How can I help my students with reading comprehension? “The more we can integrate what we call a reading guide with what we call a content guide, the better,” says Associate Professor Dennis Davis.


Understanding what is read can often be a challenging process for anyone to understand, says Associate Professor of Literacy NC State College of Education Dennis Davisbut understanding how to speak and model the process for children can even be tricky.

Although reading comprehension is often referred to as a single skill, Davis says the process actually involves orchestrating and accumulating multiple sub-skills. Also, knowing how to read a text and understanding it is not the same as being able to discuss reading in a clear, specialized way for students.

“To be an adult reader, if you read well, you never think about why a sentence connects in a certain way or gives you a certain idea, because you have this implicit language and grammatical knowledge that you’ve automated, and it’s just deep in your brain, ”Davis said. “You never think about it again until you want to become a reading teacher, and then you have to dig it up. You have to petrify, give him a language, learn to talk about it, learn to explain and set examples for children.

Although much of the research focuses heavily on teachers ’knowledge of reading skills related to phonemic awareness, morphology, and word reading, Davis said not much is known about how to help teachers better understand the language comprehension aspect when readings.

“I think the hardest thing about learning to understand is finding out exactly where you’re helping individual children, because the problem may look like it’s one thing, but it could be many others,” said Davis, whose research focuses on reading comprehension. . “I think teachers need to have a really deep understanding of how understanding works, because without that knowledge it’s hard to understand what aspect children are actually experiencing.”

When a teacher notices that a student has difficulty understanding what they are reading, Davis said it is sometimes difficult for teachers to find the root of a problem and determine where to go with instruction.

In most cases, many of the difficulties that seem to be related to reading comprehension are actually the result of a child’s struggle with reading words. In this case, teachers or intervention specialists may need to work more closely with students on the acoustics and exercises of letter-sound correspondence.

In his work with Literacy spaceDavis said that quite often you can see children struggling because even though they have practiced sound patterns of letters over and over again, the lesson doesn’t hold up. In this case, Davis said he succeeded when the student first practiced manipulating spoken words at the phonemic level to better understand how to match letters to sounds.

Although difficulties with reading comprehension are often the result of these problems, Davis said there are times when children who have fully mastered word reading need extra help with language comprehension.

When this happens, helping the child to comprehend can be tricky, as they need to master unlimited skills such as vocabulary formation and background knowledge.

We help students build world knowledge

One common problem with reading comprehension is that the student simply does not know enough about the subject they are reading about to understand it.

A text, Davis said, is a form of conversation between the author and the reader in which the author explicitly shares some information but will discuss other things implicitly because the reader is supposed to know the relevant information. For example, in Fr. a recent study on teachers ’knowledge of reading comprehension, Davis asked teachers to read a text about Charles Darwin’s wife. However, the text never clearly explained who Charles Darwin was, assuming that the reader had already learned about him in a science or social studies lesson.

For the student, even if they can read every word on the page fluently, they will not be able to understand this text without knowledge of Darwin’s life and achievements.

“Being able to know enough to tie ideas together in a coherent way is really important. That’s why knowledge of content, such as the content of science and social studies, and all the other things we teach in elementary school besides reading, is really necessary for reading, ”Davis said. “It’s all part of a system that is really involved in whether a child understands what he’s reading for the rest of his life. No matter how important reading is and how much you want it to be a priority in your learning, you will never get children where they should be unless you also help them build up their knowledge of the world as they go. ” .

Each child will come to class with different experiences and interests, and thus will have a different level of knowledge on different topics. For this reason, Davis says it is important for teachers to know their students and what knowledge they bring with them to the classroom.

Knowing this can not only help teachers help students build knowledge where they need it, but also help them choose texts that will be interesting to children, especially those who have difficulty understanding.

“In any kind of interference with understanding you have to make sure that the children are reading things that are compelling and interesting. They should be able to connect to the text, ”Davis said. “No one wanted to read something boring or stupid. It’s just human nature. ”

How can I intervene when my students are struggling with understanding?

To help multilingual students through Building knowledge and language through the Query (KLI) Frameworkdeveloped together with the associate professor Jackie RallyDavis has created a multi-component intervention to enable students to develop skills important for understanding.

This intervention is framed around common themes in science and social research, and each module ends with a culminating project that allows students to present to others as an expert on their topics.

