Reading comprehension is a complex task that seems to be taken for granted by skilled readers. When we take a close look at comprehension, we find that it involves many important skills, so when someone says, “Jimmy is really struggling with reading comprehension,” that’s like saying “my car is having engine trouble.” Knowing which part of the ‘engine’ is crucial to improvement.
Good reading comprehension is the phrase used when many skills are working together to form a big picture of the passage. The skills of inferring, predicting, vocabulary, comparing, problem solving, summarizing, and sequencing, fall underneath the big umbrella of comprehension. For example, I had a recent experience with one of our students while reading a story about a birthday party for a young girl. She had invited many of her friends over and they were just about to sing and eat cake. There had been no mention of her age in the story thus far, then the writer included the important detail. The story reads, “Jamie closed her eyes and made a wish, then blew out all 8 candles on her cake at one!” At the conclusion of the story, I asked the student how old the birthday girl was, but he couldn’t tell me. Then I asked the student how many candles were on the cake, and he supplied me with the correct answer, but could not connect the candles with the young girl’s age. This points to the skill of inferring, which is very important for readers beyond the 2nd grade. Note that the student’s memory and attention to detail was strong, but the skill of inferring was weak, and therefore caused poor comprehension skills. After practicing this skill, the student was able to improve and increase his comprehension skills.
Thankfully, proper assessments and testing can reveal which skill or skills need extra help, and with good tutoring and frequent practice, any child can improve their comprehension skills. Let’s start building those big pictures!