When it comes to reading comprehension, skillful readers think and problem solve differently then struggling readers. The key to improving comprehension for all kids is to learn effective reading strategies.
Thinking Like a Reader
If you can remember back to your early years of schooling, you might recall that some kids took more quickly to reading than others. It’s a phenomenon that teachers and tutors see all the time. Some children have brains that naturally convert symbolic language on a page to language that makes sense in their minds.
Others struggle with this task.The key to helping kids read is to teach the struggling readers to make the mental moves good readers make naturally. Think of it this way: inside their minds, proficient readers hear two voices when they read. One voice fluently recites the word words on the page. The other voice thinks about what those words mean. Poor readers struggle to hear and make sense of both those voices.That’s where reading strategies come into play.
Reading strategies are thinking skills readers use to comprehend, interpret, and analyze what they read. Struggling readers can learn the same strategies savvy readers use naturally if their teachers know the proper method of teaching and assessing the strategies.
“>Activating background knowledge.
Good readers can connect the topic they are reading about to their background knowledge of the topic. If a story takes place in a castle in the middle ages, the reader can draw on some knowledge of knights, castles, and, if the story calls for, dragons.
Comprehension requires an ability to form certain types of pictures in the reader’s mind. For example, the reader needs to imagine the setting and the characters.
Readers can hear the voices of the characters, too. This skill derives from assembling clues in the text and making inferences.
As they listen to their inner reading voices, good readers ask two types of questions. One type of question is directly story related. They ask things like, ‘What is this character doing?’ Or, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ The other type of question falls into a category called metacognition, which means ‘thinking about thinking.
‘ Good readers use metacognitive questions to monitor their comprehension. They ask, ‘Do I understand this? Am I missing something? How do I know I’m getting this right?’
This strategy is like detective work for readers. Gather clues throughout the text and use them to figure out ideas that the writer doesn’t directly state. Recognizing character traits usually requires making inferences based on what characters say, think, and do in the story.
Not all details are created equally in the mind of the writer. Some are necessary for following the plot, understanding the characters, and recognizing the theme.
You can’t make valid inferences until you know which details are important and how they fit with the major story elements.
Synthesizing and Summarizing
Synthesizing requires combining several strategies to put together what you have learned while reading. A synthesis could lead to a summary the student read. As a strategy, the synthesis allows the reader to self-evaluate his comprehension. If he finds significant gaps in understanding, the reader needs to go back to the text to figure out where his comprehension broke down.
Readers need a toolkit of strategies to fall back on when their synthesis reveals they don’t understand the text.
These tools could include rereading, reading ahead, clarifying vocabulary, asking questions, and fixing misconceptions in background knowledge.
Teaching the Strategy
The key to teaching reading strategies to kids is modeling. A teacher, parent, or tutor reads from a text and models how they use the strategy to build comprehension. We call this teaching technique reading aloud and thinking aloud.
Once kids see the strategy in use, they can emulate the model for adults who are helping them, or for their peers. Then they receive feedback on how they used the strategy and refine their thinking technique.In a classroom, a lesson might look like this. The teacher or tutor reads aloud from a book, a story, or a poem. Many reading teachers like to use children’s picture books for this part of the strategy. A well-written picture book will engage students of all ages. As the adult reads, he stops occasionally to share his strategic thinking.
Next, students practice this, possibly reading aloud to each other in a small group from a text written at an accessible reading level. The students share and discuss their thinking. Later, the instructor can meet with students individually for shared reading and discussion.
Kids can look at a reading task as being like solving a problem or riddle. The task is to figure out what the puzzle means. The clues are all there hidden within the words. To solve the mystery, they need a set of strategies that help them find and interpret the clues.
Those strategies include using their prior knowledge, creating visual images, drawing inferences from the clues, figuring out the necessary details, synthesizing ideas, and repairing the gaps in their comprehension.