Reading Comprehension: How do We Hook Our Students?
I rolled out of bed one Monday morning, miserable and exhausted from activities the night before: reading, checking out my new basketball cards, and shooting my basketball in the air, with hopes I’d be the next Michael Jordan. The one activity I didn’t do too much of, was sleep. Exactly the opposite of what teacher’s hope their nine-year-old students do. But I was a rebel, and If I slept, my day was over; which is ironic, because I love sleep. Just on my own times.
I needed no alarm. My alarm was my mom singing lullabies until I couldn’t take it anymore. And if that didn’t work (it did 99.9% of the time), I had two younger brothers who would make sure I never overslept. Siblings, am I right?
I walked around my house like a champion boxer after a knockout—I even wore bright red boxers to complete the look. Now, if only I had some biceps. Ah, I’m sure those will come later in life. I began my methodical, morning routine: brush a couple teeth, wash my hair under the sink (no shampoo), put on my school uniform that made me look like a mini pastor, and scarf down a bowl of breakfast. I said goodbye to my mom, dad, and brothers. And I was on my way to conquer the second week of third-grade. My life was perfect….
Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness! I thought as I sludged home. The slower I walked, the more time I had before my life was ruined. How did I fail that test? They’re going to be so mad. And who gives a test on the second week of school? And on a Monday. So, stupid! But, it didn’t matter how much I thought about it, the test was done. I failed; and it will always be that way. So, I picked up my pace and found the courage to tell my parents.
Wouldn’t you know? They weren’t mad at all. But as weeks passed, and I failed another reading test, and another, and another (I could go on), my parents realized they would need to find some reading help. And so it was, that I, Reggie German, spent the next few years receiving help with my comprehension. Apparently, I was reading at a much higher level than my peers—but it wouldn’t stay with me. It was like I was trying to catch butterflies: I had the net, knew how to use it, but couldn’t catch the incredible insect.
That was one of two times I’ve ever thought of comprehension. The other—when I became a teacher.
In my first year of teaching, I played follow the leader: my colleagues did something; I copied. And when they claimed the students’ struggles with comprehension wasn’t my fault, I ran with it. They said every third-grade student struggles with comprehension. It’s natural.
In my second year, I grew curious. I implemented new strategies, and there still was no change in their reading comprehension scores. Oh, well. It’s natural for third-grade students to struggle with comprehension. However, as that year rolled on, and there was little change in the students reading scores, I knew there had to be more. Not only were the third graders struggling—every grade-level was struggling.
So, let’s take a look at some ideas that help may help students comprehend those daunting texts. Do you comprehend? I hope so.
Write to Read, Read to Write
I can’t say with great certainty that teachers know the relation of reading and writing. I didn’t, until recent years. Reading and writing are like milk and cookies, drama movies and tissues, bread and butter, dust and dustpan. You get it: they go hand-in-hand. Yet, there are times we may forget how close they are, in relation to one another. Think about it. Doesn’t it make sense? A child who reads often will tend to find writing a little less difficult. At the same time, I child who writes will begin to see how reading texts are set up. This leads me to believe, that we, as teachers, should teach reading and writing togetherFOOTNOTE: Footnote.
Every school has their schedule set up in a different way; but for the most part, reading and writing will fall under English Language Arts (ELA). Yet, there are many schools that separate the two. This isn’t wrong or right; and it may not matter they be taught during the same block. Although, it could be an issue if we lose sight of the connection. Therefore, I believe it is crucial that reading and writing are correlated as much as possible. Create your reading lesson with your writing lesson in mind, and vice-versa. Show students the connection they have, and you may help increase their reading comprehension.
Create Critical Thinkers
Not too long ago, students had books, and only books, to help them with reading comprehension. Today, we have several forms of literacy: media, visuals, games, and much more. So, why aren’t they being used? It seems that as years go by, more schools are implementing different forms of literacy. But textbooks still seem to be the “safe” way to teach reading. Nothing wrong with that—except it takes away the students main source of learning. Kids are hooked to technology! Just the other day, I saw a one-week-old baby, buying a new cradle on Amazon, It was amazing!
Seriously, ask a kid who their favorite author is. You know what they’ll say? Uh, Lebron James? Then, ask them who their favorite Youtube star is, and they’ll name them faster than ice cream melts on a humid day. Kids are around technology for most of the day. It only makes sense then, to use technology as a form of literacy to teach reading and writing.
Using different forms of media literacy can help the students relate to the material. It will help them see a connection between what they love to do, and the professional media they watch every day. In turn, they will begin to think deeper, ask more questions, be more engaged, and think at a critical level—and then, you may see a rise in comprehension abilitiesFOOTNOTE: Footnote.
It’s a Tuesday morning. You’re rushing around your home getting ready for work when, you realize there’s a meeting that same morning; and in the meeting, you will be asked to summarize an important reading sent out by your boss. You stumble to your car, grab a morning coffee, and as you drive, you read the material. Phew, that was close. Aw, look how cute. you say as you pass a park full of cute, fluffy dogs. Ten minutes go by. You made it on time, but your flustered. It’s your turn to speak, and…fluffy dogs?
Interruptions can interfere with your comprehension just like they can interfere with a students comprehension. In recent studies, students have shown to comprehend at a higher level when there are no, or limited, distractions. But is the classroom always quiet? Think about your time in elementary school, middle school, high school, and beyond. Was it always quiet during test time? Maybe. But, then again, maybe not.
In a class with twenty-plus students, there will be distractions that teachers can’t prepare for: kids coming and going, a loud mower outside the window, the troublemaker in the back making fart noises with his armpit. Distractions happen. And they can impair a students ability to comprehend the text. So, try your best to limit distractions; put a soundproof box around the troublemaker; and watch as comprehension increasesFOOTNOTE: Footnote.
Word Recognition and Student Recognition
Quick, picture your struggling readers, or someone you know who struggles to read. In my observation, struggling readers come in all shapes or sizes; however, I am noticing a trend in my class each year: struggling readers seem to come from complicated backgrounds. This is just my observation. Unfortunately, I have no proof, other than that; but when I look at my struggling readers, I notice they tend to have little support at home. That’s for a different conversation, but I do feel it needs to be addressed. If we don’t know where are students come from. How can we teach them to read and write? Comprehension is a complex act with many factors needed to be in place. And one of those factors is being able to relate the story to your life. Well, that’s hard to do if you’re reading a story on nutritious meals, and you have a student who has never had a nutritious meal. We need to make sure we bring our students’ lives into the reading, in any way possible.
Finally, we need to take decoding skills and language comprehension skills into account. Again, if you picture a struggling reader, you are more likely to see a student who has trouble decoding words or understanding the language or both.FOOTNOTE: Footnote You can’t expect a student to comprehend a story when they can’t understand the words in the story. My solution, other than intervention—which does help in the long run—is to consider the testing done earlier grades. Are students ready for comprehension questions at the age of nine? Some will be. Yet, the majority of kids that age will need more practice with decoding and fluency. So, I believe comprehension should be introduced in third grade, but it shouldn’t be a focus until later grades.
Reading comprehension may always be a challenge for some individuals. There will be students who excel, and those who need more time. But if we connect writing and reading, use media literacy to fuel critical thinking, limit interruptions, understand our students, and teach word decoding before comprehension. Then I believe students will increase their reading comprehension skills and abilities.