One of the interventions that was especially popular with students was the use of word cards to construct complex sentences. As part of the intervention, students are given four or five word cards and asked to construct a sentence from them. Once this is done, students are given two more cards and asked to add these words to an existing sentence to create a more complex sentence.

“We’re going to do it a few times, so we end up building this big, beautiful, huge, masterfully complex sentence with lots of built-in sentences, so we help kids start to understand these more complex, grammatical things,” Davis said. “This is not teaching grammar in the traditional sense. It’s about making really good sentences, but, built inside, it’s some reflection on how the English grammar system works when we don’t say any of these words to children. They don’t feel like they’re doing grammar exercises. ”

Davis noted that the words used to construct sentences or other activities are related to the topics that students read about in this module. Combining activities, he said, means that students not only learn to break complex words or build complex sentences as part of an intervention in understanding, they also expand their knowledge on the topic.

“The more we can combine what we call reading instruction with what we call instruction on content, the better because science and history teaching has clear opportunities where children can read, think and act. Said Davis. “Kids want to feel like they know something really well and that’s good. I think it’s important to develop any kind of intervention or practice in the classroom based on an idea so that at the end of it the child can demonstrate what he knows and shine like a person who has learned something ”.

Literacy space

“Secret weapon” to understand what is read

Davis said understanding can be difficult to control and learn because it is a mental process. For this reason, he finds it important for educators to use what he calls the two “secret weapons of reading comprehension” in working with students: modeling and questioning.

As an adult reader, when a person gets to a word or concept they do not understand, his brain warns him of this fact, making him understand that he needs to go back and reread the chapter or find that word or idea. For children, observing this impairment of comprehension is a skill that needs to be learned.

“Many children just keep reading because they didn’t understand or understand too late that they didn’t understand. Therefore, it is very useful not to keep the conversation and a really rich discussion of the text until the end, ”Davis said. “Do it on the go so kids can practice this monitoring on the go and you can model it for them so they understand as a reader what they need to do.”

Interviewing students, Davis said it is important to ask questions at this time and during discussions that make children think deeply about what they are reading.

Davis noted that some may be hesitant to interrupt a student while he is in the middle of reading to ask them to share what they have understood so far, or to paraphrase what they have just read. However, he said it is helpful to inquire along the way, both to assess whether a student really understands what they have read and to teach students to imitate the habit of questioning their own understanding when they read independently.

“You can set it up almost as a good conversation if you imagine how students process the text on a fairly shallow level,” Davis said. «[Individual questioning] not always feasible or practical with a whole class of children, but setting up a lot of discussion work in your classroom where you get a chance to hear how children talk about their reading along the way is a good approximation to that. well ”.

To help students understand how to self-control reading comprehension, teachers can also explicitly and intentionally model what a reader should do when noticing something that doesn’t make sense.

For example, Davis said a teacher can “come up with” while reading aloud and dwell on a word they pretend they don’t understand. The teacher can then simulate how they will work to figure this out by saying things like “I wonder what the author means here?” Also, when reading aloud teachers could replace an inappropriate word at a certain point in the text in the hope that students would notice that it didn’t make sense and prevent the teacher from reading further.

When he was the class teacher, Davis made the lesson fun for the students, giving them bells to ring when they heard something they didn’t understand. He and the students then discussed what they would have done if they had come to this word or idea while reading on their own and did not understand it.

“You try to create situations where kids can see that you feel what you’re doing, and they also have the opportunity to practice what they’d do when they get to something that doesn’t make sense,” Davis said. «

One thing Davis doesn’t advise when a student comes across an unfamiliar word that they don’t automatically recognize is to ask what word might come up, or ask them to use context to figure out the word. While it may help at the moment, he said, it will not help the student learn what they need to learn about the word so they can recognize it another time in another text.

“You want to push them to think about how it’s spelled and how those spellings blend with the sounds. You want to help them focus on a careful analysis of the letters and sounds in the word, ”Davis said. “Otherwise, the next time they get to that word, if they don’t have the same level of supportive context or don’t have the same picture or the same adult scaffolding, you’re stuck again. So it is better to carefully analyze the letters and sounds to learn something about this word later.

How can I help my students with reading comprehension? “The more we can integrate what we call a reading guide with what we call a content guide, the better,” says Associate Professor Dennis Davis.

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