Reading comprehension is an important skill to build. As an adult good comprehension skills will mean being able to read a letter and fully understand its contents, or being able to follow instructions such as in a recipe or google maps. These are all excellent reasons to encourage reading comprehension. The best reason of all, however, is to help the child enjoy their reading to a maximum. Reading is not going to hold much enjoyment if the book is not understood or the story is not followed. One of the joys of learning to read is that feeling of complete immersion in a book, whereby one becomes so involved in the story it is as if they are living it themselves. This is an impossible state to reach if one’s comprehension skills are lacking.
I did not need to teach comprehension skills to my older children. Reading was second nature to them, almost from the start. They immersed themselves so fully that during the very next imaginary play they would dress up, becoming one of the characters and acting out the story (which of course their similar aged siblings would also have read and joined in, together creating story tale magic). A6 not so much. I have been on a quest this year to encourage A in her reading, and to help her enjoy it a bit more.
These are a few of the things I have found which have helped:
The main way I check A6’s comprehension is through narration or retelling what she has heard. I have written about how I do narration using pictures. Just the fact that A6 knows I am going to ask for a narration means she is more attentive and listens carefully. I don’t always ask for a full narration, sometimes a quick summary is enough to check she has understood.
My best friend, Nik, is a teacher. When A was five I had the pleasure of observing Nik reading to her. Every page she would carefully read and then, automatically, ask A questions about what she had just read. In addition she discussed the illustrations and patiently answered any questions A had. It did me good to see this in action, because I would not have naturally thought to do this.
Next time I read to A I tried doing the same. It felt a little forced and unnatural and I was surprised when A6 responded so well, and enjoyed the discussion. I realised that her comprehension was so much greater than her reading and that the interactive questioning and discussing built upon her strengths instead of focusing on her reading weakness.
This type of listening, thinking and discussing allows A6 to analyse and predict the course of the story fairly accurately. I could see her linking the current Mr Men text to other books she had read, or to things which had happened in her own life. A6 also likes to ask questions. A lot of questions. Like all. the. time questions. It nearly drove me nuts, because instead of spending her reading time reading she would ‘waste’ it asking questions. I thought she was maybe procrastinating or letting her attention wander, but I now realise (better late than never, I suppose), that questioning each and every word and picture helps her to make sense of what she is learning, increases her vocabulary and ultimately makes the experience of being read to or reading to me much more enjoyable for her.
- Vocabulary Focus
As an off shoot of the questioning and discussion, we would naturally discuss vocab. I would check her comprehension of certain words, although over time realised that she would automatically ask if she was unsure. When she asked I could then look more closely at the rest of the text with her and the context in which the word was used. I would then ask her to hazard a guess as to what the word she was stuck on meant. More often than not she was able to proffer an accurate explanation.
- Reading Aloud
It goes without saying that I read a lot to my younger children. That said, I really don’t read the quality of books to them I read to my older ones. By the time they were four we had read Swiss Family Robinson, Robinsoe Crusoe, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. It hadn’t occured to me at the time that these were fairly tricky books to understand, I just read. With A I have held back based on the fact I thought she would have neither the concentration nor the understanding to listen to harder books being read out. I wonder had I just gone ahead without over thinking it, whether she would be reading more fluently now. This coming year I will be choosing some wonderful books to read aloud, some picture but some more complicated chapter books. I know from experience that this will increase her vocabulary and help with her reading. I have just one question – why did I not do this before?
- Drawing a Picture
Another simple way of ensuring the children have an understanding of what is being read to them is to ask them to draw a picture of the story. I do this frequently with the older ones, asking them to display their knowledge in a way which makes sense to them. It is a fabulous way to test understanding in a non threatening way. The older children have created Mine craft worlds, Knex models, Magnetix models, Lego models – you name it they’ve done it! For now though, I just ask A6 for a picture, which she loves to do.
Most of these suggestions are common sense. But in my case, common sense doesn’t always prevail. I write this post to myself so that next year I can continue the journey I have started to help my little girl enjoy reading to the same extent as her older siblings.