Frederick Douglas said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Reading frees us as an escape, but it also enables our ability to grow, learn, and progress. It’s the foundation of almost anything we do.
To excel in school and professionally, it’s important to have developed excellent reading comprehension skills from an early age. Reading comprehension is “the capacity to perceive and understand the meanings communicated by texts.” In other words, it’s decoding the words we read in order to understand and remember what has been read.
For a number of reasons, reading comprehension can be challenging for children, which can lead to other learning issues.
The good news is that many strategies can teach students to overcome reading difficulties and help them discover success in school and beyond. Read on to learn more.
Why is reading comprehension important for students?
There is a difference between reading and reading comprehension. Reading words on a page is one task. Reading those words and understanding what they mean together is entirely different.
A student might know that there are letters on a page that come together to make words or sentences. If that person has reading difficulties, they might not understand that the words on the page explain how to tie your shoes.
Reading comprehension is important for students because it helps them understand the context of what they are reading. It is a transaction, where a reader’s existing experiences and feelings combine with the meaning of the text for a greater understanding of the content.
Comprehending what is read helps students to retain information, understand theories, develop opinions, and build their knowledge base.
It is not a skill exclusive to language arts—it is the base of every subject, from history to math and science. Reading comprehension is truly the foundation of a solid education.
Why is reading comprehension important for college students?
Just as in elementary or high school, reading comprehension is imperative to students’ success in college.
In fact, it’s more important than before, as professors task students with deciphering research, technical documents, and academic texts in order to make connections, understand concepts, and develop their own theories or conclusions.
In college, students, of course, are assigned readings from textbooks. But professors also incorporate popular articles, academic journals, creative writing, essays, and more into regular reading to help students gain a bigger picture of the subject they are studying.
The responsibility to read and understand these assignments rests on the student, and so reading comprehension is key.
Students are expected to read more independently and accurately analyze what they read to apply it to course concepts or research. In college, this requires understanding and applying different reading styles, a broader vocabulary, and critical thinking skills.
Why is reading comprehension important for professionals ?
Reading comprehension does not end in school—it should carry into professional life. The concepts that help a college student develop an in-depth research paper are now in play as a professional writes a report or presents at a conference.
Through reading comprehension, professionals can connect themes and build on different theories to support their own information or present a persuasive argument.
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7 reading strategies to improve reading comprehension
Many students find that reading comprehension comes as second nature, but others experience learning issues. Fortunately, several strategies help students to improve their reading comprehension to be successful in school and beyond. Strategies include:
- Using background knowledge — Understanding text relies, in large part, upon a person’s background and life experiences. These experiences build a framework for the text and help students to connect what they already know with what they are learning. For example, a student might live in Philadelphia and have a good understanding of their neighborhood. In school, they read a book about Benjamin Franklin from Philadelphia. Soon, they begin to connect the historical context to the city in which they live.
- Generating questions —As they read, students should ask themselves relevant questions throughout the text. By asking and answering questions, students will focus on the most important part of what they are reading and be able to summarize information. A child reading about dinosaur bones and fossils might ask what tools are necessary to find and uncover fossils. By later answering that question, they have a broader understanding of what they read.
- Making inferences — Drawing conclusions within the text is a crucial part of reading comprehension. Authors often leave out information so that the reader must infer what’s happening based on his or her own experiences or other clues in the text. For example, an author might write that their characters live in Springfield, but there are thirty-three Springfields in the US. By using background knowledge and other clues, the reader might discover the author means Springfield, Massachusetts, and the story gains more context.
- Predicting — Many pieces of a book can help a reader predict what it might cover. If the reader is familiar with an author’s genre, they might predict the general direction of the book, or a title might help a reader predict what happens in the text. The title Blink might not help a reader predict much about the content, but The Good Spy provides a clearer idea of the book’s direction.
- Summarizing — By summarizing the text, a reader can take key elements that concisely explain what the text is about. If reading a history book, the student might summarize the key points of a war that led the winning side to victory.
- Visualizing — When a reader can visualize text, they can see a mental image of where something is in the text. This helps readers to retain information better and also understand the flow of the text they are reading. Visual elements such as pull quotes, colored boxes, graphics, or photos, help a reader to recall where they were on a page and the information that went with it.
- Comprehension monitoring — Comprehension monitoring simply means that a reader is cognizant of when they understand the text and when they don’t. Readers who recognize when they don’t understand something will work harder on strategies to improve their understanding. When reading very technical language, for example, it’s a good idea for a reader to note any words or phrases that they are not familiar with, and then look them up later. Then they will have a more in-depth understanding of the text.
How to build reading comprehension strategies for K-8 students
From an early age, reading comprehension is significant because it is a building block of education.
As previously stated, reading comprehension is the foundation of nearly all other subjects. In addition to the strategies listed above, there are best practices parents can use to help their young students excel in reading comprehension:
- Choose appropriate books — If children read books that are either too easy or above their reading level, they will not enjoy it. Choosing a book at the right level is key!
- Choose fun books — Reading should be fun! Sometimes, the books students have to read for assignments are difficult to get through. It’s important to show children that reading can, and should be, enjoyable!
- Prepare for reading — If a child has an assigned reading on a new topic, it is beneficial to discuss that topic beforehand to provide a base for the reading. For example, if the assignment is a text about the Civil War, parents can talk to their children about the causes of the Civil War and when it happened prior to reading the book.
- Read aloud — Reading a text out loud is a great way to process the text, to hear words, and to retain information.
- Reread text — By rereading simple books, children can improve the fluency and speed of reading.
- Discuss readings — When a child talks about what they read, they process and understand the text better. They can recall key points from the book, the sequence of events, characters, and more.
If a child continues to have trouble grasping reading comprehension, parents can always talk to a teacher. Teachers can provide great resources and appropriate books to encourage and engage students.
How to build reading comprehension strategies for high schoolers
As students enter high school, reading comprehension becomes more important. The readings and texts are more difficult. And, high school students are expected to make connections, draw conclusions, and provide summaries of the texts they read to build their knowledge base. Reading comprehension strategies for high schoolers include:
- Make reading enjoyable — The more high school students discover the love of reading, the more natural reading comprehension will come.
- Make reading active — Encourage students to read with a notebook and pen nearby so that they can note questions, important points, favorite quotes, significant characters, etc.
- Discuss readings — High school students will retain more information and have a better understanding of what they read if they have a conversation about the book.
- Understand that reading is not memorization — It’s important to remember key points of what is read, but it’s more significant to be able to build on those key points for a broader understanding of the topic.
- Choose a reading location — Dedicate a special place for reading, away from electronics and interruptions.
How can parents and teachers teach reading comprehension strategies?
Two things parents and teachers can easily do to teach reading comprehension to children is to read often and make reading enjoyable.
If reading is relevant, interesting, and enjoyable to children, they will want to read. The more they read, the more they improve their reading comprehension.
Parents and teachers can help students succeed by dedicating time and space to reading. Making time to read in a place away from television and other electronics will help students to make it part of their routine.
Experimenting and trying new things also keeps children interested in reading. This might mean exploring new worlds, learning how to do something new, or reading about a new hobby or interest the child has.
Conclusion: Reading Comprehension Strategies
Reading comprehension, at any level or age, takes constant practice.
Above all, it is important to encourage children to read often.
The more a child reads, the more it becomes part of everyday life, and the more they excel at reading comprehension.