Part 2- What Can We Do To Help?
In Difficulties With Reading Comprehension Part 1 we looked at some common reasons why students may experience difficulty with reading comprehension. Now comes the important part.. What can we do to help them?
It’s important to remember that every student is unique and will respond to different strategies and approaches. Here are some that we’ve seen to be successful with the students we support. Like in Illume Reading, we recommend activities and strategies that take place before, during and after reading.
- Select text that is relevant and engaging. We know that reading comprehension is fastest and easiest for students when they are reading material that is of high interest to him/her. Try to select books that your students will be able to relate to. Personalised books are also an invaluable resource (stay tuned for a blog about this topic very soon).
- Ignite interest and curiosity. Before you start reading, look at the cover of the book. Talk about the pictures and the title. Try and relate the text to the students own experience or share experiences of your own. Ask questions. Talk with enthusiasm and excitement as you ignite interest and curiosity. When you open the book the student will be engaged and interested in what they are about to read.
- Define the purpose of the activity before commencement. We are always reading for a purpose whether it is for enjoyment, to find information, to follow instructions etc. Explain to the student why it is we are reading this book today. Eg. “We are going to read this book about the animals that live in the Amazon jungle. At the end of the book we are going to draw a picture showing where in the jungle each of the animals live.” This information can assist students to attend to the most important information while reading.
- Explicitly teach (and MODEL) reading comprehension strategies. Modelled and guided reading lessons are vitally important when it comes to teaching reading comprehension. Read the book aloud, stopping along the way to talk about and make sense of what you have just read. Read the comprehension questions and talk through your answers so your students can see/hear your thought processes. Explicitly teach strategies that will assist them with their own comprehension.
- Teach the meaning of the words who, what, when, where, why and how. Ensure that your students understand exactly what is being asked of the by teaching the meaning of these words. Explain to them that “who” is asking about people, so if you are asked a question about “who” was in a book, they need to tell you about a character/s. A simple way to make sense of these words is by using descriptors like the ones below.
Because the meaning of these words is so abstract, visual supports should also be used as much as possible. Eg.
- Ask questions throughout the reading process. I know what you’re thinking… “But we can’t do that! We ask the questions at the end of the book!” Yes, I know that’s not how it is done in many benchmarking programs. But this simply does not work for students with short-term memory challenges. If you really want to know if they understand what they are reading, ask them along the way. By doing this, we are taking away the reliance on their working memory, and simply allowing them to demonstrate their understanding. Ask questions as you go!
- Allow the student to read the text multiple times, both aloud and silently. There is some evidence to suggest that silent reading may facilitate better reading comprehension than oral reading. This is due to the emphasis placed on pronunciation and articulation when reading aloud.
- Processing time. Ensure that you allow the student sufficient processing time before they answer a question. The amount of time will vary from one student to the next. While waiting, try to avoid prompting the student or giving them further information as this may confuse their thought process.
- Multiple methods of expression. Allow the student to express their understanding using multiple methods eg. not always relying on them giving us an oral response as this may be difficult for some students.
- Include a variety of question types. Use what you know about your student to guide decisions around the frequency and types of questions you ask them.
- The answers to literal questions can be found in the text. They are directly stated. We sometimes say this information is on the surface.
- The answers to inferential questions can be found in the text too, but they are implied, not directly stated. The information is in between the lines or under the surface.
- The answers to evaluative questions require information outside of the text. The information is in your head or somewhere else.
We’d love to hear about any other great strategies you have for teaching reading comprehension!