Reading comprehension is fundamentally a logic-driven activity, so it’s no wonder many of our students are sidelined when they attempt to “just read the words.” Rest assured, with some focused strategy instruction, struggling readers at every level can and do learn to “get” the deeper meaning from the texts they read.
We frame this strategy work according to three essential truths about reading, which we teach as mantras to struggling students:
1. The goal of reading is to understand as much as possible.
2. Reading is an active search for meaning.
3. The big trick to comprehending is to make ongoing predictions and decisions about meaning using the most convincing clues in the text.
With these truths in mind, we observe our struggling readers’ habits and help them tackle specific obstacles to their comprehension. For example, some struggling readers race to get to the end of the text they’re reading, assuming that proficient readers read “fast.” They mistake speed for fluency and cannot tell us much about what they’ve read. We can help them understand that “speeding” doesn’t give us time to comprehend—that reading is actually often a slow, careful, and logical process. One way we encourage students to slow down and squeeze every bit of meaning from their reading is to have them work with a partner to read a short section of a text several times and then paraphrase each idea. For example, if there are five periods in the paragraph, partners try to say at least five ideas in their own words. Afterwards, we don’t have to tell them they have better understanding—they know they got it!
Another common obstacle we can help struggling readers overcome is a tendency to come to a complete standstill at unfamiliar names that are often tough-to-pronounce. We show students how proper nouns function in the text as placeholders for characters, places, and events. Then we show them an easy two-part nicknaming strategy:
1. Nickname the noun by its first letter
2. Hunt for clues that identify the noun.
When students can assert with confidence what character, place, or event a proper noun represents, they can make meaningful substitutions for that noun throughout the text. This strategy frees them up to continue reading with greater comprehension and fluency.
Students not only enjoy learning handy strategies that help them unlock the texts they read, they also feel empowered. And when reading is fun and rewarding, students will read more and will naturally acquire and internalize the habits of proficient readers.
Read more about these and other logic-based comprehension strategies in Now I Get It! Teaching Struggling Readers to Make Sense of What They Read by Joan Lazar and Christine Vogel.