Comprehension

Comprehension is one of the goals of reading instruction [1]. While a student may be an effective decoder, able to read a passage quickly and without errors, they must understand what they are reading in order to become proficient readers. Reading comprehension relies on the reader’s prior knowledge and their active engagement to construct meaning from the words and grammatical structures while they read [2].

Reading comprehension skills can be developed simultaneously with the skills previously discussed in this module. Even students who struggle with decoding or cannot yet read fluently should be given opportunities to develop their comprehension skills.

Teaching Reading Comprehension

Before, During, After

Comprehension begins before a student starts reading, and continues after they have finished. Strategies to teach comprehension should also start with pre-reading activation, continue throughout the process of reading, and extend to post-reading consolidation.

Before beginning to read, the teacher and students establish the purpose for reading. Together they consider what they already know about the topic or genre and use the title, headings, table of contents or index, and new, unfamiliar vocabulary to enhance their predictions.

During reading, the students respond to the text by searching for meaning, identifying the main ideas, predicting and verifying predictions, and building a coherent interpretation of the text. Students bring their experiences of the world and literature into the reading activity. The teacher directs the attention of students to subtleties in the text, points out challenging words and ideas, and identifies problems and encourages the students to predict solutions.

After reading, the students reflect on their learning as they apply the knowledge acquired during reading, or transfer that knowledge to other contexts (e.g., by retelling, summarizing, creating graphic organizers, or putting pictures in sequential order). [3]

A focus on activities before, during and after reading is particularly important for students with LDs. Although reading can be very challenging for these students, they can often generate strong predictions about the story, or about vocabulary that might be included based on the topic, and they may be able to skillfully retell the story in their own words. This gives them an opportunity to feel smart during an activity where they may otherwise feel discouraged.

The KWL strategy is one way to approach activities before, during, and after reading. Click here to access the article and accompanying handout The KWL Strategy.

The National Reading Panel’s Eight Strategies

According to the National Reading Panel [4], eight instructional practices are shown to improve comprehension:

  1. Comprehension monitoring: Students become aware of their comprehension while reading and learn how to tackle comprehension challenges in a text. The SQ3R strategy is one way to teach comprehension monitoring. Click here to open the PDF of the SQ3R reading comprehension strategy.
  2. Cooperative learning: Students work together to practice reading strategies. Click here to access the article Peer-Mediated Learning Approaches.
  3. Graphic and semantic organizers: These tools provide a visual support to help students depict the main ideas and character relationships in the text. For students with working memory challenges, this may be a necessary accommodation. Click here to access the article Graphic Organizers.
  4. Story structure: Students learn to ask and answer who, what, where, when, and why questions about the plot, and map out the time line, characters, and events in the text. Click here to access the article Mind Maps.
  5. Question answering: Students answer questions posed by the educator, who provides immediate feedback and corrections.
  6. Question generation: Students ask themselves what, when, where, why, what will happen, how, and who
  7. Summarization: Students identify the main ideas of the text and their supporting details.
  8. Multiple-strategy teaching: Students uses various strategies with educator support. Students should be taught to use strategies flexibly and to choose the most effective one for the context.

PACES Strategies

The Empower Reading program, developed to address the core learning problems of struggling readers, teaches the comprehension strategies described below using the acronym PACES [5].

“The five PACES comprehension strategies teach students to do what all active readers do [6]

Predicting & Activating

Students learn how to activate relevant prior knowledge and make reasonable predictions based on the text features and structures. They learn to adjust their predictions as they read and gather new information. Students ask themselves:

  • What do I predict this story is about?
  • What do I predict I will learn?
  • What do I already know?

Clarifying

Students learn to identify when and why they are confused, reread the passage, and check their understanding. For instance, students might tell themselves:

  • If I am confused, I go back and reread the sentence(s).

Evaluating through questioning

Students learn the differences between fictional and non-fictional texts, and use this knowledge to identify the key elements of the text structure. Students monitor their own understanding by asking themselves who, what, when, where, why, and how questions.

Summarizing

Students recall the important events of the story using who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, just as in the Evaluating phase above.

Independent Reading

Independent reading is a daily instructional activity in which students independently practice the reading strategies previously taught and practiced in shared and guided reading activities. Although students are expected to read independently, this activity is nonetheless teacher-supported. The educator observes students, records observations, and uses this information to guide further instruction and intervention.

Regular opportunities for independent reading is critically important for all students, including those with LDs.

Unfortunately, children with learning disabilities in reading often do not read independently, because they tend to find reading effortful, may have trouble obtaining books at their reading level, or may have generally negative attitudes toward reading as a consequence of repeated failure [7].

Because of these barriers that students with LDs face, it is critically important that educators support these students to engage meaningfully in independent reading activities. The following handout describes how to support students with LDs during independent reading.

Preview of Independent Reading PDF

Click here to access the printable document How to Implement Independent Reading in an Inclusive Classroom.

The video clip below provides an overview of Independent Reading and considerations for students with LDs.

Click here to access the transcription of this video.

The following printable handouts provide additional strategies for developing students’ reading comprehension. To read the original article associated with these handouts, click here to access the article Reading and the Brain: Strategies for Decoding, Fluency, and Comprehension.

    

Click here to access the handout Interventions for Reading Comprehension (K-2).

Click here to access the handout Interventions for Reading Comprehension (3+).

Technology & Comprehension

The following section is an adapted excerpt from an article on the LD@school website. Click here to access the original article How can technology be used to support reading comprehension?.

Technology tools that help students improve their comprehension of the text include digital texts, visual learning software, and text-to-speech.

Digital Texts

Most digital texts include features that help students to better understand the texts. For example, many websites have a menu or table of contents that remains visible on the screen, which helps readers understand the structure and main ideas of the text.

Additionally, hyperlinked text helps students compensate for a weak vocabulary and access further information on concepts for which they have little prior knowledge.

Finally, digital texts greatly facilitate the task of differentiating instruction. Students are able to use accessibility functions to customize their settings (font size, spacing, colour contrast, bolding, etc.), which frees up cognitive load for comprehension.

Visual Learning Software

Visual learning software, such as graphic organizers and mind maps, is another indispensable tool to develop students’ reading comprehension skills. It can be used to illustrate different text structures (narrative, descriptive, argumentative, etc.), and it helps students identify the most important elements of the text they are reading, as well as see an overview of the entire text.

Educators can also model the use of visual learning software to demonstrate relationships between characters in a story. These relationships, often implicit in stories, become explicit and visual when visual learning software is used, which helps students better understand these subtle connections as they read.

Using technology tools over pen-and-paper allows for easy additions, modifications, or deletions as students read. This can be beneficial for students with LDs related to executive functions or processing speed, for whom the task of making such changes can be very laborious.

Text-to-Speech

Text-to-speech software may be recommended to students in grade 2 or 3 who experience great difficulty with word identification. In a comprehension task, text-to-speech software will even the playing field so that they may focus on comprehension skills without being impeded by their decoding challenges. The recommendation for text-to-speech software would be included as an accommodation in the student’s IEP. However, it is beneficial to offer all students opportunities to use this technology so as to lessen the stigma and give everyone multiple modalities for comprehension.

References

[1] Ontario Ministry of Education, 2003b

[2] National Reading Panel, 2000

[3] Ontario Ministry of Education, 2003a

[4] National Reading Panel, 2000, p. 4-6

[5] Lovett et al, 2014; Lovett, 2013

[6] Lovett et al, 2014, p. 26

[7] Spear-Swerling, 2005