Incorporate active comprehension strategies that allow students to deeply engage with the texts they encounter.
This is the fourth installment in our Science of Reading series
Throughout our science of reading series, we've been exploring the crucial aspects of reading proficiency. In this installment, we will delve into reading comprehension, a fundamental skill that transcends the mere decoding of words on a page. Comprehension involves understanding, interpreting, and making meaning from the text. This ability is essential for success because it enables readers to connect prior knowledge with new information, make inferences, identify main ideas, and draw conclusions.
In the context of the science of reading, which emphasizes evidence-based reading instruction, reading comprehension holds a critical position. It recognizes that reading is not a single skill, but rather a complex interplay of various cognitive processes. Furthermore, it acknowledges that reading comprehension is built upon a solid foundation of phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency, as discussed in our previous articles. These foundational skills are essential for developing proficient readers, as they provide the necessary groundwork for understanding the content of the text.
Now, let's delve into the significance of incorporating comprehension strategies alongside fluency and phonics, highlighting how they enhance the reading experience for students.
The power of active reading comprehension strategies
While fluency and phonics lay the foundation for reading proficiency, active comprehension strategies are the key to unlocking the true potential of these foundational skills.
Fostering deeper understanding: Comprehension strategies encourage students to dive deeper into the text. When they actively make predictions, ask questions, visualize scenes, or summarize key points, they engage with the material at a greater level. This not only aids in grasping the surface level content, but also enables them to explore underlying themes, character motivations, and the author's intent.
Bridging gaps in proficiency: Active comprehension strategies bridge the gap between students who excel in fluency and decoding, and those who struggle. For those proficient in these areas, comprehension strategies provide the tools to dig deeper and extract more meaning from texts. Meanwhile, students who may struggle with decoding and fluency can still make powerful inferences and predictions when they engage with comprehension strategies. This inclusivity ensures that no student is left behind in their reading journey.
Promoting critical thinking: Comprehension strategies encourage students to analyze information, draw connections, and evaluate the significance of details within a text. This not only enhances their comprehension, but also equips them with valuable life skills that extend beyond the classroom.
Building lifelong readers: The integration of comprehension strategies nurtures a love for reading. When students actively engage with texts, they become more invested in the reading experience. This can lead to a lifelong passion for reading and learning, setting the stage for continued growth and success.
Effective strategies for promoting comprehension
Incorporating comprehension strategies alongside fluency and phonics is essential for developing well-rounded readers. Below are three strategies I found to be particularly helpful for supporting comprehension in my young readers.
Explicit comprehension instruction
One way to promote comprehension is to provide explicit instruction of evidence-based strategies, such as making predictions, asking questions, visualizing, summarizing, and making connections while reading. Encourage readers to actively engage with the text by discussing their thoughts and insights. Model these strategies and provide ample opportunities for guided practice. By equipping students with these tools, you empower them to extract deeper meaning from the text.
When I was in the classroom, I leaned on pre-, during-, and post-reading strategies and exercises that were focused on the asking of questions. By teaching my students to ask questions about the story, I helped them become active readers who think deeply about what they're reading and develop a better understanding of the text. An example lesson might look like:
A robust vocabulary is crucial for comprehension, as it bridges decoding skills like phonics and the ability to understand and enjoy texts fully. When students encounter unfamiliar words while reading, a well-developed vocabulary allows them to unlock the meanings of these words, making the reading experience more enjoyable and meaningful.
By integrating vocabulary instruction into reading lessons with a focus on context clues, students not only enhance their comprehension skills, but also strengthen their phonics abilities by recognizing and deciphering unfamiliar words within the context of the text. This holistic approach ensures that students not only decode words accurately, but also understand them in the broader context of the story. Building a strong vocabulary enhances comprehension by enabling students to grasp the nuances and subtleties of language.
In my classroom, I embraced the power of independent reading as a key component of our literacy program. Independent reading, also known as "personalized reading time," was a daily activity where my students had the freedom to choose books or materials that both matched their reading levels and piqued their interests. Studies have found that when students are allowed to choose their own reading materials, they are more engaged and invested in the reading process, resulting in improved comprehension (Guthrie and Humenick (2004)).
To support independent reading, I ensured our classroom library was stocked with a wide range of books and magazines. This diversity catered to different reading levels, genres, and topics, giving each student ample choices. During independent reading time, students had the autonomy to select their reading materials, which fostered a sense of ownership over their reading experience, making it more engaging and enjoyable. I worked closely with each student, mostly through conferencing, to ensure they selected books that matched their reading levels. This ensured that the material was neither too easy nor too challenging, promoting comprehension and confidence. To enhance comprehension and encourage reflection, I periodically organized book discussions or "book talks." If multiple students were reading the same book, we would gather for a group discussion. In these sessions, students had the opportunity to share their thoughts, insights, and favorite parts of the book. It promoted a sense of community and enthusiasm for reading.
After each independent reading session, I encouraged students to reflect on what they had read and set personal reading goals. This reflection helped them track their progress and set targets for improvement. Lastly, students kept reading journals where they recorded the titles of the books they read, brief summaries, and personal reflections. These journals served as a valuable tool for tracking their reading journey.
By incorporating independent reading into our daily routine, my students not only improved their reading comprehension, but also developed a genuine love for reading. It was a practice that empowered them to explore diverse texts, share their reading experiences, and become lifelong readers.
By integrating explicit comprehension instruction, vocabulary development, and independent reading, educators can establish a holistic approach to literacy that extends beyond fluency and phonics. This approach ensures that students not only read accurately, but also engage deeply with, analyze, and appreciate the texts they encounter, equipping them with the full range of skills essential for reading development and proficiency.