What do we mean by reading comprehension?
After reading more words in the last 9 days than I have in the last year I am tired. But thank goodness that I am reading about comprehension strategies because it is truly what is keeping me focused and organized with all the verbiage and ideas the authors share. I am making a conscience effort to apply the strategies so that I am understanding what I am reading. I am not use to balancing 4 text books, articles and a read for pleasure text.
There were so many AHA moments while reading the selected text books. Some of the AHA moments were pleasant ones "I knew that!" Others were AHA not bueno moments "Wow, I didn't look at the impact of reading in that way."
As a current first grade teacher comprehension to me has been a part of reading fluency. If a child reads with prosody, at the appropriate rate, with little to no errors and can answer some comprehension questions about the passage then BINGO. Such child is reading fluently.
Comprehension isolated to me has always been and taught as:
- the ability to identify key details
- re-tell the story in your own words
- make inferences about the text
- understand the author's purpose
It seems the authors use different vocabulary but use the same common thread in defining comprehension. Harvey and Goudvis, Strategies that Work, have the most straight forward and likely most traditional definition of comprehension. They identify the meaning of comprehension as not only understanding what you are reading but also about what you are learning. Keene and Zimmermann, Mosaic of Thought, define comprehension as understanding ideas that are not only found in the text but in the world. Cummings, Close Reading of Informational Texts, extends the need to comprehend so that the person reading can learn how to solve real life problems. This hit my like a ton of bricks. Honestly, Cummings is right here. There is an absolute need for children to learn to problem solve. This was absolutely one of those AHA moments.
But it all goes right back to Harvey and Goudvis, " The purpose of education is to enhance understanding," (p 15). If the purpose truly is to understand then education must be composed completely of comprehension including comprehension of cross curricular areas in education. The need for students to really learn how to comprehend now becomes magnified. The purpose of reading is to understand and to learn and in doing so connecting what you are reading to your knowledge that exists and if not ask questions. These are essential life skills. A student must be able to comprehend in Science just as he or she does in Math or ELA. These strategies are not limited to ELA or Elementary. Our teachers across the space of education should all be incorporating this in their teaching, especially in those elementary and middle school years when the exposure to science and history concepts and vocabulary is being introduced.
A common theme was noted for teachers to model the behaviors of a good reader. Show the students you can leave tracks in your reading. Think out loud the questions you might have. Write notes down or vocabulary you might be unfamiliar with or even about something interesting that may have caught your attention. Comprehension is far more complex than I ever gave it credit for. I understand now that not only can I teach decoding, reading, writing but I can simultaneously incorporate comprehension for better understanding. How true that what we have been focused on is really comprehension assessment rather than instruction. I hope as we continue to read through these texts and articles I can find the best way to not only get the teachers onboard at school but also to figure out the best way to show student growth in assessment. Because unfortunately all roads in education still lead us to assessments.
Wife, Mom, Educator and Lifelong Learner