering specific questions does not do this – since most questions elicit only short answers and not higher level sentences.
Our program, Reading Kingdom, teaches comprehension as an integral part of the process of learning to read. It is one of the 6 skills in our 6-SIM “Six Skill Integrated Method.” As a result, children are provided with a potent tool that makes reading easier, smoother, and comprehensible.
About the author:
Dr. Marion Blank is the creator of Reading Kingdom. She is a world-renowned literacy expert on the faculty of Columbia University where she developed and directed the Light on Literacy Program. She has lectured extensively around the world, authored dozens of peer-reviewed articles and books and developed numerous award-winning teaching programs.