Understanding Reading Comprehension
In this article we are going to address what comprehension is, how to improve it and why Fluent Readers have improved comprehension and recall.
According to Anderson and Nagy (1992), students add 2,000-3,000 words a year to their reading vocabularies. This was confirmed by Anglin (1993), and backed by previous research (Beck & McKeown, 1991; Nagy & Herman, 1987. A person acquires his/her vocabulary not through memorization, but by accruing fragments of word knowledge for each of the thousands of words that he or she encounters everyday (Hirsh, 2003; West, Stanovich, & Mitchell, 1993).
Comprehension is a learning process. It is the ability to understand and gain meaning from what has been read and being able to communicate this information to others. It is the reason for reading.
The Literacy Company's philosophy highlights the mutually dependent aspects of the teaching and the use of reading.
One must Learn To Read in order to Read To Learn - Learning to Read involves well-known sequentially taught skills:
1. Phonemic Awareness - The ability to hear and identify units of sounds in spoken words.
2. Phonics - The relationship between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language (e.g., c, a, ph, th, sh, etc.).
3. Vocabulary - Words one must know to communicate effectively.
4. Comprehension -The ability to understand and gain meaning from what is read.
5. Assuming mastery of Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary and Comprehension, individuals will have achieved Oral Reading Fluency.
Reading To Learn involves less well-known skills that must be learned in order for individuals to be able to have the reading skills necessary to learn through reading. They are:
1. Silent Reading Fluency - Individuals must learn to transition from Oral Reading Skills to Silent Reading Skills, i.e., to read more than one word at a time without vocalizing. Otherwise, armed only with Oral Reading Skills, they will live and work in a world that requires silent reading skills. The result: They will be destined to be poor readers (with poor comprehension) all their lives. Everyone must learn the truth about the common misconception that, to achieve understanding and comprehension, one must read slowly. The opposite is true!
2. Vocabulary- 90% of one's vocabulary development comes from reading after the 4th grade. If one is a poor reader, reading becomes a chore, which translates into minimal growth in one's reading and vocabulary development. If one is a good reader, one reads a lot and his/her vocabulary grows. The more the vocabulary grows the more one reads and the gateway to learning is opened. Vocabulary knowledge is the core skill of successful Fluent Readers that enables them to read faster and better with much greater comprehension, along with much improved recall. The Reader's Edge employs a unique feature, Prime Words Lists, that facilitate the ability to learn to read groups of words and thereby increase vocabulary. This ensures an individual's continued growth of comprehension skills.
3. Prior Knowledge - Readers use their background knowledge automatically. Here again, the more one reads, the more one's vocabulary grows, the easier it is to understand new material. The more one's prior knowledge is applied to what is read, the more effective and efficient will be their comprehension
4. Generating and Answering Questions is a form of reciprocal teaching that improves the levels of comprehension. For example, consider a reading selection about the American Pledge of Allegiance and the questions and issues that could be generated and how this would determine one's level of comprehension. For instance, your comprehension would be on the highest level if you would feel comfortable responding to the below listed types of questions. (Bloom's Taxonomy of Cognitive Outcomes, Developed by W. Jackson - 2/12/96. Listed below are the range of levels used to assess the degree of comprehension achieved by an individual.)
Recite the Pledge.
Reword the Pledge.
Apply ideas, principles
Demonstrate other Allegiances.
Difference between Allegiance to the Flag or to the principles for which it stands.
Combine current and prior knowledge
Create a new Pledge.
Make judgements based on your understanding
How does Allegiance apply in today's world?
In summary, the reader's level of comprehension is the result of a seamless combination of achieving improved skills in the areas of:
- Silent Reading Fluency
- Vocabulary Development
- Prior Knowledge - What you bring to the text as a reader.
- Mentally Generating and Answering Questions - A form of self-teaching that improves levels of comprehension.
Remember, the more you read, the more your vocabulary will grow and the more you read the faster you become fluent and competent second language readers.
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Harmer, Jeremy. (2004). The Practice of ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING. (3rd Ed). Pearson Education Limited.
Nuttall, C. (1996). Teaching reading skills in a foreign language (2nd ed.). Oxford: Heinemann.
Samuels, S. J. (1991). Ten best ideas for reading teachers. In E. Fry (Ed.). Ten best ideas for reading teachers (pp. 17-20). Menlo Park, Calif.: Addison-Wesley.
Williams, R. (1986). "Top ten" principles for teaching reading. ELT Journal, 40(1), 42-45.