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Understanding Reading Comprehension Problems

Learn About Reading Comprehension Problems and Strategies to Improve

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Updated February 02, 2012

Students with learning disabilities in reading or dyslexia often have difficulty comprehending text in books and other reading material that is written at their grade levels. This can occur for several possible reasons. First, the material may be written at a level that is beyond their current independent reading skill level. Second, they may have limited prior knowledge about the content being read or have limited vocabulary knowledge. This can lead to confusion during reading and in class discussion about what is being read. Third, they may not be aware of how the reading material is structured as in the elements of story structure, the organization of the material in a text book, or the characteristics of the genre of literature being read. Fourth, they meaning of sentences and passages may become lost as the reader struggles with the mechanics of reading. This leads to difficulty remembering what was read. Fifth, they may have difficulty determining what information is important in written passages.

Effectively addressing these factors affecting comprehension may require the use of various strategies. It is important to remember that students with learning disabilities and dyslexia usually have average to above average ability to comprehend material that is read to them or spoken to them. This means that struggling readers may benefit from opportunities to listen to skilled readers reading aloud or using recorded text, audiobooks, and text-to-speech software. Buddy readers can also be a helpful way to enable struggling readers to access grade level content and minimize the impact of their disability on their learning. It is also important to know that struggling readers may be embarrassed by reading material that is obviously different from what is being read by other students in a classroom. When possible, provide high-interest, low reading level texts where the content is grade level but the reading is at a lower level as opposed to simply using material that is written for a lower grade level reader. Lower grade level reading material may be perceived as “babyish” by the struggling student and his peers.

There are many strategies to use to improve reading comprehension in struggling readers. It is always best to discuss your concerns about your child’s comprehension with his teacher to get ideas on how to help at home. By using the same strategies your child’s teacher is using, you will ensure consistency that will benefit your child. Examples of common strategies used in classrooms include:

  • KWL (sometimes called “cool method”) – This is an activity that teaches students to think about how they are reading and what they are reading before, during, and after the reading task. See examples of KWL reading charts. The KWL chart is a worksheet with three columns. The K column is for the student to record what is already known about the subject. The W column is for recording what the child wants to know about the subject, and the third L column is for what the child actually learned from reading the passage.
  • Summarizing is an activity where the student thinks about what she has read. In summarizing, the student is asked to identify the main idea of a written passage. Summarizing can be done verbally by having the child explain orally what a passage was about. It can also be done in written paragraph form or on a graphic organizer. The most important aspect of summarizing is to ensure the child can identify who or what the passage is about and the main idea.
  • Reading journals are a way for the student to write down their feelings and questions about what they read. They may be given a prompt by the teacher such as “Explain how this story relates to your own experience.”
  • The PQ3R method is a good way of improving comprehension as well as recall about what was read.

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