Ah, comprehension- one of my favorites to teach in the reading process. This is where teachers lose SO MANY PARENTS. Parents, who have not been through rigorous education courses on how to teach reading, are under the impression that as soon as their little snowflake can read what’s written on the page, they can READ! While technically, yes, that’s true, it’s also only 50% true. One of my very favorite books on comprehension, Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading
by Tanny McGregor, has a wonderful anchor chart in the very first chapter. The anchor chart stresses this math problem:
So here’s what teachers try to hard to tell parents- if your kid can read the words on the page of a college level textbook, but has zero understanding, THAT’S NOT READING. Likewise, if it’s an age appropriate text, and your child reads is beautifully, but cannot answer questions, retell the story, or remember the details (character’s names, problem, solution, repeated phrases, story vocabulary, etc), that’s not real reading. Real reading requires understanding.
So what can you do at home?
- Ask questions! Before, during, and after you read, ask questions. I love to give these to parents-questions to ask your child for fiction and non-fiction– to help them along. Teachers understand that this kind of questioning is natural to teachers, but not necessarily natural to parents. So we want to help you out! These wonderful reference sheets are a freebie from Fun in First.
- Build your child’s schema. Schema is your background knowledge- what you know. I like to tell kids that it’s “everything that sticks to your brain”. The best way to build schema is through EXPERIENCES. So take your child out! Go to the grocery store, the library, museums, zoos– anywhere! It doesn’t have to be unique or expensive- simply take your child out and talk to them about the experience. Give them new vocabulary. Let them see and do things in a new way. Let them get dirty, problem solve on their own, try something new.
Another way to build background knowledge is through reading. Even if your child is learning to read/knows how to read, don’t always make him or her be the one to read to you. YOU read. Read diverse books with great vocabulary. Find books that have different life experiences to your own. Learn something new.
I once heard that background knowledge (schema) is the number one indicator of a child’s future success. Not success in school, but success in LIFE. Here are some interesting reads about background knowledge and the 30 million word gap between the wealthiest and poorest families.
The Importance of Background Knowledge
Tackling the Vocabulary Gap between Rich & Poor Children
The Word Gap: The Early Years Make the Difference
Closing the Word Gap Between the Rich & the PoorPlease don’t think you can’t give your children rich life experiences and vocabulary if you don’t have money. Go to the park, the grocery store, check out books from the library, look up free museum days in your town, take public transportation and talk all about it- it’s not about how much you spend, but rather how much you talk and engage your child with the world around him.
- Talk about connections. There are 3 major kinds of connections children can make when they read:
Text to self: “When I read this, it reminded me of….” – something that happened in the child’s own life
Text to text/media: “When I read this it reminded me of…”- something that happened in another book, movie, or tv show
Text to world: “When I read this it reminded me of…”- something that happened in the world around me (like a major weather catastrophe, a big news story, etc).
When children make connections to a story, they are activating their schema (what they already know) to build new schema based on the new information they are learning.
- Inferring: Inferring is reading between the lines– it’s what the author is trying to say without using words. Perhaps the author has left clues in the picture or the text, but to infer means to try and figure out what’s going on, deeper than what the author actually says. We talk about inferring like being a detective. For example:
“It was a chilly night in Minnesota. It was winter, and the ground looked like a beautiful white blanket. Well, a white blanket, except for a large red lump sticking out. I spun my wheels round and round, but to no avail. I could not escape that treacherous blanket.”
I didn’t tell you, but you can figure out that 1. The ground is covered in snow. 2. I drive a red car. 3. That car is firmly stuck in the snow.
This is inferring, and children need to be taught to do it. So don’t always give the answer to a question. Have your child think, make a prediction based upon the text/picture, and see if he/she is correct at the end of the story. It’s ok to not have it all figured out from the beginning, and it’s good to question and wonder.
- Visualizing- Visualizing is seeing a movie in your mind. As books get more difficult, more advanced, and use more words/less pictures, this will gain importance. Have your child close their eyes and imagine a scene in their mind. Then have them draw it. Have them “see” the story as you read it.
Have you ever seen a book made into a movie and been disappointed by it? That’s because you naturally visualized the book as you read, and the movie is different than your visualization. We need to draw attention to the fact that this is important as your child learns to read.
WHEW! Thanks for sticking with me! I promise your child’s teacher will be so pleased if you are armed with this knowledge of reading + thinking= real reading. So remember- reading the words on the page isn’t all there is to it! Comprehension can be the reason your child’s teacher keeps him or her on an “easy” reading level for longer than you’d like to see. She knows how important it is to both read the text AND understand it, and will be working on the understanding part before moving your child along. Have patience, take this new wisdom, and go forth and help your new readers! 🙂
Check out all the whole “Read, read, read” series, linked below:
The Ability to Read the Text
The Ability to Understand the Text
Read, Read, Read- Part 4: Comprehension
Read, Read, Read- Part 5: Fluency
Other Ways to Boost Reading
Read, Read, Read- Part 6: Read Novels
Read, Read, Read- Part 7: Write
Read, Read, Read- Part 8: Use Technology
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