Teaching Tuesday: The Comprehension Trick

When I student taught, I had the "low" reading group. Also known as the kids couldn't actually read yet. This would play out repeatedly throughout my teaching career; I worked with the kids who couldn't read yet. Even when I taught second grade, I worked with the kids who couldn't really read yet (we grouped kids according to ability and kids often went to specialists or other classrooms for reading). My comprehension instruction was either done through read alouds with the whole group or through very simple lessons with my burgeoning readers.

Ironflower, as she has with most things, went from 0 (not reading) to 60 (reading well with excellent comprehension) in about six months with little intervention on my part. She did the same thing with walking, talking and potty training. But Lovebug, as with walking (but not talking), started earlier and progressed at a much steadier pace, again without much intervention on my part. Until I heard the dreaded words at our spring conference, "Lovebug's comprehension doesn't match his decoding ability."

I remember biting my tongue to keep from saying, "Oh, shit."

Teaching comprehension is much harder than teaching decoding. It's more like teaching a kid how to think. Or, at least, to stop and think. It is why kids with dyslexia often seem to figure out challenging words but stumble over a preposition like, "with". Those kids think well, so they comprehend well. Often, because learning to read has been such a struggle for them, they are more willing to slow down and look for meaning and ask questions. Whereas a kiddo like Lovebug, who started decoding well in kindergarten and thrives on completing tasks quickly, is reluctant to think about word meanings or to pause and reflect on what's going on in the story.

This (extremely long, detail-filled) preface is to explain why I haven't yet addressed comprehension much on the blog. It's complex. It's challenging. And I'm not as comfortable with it as I should be.

But I can say this:

There's a trick to reading comprehension tests that's worked for countless former students, Ironflower and Lovebug. Read the questions first. Then read the passage. Then read the questions again. Then start answering them. If the questions are multiple choice, make sure they read the questions and possible answers. Sounds simple, but it works wonders. Even if your kid is tested orally, encourage her to ask to hear the questions first. I used to test most of my students orally and they were allowed to ask to hear the questions before reading to me, though few of them did (even though I mentioned it like a thousand times on testing days).

Teach your kids this trick. A lot (most? all?) of reading tests include the most boring passages imaginable. It seems unfair to test comprehension on such lame text, like testing attention spans by how eagerly kids can watch paint dry. It's not going to radically improve their actual reading comprehension or inflate their scores; it will just help the current reading assessments be more accurate.


Leslie said...

That's a really great tip. I'd never thought of it, but it makes a lot of sense.

Jenn said...
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Jenny said...

I was in the slow reading class in middle school mostly because none of the books were entertaining to me, not that I couldn't read. I couldn't focus on a boring school book, my mind would wander elsewhere like home stuff, friends, or whatever else.