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Coaching Your Child        < Previous        Next >


Building Reading Comprehension


Q. My child doesn't like to read, and never does it unless he absolutely has to. It doesn't seem to keep his interest. If you ask him a question based on something he just read, he often gives you that "deer in the headlights" look. He has already forgotten what he just read! How can I make sure he's really reading well?


The three elements of reading comprehension are:




         Text interaction.


         How well teachers are prepared to teach reading.


If a child has a tiny vocabulary and keeps encountering unfamiliar words in grade-level text, it is impossible to expect that child to understand what he has read.


If he has not been taught to read with phonics so that his mind "hears" the sounds the letters make, and automatically responds to written text in the same way your mind responds to music, then the child won't be "engaged" with the text, and will only be parroting the text that he's reading, rather than actually processing it into his cognition and memory.


If your child has normal intelligence, and you've ruled out a specific learning disability that needs special attention in school, then there are lots of things that you can do as a parent to stretch those reading comprehension "muscles."


It's important for parents to do this because of the third factor - the way teachers are taught to teach reading. In most colleges of education today, unfortunately, prospective teachers are not being taught the best way to instill good reading comprehension skills in students. That way is systematic, intensive, explicit phonics. The vast majority of teachers in this nation don't even know what that system of teaching reading is. It is completely unfamiliar to them. Instead, they are using the Whole Language reading philosophy, which is much more complicated and much less effective. So when those new teachers get into the classroom, they and their students are ironically hampered by the very techniques that the teachers have been taught to use.


Rather than blame the child when a problem like poor reading comprehension develops, every parent should work with children at home on vocabulary and reading and reacting to books, from an early age, to make reading a joy, not a chore.


Because vocabulary words should be taught both directly and indirectly, when you read to even the youngest child, make sure the text is visible to the child in your lap or at your side. Then the child can begin making those key sound-symbol connections.


Make sure your child sees you reading for pleasure. It's important. Songs, poems and art are all great alternatives to reading books that still teach comprehension skills. Ask grandparents and others to give the child books as gifts, and to talk about what books they're reading, to demonstrate the glories of reading.


Every chance you get, work with your child on the sounds the letters make, sounding out words and breaking longer words into smaller pieces. Encourage your child to keep a "word book," which may be as simple as a spiral notebook with cool words your child has written down.


Make it a practice to talk about new words and how they're spelled, to talk about opposites and synonyms, and to make the dictionary and thesaurus a constant companion.


Interaction with you draws your child into reading, too: delve into new subjects, try new things together, and supply as much background knowledge as you can on as many subjects as you can. Ask questions as you read; stretch your child's imagination. The broader a child's knowledge base, the easier it is to make text relevant and stimulate thinking, which makes reading more interesting and rewarding.


Make sure your child knows how to use a library, has good skills with the alphabet to be able to look up words quickly in the dictionary, and never leaves home without a "just for fun" paperback in the car or backpack, to fill any odd moments with that priceless activity, reading.


Homework: Read the FAQs at


By Susan Darst Williams Coaching Your Child 17 2008



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