Sound Reading Newsletter
The Easy Road to Full Reading Comprehension
(The Best Reading Comprehension Strategies)
All that I believed about reading comprehension skills evaporated one day while talking to a speech and language therapist. I told her how reading instruction placed comprehension first, especially the teaching of strategies. She laughed and said simply, “that makes no sense from a speech and language perspective. Our brains don’t work that way.”
“We’ve known for over a hundred years how meaning is constructed,” she continued. “Starting with auditory skills, we link sound patterns with meaningful words that are stored in our brain’s listening areas. Words are then linked into meaningful phrases and sentences. Only after sentence comprehension do our higher level thinking skills and strategies kick in.”
Let’s consider how we understand spoken language: you don’t listen to the sound patterns that compose each spoken word, understanding words and sentences are automatic. Decoding words from speech and print, meaningfully and automatically, is the foundation of reading comprehension strategies. Think about how hard it is to understand a conversation on a cell phone when the connection is bad; putting all your attention into listening to words really limits your understanding.
The link between reading and spoken language is important because our brains don’t have a “reading center.” The only reason we can make sense of written words is because we are gifted at deciphering spoken words; Reading comprehension is really listening and auditory comprehension. This is why students who are good at listening to stories are most often the ones who also have good comprehension when they read. Late at night I have a hard time listening to CNN while reading the news crawler. The same area of the brain - the auditory area - processes reading and listening information, and so my brain hits cognitive overload when I try to process both simultaneously.
Carpenters have told me that building a house from the roof down is pretty hard. Similarly, reading comprehension should be built from the ground up
- Decoding with extreme accuracy is essential and phonemic awareness, not phonics, is the key to decoding with meaning. Remember, phonemic awareness is a big reason children learn to talk.
- Lack of reading fluency is the biggest reason for reading comprehension issues. Research has found that almost all 4th graders who pass state reading assessments read at a rate of 100 words or more a minute. About 80% of students who don’t meet standards read at rate less than 80 words per minute, which is too slow for memory to work well.
- The easiest way to boost reading comprehension skills and strategies is to teach higher-level listening strategies. I like Listen Hear! 25 Effective Listening Reading Comprehension Strategies by Michael F. Opitz and Matthew D. Zbaracki, which comes complete with lesson plans and reproducables.
- If your students struggle to apply reading comprehension strategies, try “Stop and Thinks.” Do not wait to ask questions until the end of the story. Put simple questions on Post-its, at least one per page. The questions should not be factual questions but rather those that prompt higher-level questioning, including predictions and relating the story to personal experiences or other stories they have read. This trains students to think about what they are reading as they read.
We used these principles to create the Sound Reading software and Small Steps reading practice. We guarantee that your students’ (or child’s) reading comprehension, fluency and decoding scores will be at or above grade level after using Sound Reading. Reading comprehension strategies can become simple if you take a speech and language approach.
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