ESSENTIAL STRATEGIES ON IMPROVING READING COMPREHENSION

birthday-cake-cake-birthday-cupcakes-40183.jpegMOST HIGH SCHOOLS no longer have students taking reading tests. However, when students are identified as not meeting adequate yearly progress in their reading, it is certain that there is a deficit in their reading foundational skills. Often-times, when students struggle in reading, educators mistakenly concentrate all of their efforts on improving comprehension. But in many cases, it is a lack of foundational reading skills— phonemic awareness and phonics, which lead to poor decoding skills—which result in students’ poor understanding.

In this post, I am exploring how High School teachers and students can approach Reading And Directed Writing in the classroom as well as essential strategies on how to tackle exam questions with aplomb and flair, that is, answering the questions precisely and accurately.

However, . . .

At High School, reading comprehension is essential.

READING COMPREHENSION is the ability to understand, remember, and communicate meaning from what has been read.

READING STRATEGIES are crucial for any reader. Once students have adequate decoding and vocabulary skills to allow for fluent reading, their understanding can be improved by instructing students to develop a routine for reading which includes specific strategies that can be employed throughout the reading process (before, during, and after) that increase their awareness and understanding of a text.

These strategies include the following:

BEFORE READING 

Preview the text on how the writer’s background and purpose influence what they write. In a way reading a text critically requires you to ask questions about the writer’s authority and agenda. You may need to put yourself in the author’s shoes and recognize how those shoes fit a certain way of thinking.

DURING READING

Monitor their own reading, generate questions about the text; and identify and organize ideas based on a text’s structure.

Engaging and Connecting with the Text – Once students have addressed unfamiliar words through previewing, they can really engage with the text as they read it by visualizing, focusing on the content, generating questions, and identifying and organizing text structure to improve understanding of the material.

The following are effective strategies that help students engage with a text:

Annotating Text – Marking important text or taking notes about information that is important will help students remember the essentials of a reading passage.

Using Questioning Strategies – Questioning strategies help the reader to clarify and comprehend what he/she is reading. Direct students to develop these as they read and to use cue words, such as who, what, where, when, and why, to guide them in order to make effective questions.

Identifying and Organizing Text Structure – The way an author organizes information in a passage can help the reader increase their understanding of the text.

AFTER READING 

Answer high-level questions and summarize the text.

Having students review and summarize material after reading gives you a simple way to ensure that they understood what they read. Retelling challenges them to retain what they read. Summarization allows them to discriminate between main ideas and minor details.

Rereading is the most effective strategy to increase one’s knowledge of the text. Students should be encouraged to do this especially when they encounter a difficult and challenging piece of text.

As most answers come directly from the passage or text being read, students should always be able to support their answer choices with specific quotations from the text. They must not answer the questions by memory alone nor rely on their own knowledge or opinion of the subject but must answer with particular reference to the text read.

17 Ideas On Teaching Students’ Reading Comprehension

Comprehension strategies are conscious plans — sets of steps that good readers use to make sense of a text. The ideas suggested here help students become purposeful, active readers who are in control of their own reading comprehension: C.R. Adler has identified strategies to teach text comprehension which include:

  1. Activating – This is “priming the cognitive pump” in order to recall relevant prior knowledge and experiences from long-term memory in order to extract and construct meaning from text.
  2. Monitoring Comprehension – Students who are good at monitoring their comprehension know when they understand what they read and when they do not. They have strategies to “fix” problems in their understanding as the problems arise. Research shows that instruction, even in the early grades, can help students become better at monitoring their comprehension. Comprehension monitoring instruction teaches students to:
    1. Be aware of what they do understand
    2. Identify what they do not understand
    3. Use appropriate strategies to resolve problems in comprehension
  3. Establish The Main Idea: Check the first and last sentences of every paragraph, or the first and last paragraphs in the passage. As you read, continually ask yourself what the main idea of the paragraph is, how that idea is explained or illustrated, and how that paragraph connects with the rest of the passage.
  4. Metacognition – It can be defined as “thinking about thinking.” Good readers use metacognitive strategies to think about and have control over their reading. Before reading, they might clarify their purpose for reading and preview the text. During reading, they might monitor their understanding, adjusting their reading speed to fit the difficulty of the text and “fixing” any comprehension problems they have. After reading, they check their understanding of what they read.
  5. Inferring – Bringing together what is spoken (written) in the text, what is unspoken (unwritten) in the text, and what is already known by the reader in order to extract and construct meaning from the text.
  6. Specific Details – Use line references when they are given. Make sure you are circling/underlining efficiently as you read so you can locate information quickly. Circle key words in the question and then scan the passage to find them or their synonyms.
  7. Tone/Attitude – How is the author emotionally engaged with the subject? Know the following words: aloof, ambivalent, apathetic, callous, candid, caustic, cautionary, condescending, contemplative, contemptuous, cynical, derisive, detached, didactic, disparaging, dispassionate, erudite, flippant, forthright, grudging, incredulous, indignant, indifferent, ironic, jaded, judicious, laudatory, malicious, naïve, nostalgic, patronizing, pedantic, pompous, pragmatic, prosaic, resigned, reverent, sardonic, satirical, skeptical, trite, vindictive, whimsical.
  8. Vocabulary In Context – Many of the words have multiple possible meanings, so you must always look back to the passage to decide how the author is using the word in context. Substitute each answer choice for the word in the sentence and see if it makes sense, even the tense choice. For unfamiliar words, look for clues nearby in the passage.
  9. Backward and Forward Monitoring – Students may use several comprehension monitoring strategies:
  • Identify where the difficulty occurs, eg: “I don’t understand the second paragraph on page 76.”
  • Identify what the difficulty is, eg: “I don’t get what the author means when she says . . . “
  • Restate the difficult sentence or passage in their own words
  • Look back through the text
  • Look forward in the text for information that might help them to resolve the difficulty
  1. Graphic and Semantic Organizers – Graphic organizers illustrate concepts and relationships between concepts in a text or using diagrams. Graphic organizers are known by different names, such as maps, webs, graphs, charts, frames, or clusters.

