Comprehension Strategies (Making Meaning of Texts) – Part One

As adults, when it comes to reading, a lot of us think we have it figured out because we’ve been doing it for most of our lives. However, when we start to work with or raise children it can often manage to become a challenging and elusive skill – especially if you have a struggling reader in front of you! 

It’s pretty common to feel like you’ve been covering all of the obvious things to create a proficient reader, only to realize it’s not working, or at least it’s not working as well as you expected it to. It often goes like this: You sang the alphabet song until it was in your dreams, or you’ve been working on those sight words and letter sounds for what feels like forever now, and they seem to be getting them just fine when you practice them, but they can’t seem to explain what it is they’re reading about. The kids that you’re working with are making errors with words that you know they know because you have gone over them approximately a gazillion times. Perhaps, their report card even says that they are struggling with comprehension, or maybe that they’re reading below grade level. You’ve been practicing the sounds in the words and reading before bedtime; it should be coming together, right?

Helping your child develop reading skills can often be confusing for parents and caregivers, because it’s so important and yet the rules seem a little too simple: read consistently, make sure to use the pictures, know your letter sounds, and you’re generally good to go. That is mostly true, and it’s a great place to start. In fact, one of the biggest predictors of children’s success when it comes to reading and all other academic success (reading abilities often being the foundation for other academic skills) is whether or not they are read to by caregivers from early on in their lives, and whether they have books in their home. In other words, all they really need is access to literature, to associate it with connection or positive memories, and to have a consistent habit of reading.  

So you have those covered (they even have their own bookshelf in their room!), but where do you go next? Well, here’s the good news, you were totally right about the letter sounds and the pictures. We need that to build on, but, even in Kindergarten, they are not our only focus. In your child’s report card, these skills will often be referred to as decoding (knowing our sound patterns, sight words, and the ability to figure out unknown words) and developing concepts of print (knowing how to use pictures to help decode, using pictures to support understanding, looking at the cover and title, knowing which way to turn the pages, etc.), and they are absolutely foundational. What we often forget to focus on is comprehension, or our ability to make meaning from a text. 

As such, we often simplify the teaching of reading to be just about our alphabet and our ability to “sound out” (decode) words, and it’s true that we need to start there, but there is no point in being able to read if we are not able to make meaning out of what we’re reading about. The easiest way to develop comprehension skills is through conversation. So, while you’re doing the assigned home reading or reading your book together before bed, just make sure to talk about what your child is reading. 

Stay tuned next week for Part Two in this Comprehension Series where we’ll share the skills and strategies that are often looked for when building comprehension abilities in a classroom, and specific things you can be doing at home to increase comprehension.