3 Reasons Your Child Isn't Understanding What She Reads

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We know that comprehending what we read is the sole purpose of learning HOW to read. But surprisingly schools have placed a heavy emphasis on how quickly children read instead of how effectively they are comprehending the material they are reading. While your child may awe you with their oral language abilities (their ability to tell you about complex things going on in the world) you might be surprised to find that your child's reading comprehension skills are breaking down. 

Typically when we see reading comprehension skills breaking down it is because we have a breakdown occurring in one of these three areas:

1. Their ability to actually sound out the words found in the passage.

When students are unable to read many of the individual words in a passage their brain has to compensate and pick up a lot of slack by filling in the gaps and holes with words they feel might be a good fit given all the other words around the word they are unable to read. Not only does this make it difficult to understand because you have holes and gaps in the information or storyline, but the brain is spending extra time processing possible solutions to fill in the gap or hole as opposed to spending that brain power understanding what is actually going on in the passage!

In order to fully comprehend what we are reading we need to decode accurately and fluently. If we aren't sounding out the words accurately or fluently - reading comprehension will be a major struggle.

2. They don't have enough background knowledge to support deeper understanding

We know that it's easier to comprehend material that is familiar to us. If you sit down to read accounting law and you are not an accountant or a lawyer you likely won't get as much out of the passage or article as someone who has a degree or more background knowledge on the topic. This happens for children too, often what we don't realize is that children don't have any context for what we are asking them to read. If they don't have strong context or are lacking an understanding of some of the key vocabulary terms necessary to build that context they will feel just as lost as those of us without accounting or law degrees reading articles we just don't fully understand!

3. They don't have a concrete strategy to apply when reading a passage

Students do well when they are given explicit instruction on how to approach a complex task. When we are working to comprehend material there is a lot of information to which we need to pay attention! If students haven't been given specific strategies or haven't been taught when to use which strategy - they will likely struggle. We use different comprehension strategies when looking at fiction versus nonfiction pieces. We use different comprehension strategies across the different genres or subject matters in nonfiction passages.  Having a concrete set of tips that we know how and when to apply can be a game changer for students - not having these concrete tips means that they are more than likely just passively reading a passage until they have finished.

It is important that we are always monitoring for comprehension breakdowns - and when we recognize that our child isn't fully understanding the material that we work to determine the cause of the breakdown - this way we can begin to help them overcome the breakdown!