These are also seen as visualizing, organizing and constructing a mental image or graphic organizer for the purpose of extracting and constructing meaning from the text. Graphic organizers (venn-diagrams, storyboard/chain of events, story map or cause/effect) can:

  • Help students focus on text structure “differences between fiction and nonfiction” as they read
  • Provide students with tools they can use to examine and show relationships in a text
  • Help students write well-organized summaries of a text
  1. Answering Questions – Questions can be effective because they:
  • Give students a purpose for reading
  • Focus students’ attention on what they are to learn
  • Help students to think actively as they read
  • Encourage students to monitor their comprehension
  • Help students to review content and relate what they have learned to what they already know

The Question-Answer Relationship strategy (QAR) encourages students to learn how to answer questions better. Students are asked to indicate whether the information they used to answer questions about the text was textually explicit information (information that was directly stated in the text), textually implicit information (information that was implied in the text), or information entirely from the student’s own background knowledge.

There are four different types of questions:

  • “Right There” – Questions found right in the text that ask students to find the one right answer located in one place as a word or a sentence in the passage. Example: Who is Frog’s friend? Answer: Toad
  • “Think and Search” – Questions based on the recall of facts that can be found directly in the text. Answers are typically found in more than one place, thus requiring students to “think” and “search” through the passage to find the answer. Example: Why was Frog sad? Answer: His friend was leaving.
  • “Author and You” Questions require students to use what they already know, with what they have learned from reading the text. Student’s must understand the text and relate it to their prior knowledge before answering the question. Example: How do think Frog felt when he found Toad? Answer: I think that Frog felt happy because he had not seen Toad in a long time. I feel happy when I get to see my friend who lives far away.
  • “On Your Own” Questions are answered based on a students prior knowledge and experiences. Reading the text may not be helpful to them when answering this type of question. Example: How would you feel if your best friend moved away? Answer: I would feel very sad if my best friend moved away because I would miss her.

12. Generating Questions – By generating questions, students become aware of whether they can answer the questions and if they understand what they are reading. Students learn to ask themselves questions that require them to combine information from different segments of text. For example, students can be taught to ask main idea questions that relate to important information in a text.

13. Monitoring and Clarifying – Thinking about how and what one is reading, both during and after the act of reading, for purposes of determining if one is comprehending the text combined with the ability to clarify and fix up any mix-ups.

14. Recognizing Story Structure – In story structure instruction, students learn to identify the categories of content (characters, setting, events, problem, resolution). Often, students learn to recognize story structure through the use of story maps. Instruction in story structure improves students’ comprehension.

15. Summarizing – Summarizing requires students to determine what is important in what they are reading and to put it into their own words. Instruction in summarizing helps students:

    • Identify or generate main ideas
    • Connect the main or central ideas
    • Eliminate unnecessary information
    • Remember what they read

16. Searching and Selecting – Searching a variety of sources in order to select appropriate information to answer questions, define words and terms, clarify misunderstandings, solve problems, or gather information.

17. Identifying Techniques – How does the author structure his/her argument? Is the passage meant to teach, persuade, or describe? Is the argument objective or subjective? What is the author’s thesis? What type of evidence is used? Does the author quote his sources, or simply cite their names or titles? Are the ideas concrete or abstract? Does the author give specific details or rely on generalizations?

pexels-photo-261895.jpegEffective Comprehension Instruction

Research shows that explicit teaching techniques are particularly effective for comprehension strategy instruction. In explicit instruction, teachers tell readers why and when they should use strategies, what strategies to use, and how to apply them. The steps of explicit instruction typically include direct explanation, teacher modeling (“thinking aloud”), guided practice, and application.

  • Direct explanation – The teacher explains to students why the strategy helps comprehension and when to apply the strategy.
  • Modeling – The teacher models, or demonstrates, how to apply the strategy, usually by “thinking aloud” while reading the text that the students are using.
  • Guided practice – The teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy.
  • Application – The teacher helps students practice the strategy until they can apply it independently.

Work To Understand Your Own Strategies And To Improve Them

  • Ask yourself questions about how you read: Do you read too quickly or slowly? Do you tend to lose your focus? Can you scan for key information or ideas?
  • Consider the characteristics of effective reading above, in relation to those practices and strategies you already employ, to get a sense of your current reading strategies and how they might be improved.

Just as having more than one conversation with another person leads to closer understanding; conducting a number of readings lead to a richer and more meaningful relationship with, and understanding of a text.

This, essentially, requires a lot of practice.

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!

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