Teach Comprehension?

The Question:

A customer wrote: “I was wondering what you think about teaching reading comprehension “strategies.” If students are able to read accurately and fluently will they automatically be able to comprehend the material they read?”

My Answer:

Most of the time yes…but not always! I have a video tape of a three-year-old boy reading fluently from the back of my book with great emphasis on feeling and meaning (so much so it was sweetly laughable!), even stopping to ask questions now and then about what might come next. His mother had only taught him how to read with it, but nothing about comprehension.

But then there is the 4th-grade girl who could also read anything in the book — but had no idea what she was reading! She had never connected reading with meaning. Her teacher had called me because she was totally frustrated about what she should do.

I ended up taking the child back, back, and finally back to the first sentence in the book: “Sis sat.” She did not have the slightest clue as to what it meant.

I asked her what “Sis” meant, she replied “Oh, you mean sister?”

Then I asked her what “sat” meant, and she said “You mean like sat down?”

Then I asked her again what “sis sat” meant, and her eyes just shone. She excitedly shouted “My sister sat down!” and from then on she connected meaning with reading.

Diagraming sentences is another great activity for everyone, but especially someone who needs help with comprehension. Just knowing the subject and verb alone is a huge step forward!

So as you can see, there are students who automatically comprehend once they can accurately decode, but others who need specific instruction about comprehension. Most students fall in between these two rather extreme examples.

Nevertheless it’s always a good idea to check for comprehension every so often by simply asking a general question or two about what the child has just read: “Who did it? What did they do?” etc.

As Rudyard Kipling said,

        I keep six honest serving-men
         (They taught me all I knew);
        Their names are What and Why and When
          And How and Where and Who.
        I send them over land and sea,
          I send them east and west;
        But after they have worked for me,
          I give them all a rest!

                                     ~Rudyard Kipling, Elephant Child

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