Imagine my surprise years ago when a child who read a passage beautifully, could not paraphrase the meaning or answer a single question. Not only did I question myself, I wondered if some kind of distraction hampered understanding. Years later, I learned that a few children suffer from a condition that some call Direct Dyslexia. Regardless of the name used, the child fails to gain meaning.
A child with Direct Dyslexia easily decodes any word that fits the rules of the English language, identifies irregular words, and sounds fluent and comfortable when reading orally. All of the reading skills work well except understanding and recall. What can be done about lack of comprehension?
Comprehension always involves thinking and means the same as understanding. True reading requires the brain to decode the squiggles we call letters and to also bring meaning to the task. Both skills must be in place for true reading to occur. When a child struggles to understand reading, try the steps listed below.
Break reading assignments into very short sections. At the end of each section, stop and ask the child to physically do something with the new information such as discuss the meaning, take notes, create a graphic organizer or draw pictures.
Always set a purpose for reading. For example, read questions first. The purpose then becomes reading to locate answers.
Always ask the child to make a prediction over each short part. After the child reads, check the accuracy of his predictions.
Demonstrate the way good readers think by sharing your own questions and hunches. This is called a Think Aloud. Begin by saying, “Based on the picture and the title, I think this will be about _____.” After reading the passage, reflect on your prediction by saying, “I was almost correct. I was on the right track. That’s what good readers do. Good readers predict.”
A Teaching Think Aloud
The act of thinking aloud provides a form of modification for any child who lacks comprehension. You literally demonstrate how to think while reading. A Think Aloud focuses on what you say and do as you model the kind of reading done by good readers. Ideally, the child begins to copy your example. Please read the examples below.
Predict by using the title, pictures, and opening sentences. “From the title, I believe this will be about _____.”
Describe the picture that forms internally. “In my mind, I see _____.”
Verbalize confusion by pretending to lack understanding. “This doesn’t make sense to me. I think I’ll read it again.”
Model strategies used by good readers. “Perhaps if I read this section aloud, I will understand it better,” or “If I think about the way we talk, I may be able to read this sentence better.”
The challenge when using Think Aloud is to stay with your own thought processes rather than fall into our usual mode of asking the child to share. This strategy models the type of thinking that we want the child to copy.
Anderson, David, and S. O’Neal, C. David, P. Oruonyehu. “Dyslexia and Related Disorders.” Texas Education Agency. September 1998.
Allington, R. “What Really Matters for Struggling Readers.” Boston, MA: Pearson, 2012.
Carlson. “Types of Dyslexia.” Welcome to the Dyslexia Homepage. Macalester College. 1998.
Lytton, W.W. and J.C.M. Brust. “Direct Dyslexia: Preserved Oral Reading of Real Words in Wernicke’s Aphasia.” New York: Columbia University College. 1988.