Parents often ask how to get their student reading at a deeper level. And honestly—there isn’t a quick fix. There is no magic way to get your child from Dick and Jane to Pride and Prejudice. And if she is reading Jane Austin, how can you be sure that she is understanding all that she reads? The goal is not just to raise a reader, but to raise an active reader.
As in writing, the development of reading comprehension skills is a process. But it is a process that can start even before your child can read or write his own name! And it is a process that is never too soon to begin or too late to learn.
First, it is important to realize that reading comprehension isn’t just knowing which character said something in a conversation or the order of the plot points. Comprehension is understanding the broader context of the time period through the language the writer uses as well as identifying the motivations and complexities of each person in the story.
A student with strong comprehension skills should be able to make reasonable inferences about what a character “might” do in a given situation or draw conclusions about what the author is trying to communicate through their characters.
It is helpful to strengthen vocabulary. Having a thorough knowledge of the words an author uses is half the battle in comprehension improvement.
Encourage your student to jot down words she doesn’t know in each chapter. Make this part of the process. Then use these words as a vocabulary list and study them…of course if you’ve been following my newsletters for any amount of time, you know that I’m a fan of family wide vocabulary learning!
Ask open ended questions
Next, begin when your child is very young and ask open ended questions about a text. An open ended question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.
“Why do you think Winne the Pooh is so patient with Rabbit all the time?”
And what happens if you disagree with your student’s answer? Super! This is a chance to have him defend his reasoning…ask him to use examples from the book to support his thoughts. This is the beginning of a literature paper. And all of this can begin in preschool with Winnie the Pooh!
Start these types of discussions early in your reading-together days as it will train your child to begin active thinking while he reads. This is what teachers truly mean when they tell students to “active read.” But this is a skill that can’t just be turned on one day in 5th grade. It needs to be modeled and cultivated one book at a time.
As your child grows and matures into higher level books, enjoy reading the same literature and create your own family book club discussions. You might be surprised to find that he has more complex insights than you give him credit for.