Ladies and Gentlemen, the scores are in. For 2015, the nation’s reading scores from the National Center for Educational Statistics show 36 percent of 4th graders scored proficient and 34 percent of 8th graders scored proficient in reading. America — we have a problem!
Why can’t our students pass standardized testing? Well, as a teacher, I can tell you that the problem is multi-layered. Without getting into a rant on education, one of our major problems with reading is that students don’t understand what they are reading. Many of our students today can read the words, sometimes very well, but don’t have a clue what they have read. This skill is called reading comprehension.
Reading comprehension is understanding what you have read. Many students struggle with this skill. To be able to understand what you have read, you must know how to decode (sound out words), make connections between what you have read and what you already know, and think deeply about what you have read.
Students must be able to predict, connect, apply, analyze, infer, make judgments, draw conclusions, synthesize, evaluate, and define vocabulary. Students must know the difference between facts, opinions, generalizations, and biases. They must be able to sequence, summarize, find the main idea or theme, find supporting details, determine what caused an event to happen, and so on. Reading comprehension is a huge task, yet in high school, I still get many, many students who struggle with this skill. Students must combine reading with thinking and reasoning.
So how do you know if your child struggles? Here are some signs of reading comprehension problems:
- My child is not able to summarize a passage or a book.
- My child might be able to tell you what happened in the story, but can’t explain why events went the way they did.
- My child can’t explain what a character’s thoughts or feelings might have been.
- My child doesn’t link events in a book to similar events from another book or from real life.
So how can parents help? Create a book club with your child. Try to read a book/article a month and discuss it. Make it a family affair. Now, you can have a great conversation at the dinner table!
Discuss background events or issues that will make the book more appealing. If you read about the Japanese internment camps, discuss what they are before you read. If you can, take time to visit some places that are mentioned in a book; for instance, if you read about the Holocaust, visit the Holocaust Museum in D.C. This is very important. Many students cannot connect real issues/events with what they are reading. If they don’t understand the context, they won’t understand the content.
Ask what they thought of the story/article. Ask for their viewpoint about different issues. Ask probing questions. Ask about characters, setting, plot, theme, and point of view.
Help your child make connections between what he or she reads and similar experiences he has felt, saw in a movie, read in another book, or seen in real life. This is called synthesis. Again, many students cannot make the connections. Don’t assume they can.
Help your child monitor his or her understanding. Teach your child to continually ask himself whether he understood. If you are reading the book to them, or they are reading it to you, stop after each paragraph and ask what happened.
Help your child go back to the text to support his answers to your questions.
Discuss the meaning of unknown words. Look them up in the dictionary or thesaurus together. Use them throughout the week when talking with your son/daughter. Have fun with new words.
Create a craft project or do a task that is relevant with the book. If the book is about fishing, go fishing. Bring the book to life.
Parents, just get these kids reading. Don’t be afraid to read with your child. The more that they read, the better their vocabulary and reasoning skills become. They also become more empathetic to the world around them. Reading makes not only better citizens, but smarter citizens. As Dr. Seuss says, “The more that you read, the more things you will know; the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”