Illume Reading

Difficulties With Reading Comprehension Part 1

Part 1- Why Does It Happen?

 We all know “that student”. The one who can read a book with 100% accuracy, yet when we ask them questions about what they’ve just read, they can’t answer us.

As teachers and parents this can be incredibly frustrating. For a student to progress with their reading (and move to the next reading level), they not only need to read the text accurately, but they are also required to answer specific comprehension questions. After all, what’s the point in reading a book if you have no idea what it is you just read?

Reading comprehension skills are vital for students to develop, yet many students continue struggle. Why is this? The answer will be different for each individual you work with, however here are a few common factors that can contribute to difficulty with reading comprehension:

  • Memory difficulties. For many students, they may understand the text as they are reading it, however, by the time we finish the text and ask them questions about the book, they may have forgotten! It’s not that they didn’t understand, but by waiting until the end of the book, we are now relying on their ability to store this information in their short-term memory. We know that many students experience difficulty with their memory and there’s no doubt that reading comprehension will be impacted by this.
  • Understanding the Question. There have been a number of research studies lately that have identified a lack of understanding of the key question words- who, what, when, where, why and how. Does your student actually know what these words mean? Can they tell you what the word “who” means and the type of answer to give to a question starting with this word? Have you spent time explicitly teaching the meaning of these question words? We can’t possibly expect our students to answer a question about “who” was in a story if they have no idea what that word even means.
  • Relevance. Research shows that reading comprehension is best when students are reading books of high interest to them. Books that are relevant and relate to their own words. I once worked with a group of students in rural outback Australia who were reading a text about public transport- trains, trams and buses. Not one of these students had ever used, let alone seen these modes of transport! It’s no wonder they had difficulty comprehending and making sense of the information in the text.
  • Processing. Some students need to read the text multiple times before they are able to make sense of its meaning. These students are often using all of their efforts attending to the task of decoding and are unable to focus on comprehension initially. Multiple exposure to the text will assist them to make sense of what they are reading.
  • Fluency. Students need to learn sight words and phonics to a level of mastery which therefore allows them to read without “too much thought”. If a student has to stop and sound out every word along the way, this will impact on their ability to comprehend the text. In saying that, we would never expect a student to read every single word of a new text fluently. We should continue to teach new words and sounds until a student can identify them quickly and easily.

Do you think some of these factors may be contributing to the challenges faced by your students? In Difficulties With Reading Comprehension Part 2 we will look at some practical things we can do to improve reading comprehension for those who are struggling.


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