All teachers hope to have students who are proficient and independent readers, and who will become lifelong learners. How do we ensure that students really understand what they’re reading? Researchers are helping teachers understand just what they can do about it and why it’s so important.
Many parents seem to think that when it comes to reading, it is the quantity of books read that matters. This emphasis is seen in schools as well. Our children thus try to read as many books as possible.
But more important than the number of books read is how much of the text has been understood. Children may be able to decode words and pick out their meanings but they may not have comprehended the text in its entirety.
In fact, data gathered from the School-based Reading Innovation Project shows that it is not uncommon to see students attaining high scores for decoding in reading assessments, but score poorly for comprehension.
There is also the tendency for schools to test rather than to teach comprehension.
Testing comprehension involves asking a series of questions in order to ascertain students’ understanding of the text. On the other hand, teaching comprehension focuses on equipping students with a set of comprehension skills to assist them in understanding texts thoroughly.
The Importance of Comprehension
Research has shown that reading and comprehension correlate with academic achievement in the long run. Students who truly comprehend texts gain an in-depth understanding of the text. This enables them to relate the knowledge to what they have previously learned as well as to what they may learn in the future.
A good reader, one who is able to comprehend what is read, should be able to do the following:
- respond creatively and critically to the text;
- have a “global” understanding of text, that is, be able to comprehend texts as a whole, and not just individual sentences and paragraphs; and
- connect the text with oneself (the reader), with other texts, with the world and life in general.
Facilitating Students’ Comprehension
Comprehension is a complicated process that involves the interaction of two factors – the text and the reader.
Text factors have to do with how a text is put together. It includes aspects such as text structure (the way a text is organized), paragraph structure, different strategies that writers use in constructing the text. These are things that teachers can examine together with their student.
Reader factors refer to a set of behaviour that a good reader brings to undertake the comprehension task. Teachers can help students to develop some of these behaviours:
- Activating prior knowledge while reading
- Making predictions
- Previewing text features such as book blurb and title
- Using organizational strategies in organizing knowledge
- Using metacognitive strategies such as inferring and summarizing
- Connecting text to personal experience
Teachers can systematically and explicitly instruct students on these strategies during reading comprehension lessons. They can demonstrate and model the use of the strategies to help students translate them into practice.
Teaching the Teachers
In Singapore, reading instruction at schools may be further enhanced to develop students into proficient and critical readers – readers who can not only decode the meaning of individual words but also be able to comprehend the meaning of whole text at different levels.
A study undertaken by the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice at NIE investigated the reading instruction in a primary school. Several areas of the programme were chosen for enhancement, one of which was in the teaching of comprehension. Teachers attempted to modify their reading instruction to include the instruction of comprehension strategies.
Reading with comprehension is one of the components essential for developing proficient and independent readers. To facilitate text comprehension, students should be equipped with comprehension strategies first. This will give them an advantage in text comprehension and in turn enable them to perform better in their comprehension task.
Look out for the book Techniques for Developing Readers and Writers (edited by Dr Chitra Shegar and published by Cengage Asia), due out in early 2010, which will showcase a variety of techniques used by the teachers to develop students as readers and writers.