Sad really, but a child that can read well and doesn’t understand is not a typcial child with dyslexia. Why would this parent think this? Well dyslexia is the term most often used for a child who struggles in reading. Why did I know this child wasn’t a dyslexic? I knew because I did some testing which showed she had good word recall, good understanding of phonics and syllabication and therefore not dyslexic. We will call her Susie for purposes of discussion.
Susie came to me about 6 months back and was struggling to understand what she read. She knew how to read the words, she was just unable to put them together in her mind for understanding. This always really throws parents for a loop. They are lost. Their child can read and sometimes even really fast but after reading it, they can’t answer the questions. Some parents, if the child is reading silently assume they didn’t really read it. Some if reading orally, think they weren’t paying attention. This just isn’t true. This girl was truly trying, paying attention and doing the best she could. She didn’t have meaning attached to the words. The words were just words. The next common question is “how did this happen?”
Think of a time when you were reading and finished the page you were reading and went to the top of the next page suddenly realizing that you didn’t remember anything you just read. Your mind was tuned out to the meaning side of reading and was just going through the motions of the words. Your mind must be trained to attach meaning to words.
Susie is a sixth grade girl and her comprehension is at about a third grade level. Susie is one that everyone has seen as a good reader and because she sounded good, assumed that meaning was there. Susie was good at hiding the lack of comprehension by listening to those around her and learning what they said the reading was about. What Susie has needed is someone to be talking with her about the stories she has read.
Just learning to read words, isn’t enough. I’ll come back to the process we took to close the gap for Susie, but first let’s talk about the general strategy for what to do for someone with a true comprehension problem, not dyslexic. If you see that your child’s comprehension is weak (sometimes in specific subjects) do the following:
1. Go find an interesting story at a level they are able to comprehend. You can test this by having them read a page aloud and then tell you what the page was about. You want to be sure and request that the retelling is in sequence. If this isn’t attainable on the first try, then they need to reread thepage silently stopping at the end of each paragraph and telling you what that paragraph is about. This give a natural way of learning the concept of main idea.
2. As the comprehension improves, increase the number of paragraphs they read aloud until they are able to read an entire page and then tell the story in sequence.
*Note: You can teach some self-help skills here by providing your child some sticky notes to use in school where at the end of each paragraph (s) or page they make a note on the sticky of what took place or what the most important ideas on the page were. These make for excellent notes for studying later. Just pull them off and place them in a notebook for studying.
3. After being able to comprehend an entire page read orally, then they should move to reading the entire page silently and then recall what has taken place on the page.
4. If they are not able to tell a story in sequence after trying to read the whole page silently, go back to paragraphs at a time that are read silently and retell what wwas in each paragraph. This will want to be built on starting at 1 paragraph, then two, then three then a whole page at a time until the entire page is able to be read silently and recalled.
5. It is always a good idea when working on comprehension to stop at good times throughout a story to ask questions about what they expect will happen next and how a story will end. This helps focus the mind on the meaning of the story.
In Susie’s case, here was the action plan.
We started with mid-high second grade level material as she was testing at the third grade level, but I needed to build trust and confidence. We took the process above and followed it with a book she was interested in above. She only stayed at that level for about 3 weeks. We quickly moved up to the third grade level and with each few weeks moved up a level moving at the pace that worked for her. Moving up too quickly can cause a frustration level that is too high. Comprehension building takes consistency and commitment.
It is important to note that an essential skill in a tutor is for the tutor to train the parent what to do to tutor the child themselves, because the tutor only meets with the child so many times a week. Comprehension building must be worked on daily.
For Susie, the parent’s assignment was to have Susie read several pages per day orally from the books we were using to build comprehension and taught the parent to use the strategy above. Over the course of 6 months, we have moved from the second grade level material and now the assignment is for her mom to have her read several pages from her homework each day stopping every so often to check to make sure she has understood what she has read.
Susie is using a variety of note taking skills to help keep her focused on the meaning but will soon be reading silently most of the time, just keeping track of her own understanding. This is the ultimate goal.
What causes set backs? Many times everyone will start out on the right track to improve comprehension, but building this skills requires daily work. You can not skip days. Skipping 2 or 3 days in this process can take a child back an entire month of progress. This means that you can’t take weekends off or holidays and particularly Christmas Break. If so, you will be pulling your hair out come January. This doesn’t mean you have to do school work throughout the Christmas break, it just means have some high interest books or magazines that your child is interested in. Have something you read in the evening before bed. Yes, even middle schoolers like reading at bedtime. Take some of the time and have them follow the process for a couple of pages and then take some time for you to read allowed to them. At first they might buck the idea, but seriously, I have been working with middle schoolers for ten years and they absolutely love to be read to. Take advantage of the time though and stop to discuss what is going on in the story or what they think will happen next.
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