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Reading Foundations: Comprehension

By: Yvette Arañas

Knowing how to sound out words isn’t enough when it comes to being a competent reader. Understanding what the words mean is just as necessary. In earlier blog posts, we discussed the importance of acquiring meaning at the word level. Understanding word level meaning is vocabulary knowledge. Vocabulary is important because it contributes to the ultimate goal of reading: comprehension. In other words, skilled readers use their vocabulary knowledge during reading on a larger scale as well. Good readers know how to comprehend text as a whole and make inferences about the text.

It probably goes without saying that reading comprehension skills are necessary for academic achievement and growth. As students progress from elementary school through high school, they need to rely on reading comprehension not only for their literature classes, but also for solving mathematical word problems and understanding texts in science, social studies, and other subjects. Outside of the classroom, reading comprehension is fundamental to reading instructional manuals, completing job applications, understanding current event issues, and doing other tasks that are required for our daily functioning (e.g., getting a driver’s license). Comprehension is necessary to gain employment and to succeed in college, and it is necessary to function in our daily lives.

Despite the importance of reading comprehension, far too many students continue to perform below grade-level expectations on standardized assessments of reading. Unfortunately, explicit reading instruction often stops at sixth grade, despite the fact that some students still struggle with comprehending text in middle and high school. In addition, research from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, indicates that more than three-fourths of students who drop out of high school report having reading difficulties.

Despite the fact that so many students struggle to comprehend what they read, we can still help students overcome this challenge. Teachers and parents can help students improve their reading comprehension skills by teaching the strategies that were recommended by the National Reading Panel (2000). Keep in mind that such instruction must be explicit and show students how to practice these strategies:

  • First, make sure the students can read with accuracy and speed; it’s very difficult to understand a story when sounding out each word on a page.
  • Before beginning to read a passage or book, teach the students to look at the title and organization of the text. The students can also try to make predictions about the text.
  • Teach the students how to monitor comprehension while reading. In other words, teach them how be aware of their understanding of the text. Show them how to ask questions while they are reading (e.g., “What does that word mean?”, “How can I restate this paragraph in my own words?”).
  • Have the students figure out the main idea of the text and the supportive details. In addition, the students should be able to determine which information is not as important.
  • Help the students make inferences by having them make connections between what they know (i.e., from background knowledge, previous experiences, and other stories they have read in the past) and the text.

Given the risks that struggling readers face later in life, it is important to identify and support them as early as possible. Students in first grade often get screened for basic reading skills (as they should), but it is important to screen them for reading comprehension. Given the importance of reading comprehension skills in all school subjects, schools should consider screening for reading comprehension difficulties past the elementary level. In addition to screening, it is important for teachers to monitor students’ progress to make sure that the reading comprehension instruction they receive is helping them improve.

FastBridge Learning has a tool for assessing students’ broad reading skills in grades K–12 called aReading. This assessment can assess students’ reading skills in all five areas identified by the National Reading Panel report (2000), including comprehension. In addition, FastBridge Learning’s assessment CBMcomprehension is a measure of reading comprehension skills.  It is administered immediately after CBMreading and provides an indicator of how well the reader understood the text. These reading comprehension assessment tools are designed to provide guidance to teachers about each student’s reading comprehension instruction needs and prevent students from having reading difficulties later in life.

FastBridge Learning recognizes that the main goal of reading instruction is to support all students in mastering reading skills so they can understand what they read. Research shows that students require instruction in five key reading areas in order to become expert readers. FastBridge Learning supports students in the process of becoming readers by providing assessment tools that measure all five areas of reading proficiency.  Two FastBridge reading measures explicitly measure reading comprehension: aReading and CBMcomprehension.

Yvette Arañas is a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota. She was a part of FastBridge Learning’s research team for four years and contributed to developing the FAST™ reading assessments. Yvette is currently completing an internship in school psychology at a rural district in Minnesota.

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