by: Jeff Barger
I have an older car that leaks small amounts of brake fluid. Every week, I lift the hood and check the level of brake fluid. If I have not checked in a while, a light will appear on the dashboard. I have to monitor the level of brake fluid and add some if it gets too low. In a similar way, a student needs to monitor their comprehension as they read. It is not enough to decode and read fluently. Students need to understand what they are reading. When readers do not understand, they need to stop and fix it. So what are some strategies we can teach students to use when their comprehension breaks down or to avoid it breaking down?
Before the reader begins a passage, especially nonfiction, provide some background information. For example, if a student is going to read about bears, review vocabulary words they might encounter. Hibernate and omnivore are two sample words.
Take a brief break and review.
After a preset amount of reading (depending on the amount of text and the reader), teach readers to stop and think about what is happening in the text. Readers can ask the 5 W questions (Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?) to make sure they understand. Or simply ask “Does this make sense?” If not, they may need to use a fix-up strategy.
Adjust your rate of reading.
In this age of fluency testing, some students read for speed and miss the meaning. Coach them to slow down a little bit. It is like eating. If you gobble your food, you do not appreciate it and might get an upset stomach. Enjoy the meal!
Change the vowel sound in a word.
Sometimes, changing the sound from short to long, or vice versa, makes all the difference in recognizing a word and unlocking meaning. If that does not help, find clues in the text around the word, the illustration, and text features.
Go back and reread.
When a reader is unable to answer a question, instead of giving the answer, encourage them to go back to the passage and read it again. They will have a better focus and read with more intentionality when they go back.
If going in reverse does not help, you may need to go forward and see if additional information provides clarity.
Ask for help.
Teaching students how to help one another with their reading is a great opportunity for collaboration in the classroom. Like a good coach, students should ask questions when called upon for help. That will guide the person asking for help instead of just telling them the answer.
With these measures and strategies, it is extremely important to remember to model, model, model! Students need to see it in action led by an expert reader. Then, work on it together with the expert. Finally, they can practice it independently.
Jeff Barger is a K-5 literacy specialist in North Carolina. He is the creator of the NC Teacher Stuff blog and has written three nonfiction books for children.