Published: June 25, 2019
Knowing how to read, and knowing how to understand what you have read, are vital skills. According to a recent study, a shocking twenty-three percent of students who had a below basic reading level in third grade did not graduate high school by age 19. Students who were in the top tercile, on the other hand, not only did better in language arts, they also did better in science and math.
Clearly, a student’s reading comprehension is strongly correlated with academic success in general, which is why improving your child’s reading skills is essential for preparing them for long-term success not only in academics, but in every area of life. But what is reading comprehension, and how can students cultivate this skill?
Reading vs. Reading Comprehension: Understanding the Difference
By the time they are in middle school, most Canadian children are relatively fluent in reading and writing. Despite recent slippage, Canada still has a relatively high literacy rate when compared to the rest of the world, and it is rare for students to pass through the education system and not emerge with some basic ability to read and write.
But fluency is not the same as comprehension, and a person who can read a text may not necessarily be able to grasp much of what it communicates. Reading comprehension is the cluster of skills that allow a child to work their way through a text and understand both particular details and the bigger picture, and it is essential for doing everything from filling out a form at Service Ontario to composing a university admissions essay.
Reading comprehension is hard to quantify, but it is something that many students struggle with right up to university. And because reading is the bedrock skill on which just about every other aspect of education rests, comprehension is arguably the most important skill a child will acquire in their first decade of schooling.
So how do you help your children become more analytic readers? One of the first things you should do is keep your child reading this summer — the easiest way to help children develop reading comprehension skills, especially at the elementary level, is simply to get them to read as much as possible.
But if your children are already reading regularly, or if you have a hard time getting them to actually engage with what they are reading, there are things you can do help them sharpen their ability to grasp the full meaning of a text.
4 Strategies for Developing Reading Comprehension
Unlike fluency, reading comprehension isn’t simply about learning to translate the words into writing. That means that when it comes to improving reading comprehension, you need to use a variety of different approaches. Here are four strategies that are proven to be effective.
- Engage your children about what they are reading. As cognitive psychologists like Teun A. van Dijk and Walter Kintsch discovered in the 1970s, being able to succinctly restate the main points of a text or story is an essential component of comprehension. By encouraging children and teenagers to talk about what they are reading, you will activate the parts of their brain engaged in processing a text.
In particular, getting them to summarize a book or story they have read is a great way to sharpen the critical faculties on which comprehension relies.
- Incorporate a range of tools. All-too-often, reading comprehension practice is about little more than answering questions about a text. While questions can be a useful way into a story, and especially for more advanced readers may be an essential way to tease out nuance, for plenty of children, this text-heavy approach is not particularly helpful.
Using diagrams, story maps, and visual images can help students understand the story in a way that makes sense for them. Trying out a variety of different tools also helps children to understand that comprehension is not simply about finding the right answer, but about creating an integrated understanding of what is going on in a given text.
- Get tutoring help. Helping students develop their reading comprehension skills is hard to do without one-on-one feedback and support, and in today’s crowded classrooms this is in short supply. The brightest students in the class often lead the way with reading comprehension, and can make slower and more methodical children reticent to speak up if they are afraid that they will expose their ignorance by doing so.
Giving your child the opportunity to work through a text with the help of a tutor who knows how to implement effective pedagogical strategies while also being a friendly and non-judgmental presence can go a long way toward helping develop their understanding and their confidence. If you want to find a local tutor today and you live in the Greater Toronto Area, Prep Academy can connect you with tutors who can help your child develop their reading comprehension skills at home.
- Make reading social. You can’t make your child enjoy reading, but you can create the conditions in which a love of reading is more likely to bloom. If your children are still quite young, reading to them before bed is a great way to normalize reading and encourage them to view reading as a legitimate form of entertainment, and also gives you the opportunity to make it an interactive experience by asking comprehension questions. If you have older children, reading the same books as them will give you an opportunity to engage them in conversation about what they are reading and what they think about it.
While it is never too late to improve reading comprehension, establishing good reading habits and strong analytic skills early provides children with a huge advantage.
If you want to make sure your child’s comprehension abilities don’t flag over the summer, employ these four strategies to make sure they continue to build on their knowledge of reading, and get in touch with Prep Academy Tutors to learn more about how tutoring can help children who are struggling with a broad range of literacy problems.