Kids' Wings Advice
How to Increase Students' Comprehension in Reading
by Suzy Red

Dear Suzy,
I am a 4th grade teacher.  You did a workshop a few years ago after Because of Winn-Dixie was written. I still love that book and use the Roots and Wings guide we got.

At any rate, do you have any personal suggestions for teaching comprehension?  I have 5 students who comprehend nothing they read or anything that is read to them.  Are they really not interested,  too immature,  really don't care, or what?  I am in my 28th year of teaching and have never had children that couldn't remember something that we've read.  It is very frustrating for me, so I know it has to be for them too.  Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated. 

Thank you,

Hi Linda,
It is good to hear from you.  I'm sorry you're having such a time with some of your students' comprehension.  Some years are like that!  But unfortunately, I think it is becoming more and more common.  The earlier a teacher deals with it, the easier it is for a student to overcome. 

I believe parents and teachers are not reading aloud enough to their children. In reading aloud, we are letting kids experience high level vocabulary, character analysis, and plot development that they aren't capable of reading on their own yet. We develop comprehension skills through listening and discussing stories that are above their fluency level. Then, when their fluency level increases to the point that they can read these stories on their own, they also understand them!
The real trick to getting kids to click with the text is to get them interested in what they are reading through hearing books (above their fluency level) read aloud, prediction, discussion, and connecting with their own lives.  I build this into the guides I write to make it easier for me to share the how-to with others.  The newest of our 20 guides are Trials and Courage, Growing Young Americans, Reading Out of the Box, Extraordinary Destinations, Tempests and Teamwork, Gifts and Givers, The Ripple Effect, Forever Friendships, Light in the Darkness, and Transformers

I suggest that you become part of students' literature group and work with them as you read a book or two.  That way, they get used to predicting, contributing, listening, writing, and connecting… preparing the way for a time when they will gradually be weaned and you won't have to be there with them.  Doing the oral interchanges, model writing, laughing and crying, and discussing before, during, and after reading will establish and build those missing brain patterns, thought patterns that will gradually become automatic.  After awhile, the kids will be having those conversations in their own heads...and reading comprehension will be born! Letting students choose their own books is ideal, but I have found that, unless they are hooked on reading already, they don't know which books are the best! I would be sure to choose a book that you know will really motivate them...Waiting for the Magic is really wonderful, and The One and Only Ivan, Wonder, and Earthquake Terror are absolute kid-grabbers.  I've found that skipping the steps in the process will water down the comprehension process.  (I create the materials that will make it easy for you, and will get the kids up and talking about books.)  
One other suggestion...some kids need to HEAR what they are reading as they read.  I found it helpful during "silent reading" to have these kids read with earplugs or to lean on their elbows with fingers in their ears, and VERRRYYY quietly reading...not so loud that anyone else could hear them, but the bone conduction will bring their own voices into their ears.
If you have any questions please let me know!  I'm here for you!
Keep walkin' in the sunshine and passin' it along!

Suzy  Red
Kids' Wings Educational Services
1707 Twin Island  Dr.
Lockhart, TX 78644
Kids' Wings Phone:  512-558-1121
Kids' Wings
FAX: 888-558-1123

"Life without books is meaningless; they are light in the darkness."  
Kate DiCamillo

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