Being able to regurgitate facts from a story does not necessarily ensure comprehension of the text. This one fact is part of the problem of NCLB’s focus on facts and recall for comprehension. Comprehension is much more complicated then simply remembering who did what in a text; it does, in fact, require hard work.
Simply put, comprehension is the ability to understand something. I can read a college level medical text and give you some basic facts about what I read. Does this mean I understand it and am ready to serve as your physician? I certainly hope not, however, this is essentially what we have been teaching as comprehension for over a decade as schools followed the dictates of No Child Left Behind.
Some synonyms for understanding include such words as grasp, mastery, absorption, knowledge, insight, expertise, proficiency. None of these words point to fact and recall. A child’s cognitive development, or the construction of thought processes, is critical to comprehending what is read. This development is what has been lost over the years and what we must once again teach and enhance.
Traits such as prior knowledge, vocabulary, language, making inferences, word recognition, and fluency are all important in a child’s ability to comprehend. A reader who is continually asking themselves questions will comprehend the text, whereas, a reader that simply listens to or reads a text and does nothing with what is being read or heard will not comprehend nearly as well.
Comprehension includes low-level as well as high-level processes in the brain. Low level processes require very little brain activity, thought processes, or work. Think about watching a television show while reading a book or crocheting. You are able to follow the show – for the most part – but the innuendos and deeper meanings are lost. This is low-level processing and is what enables so many people to reread a book and watch reruns. There is much that was missed the first time unless you truly put away the book or crocheting and pay attention!
However, when you use high-level processes and discuss what is being watched or read, and ask questions such as, “Why did they do that?” you are “doing” something with the content and your comprehension increases. Low and high level brain processes can actually being seen on functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging.
So with that said, we must teach our children how to think and develop these higher level thought processes. We need to help them ask questions such as, “Why is this character feeling this way?” What in the text tells you about the character’s feeling or behavior? Why was it important for the author to even add this to the story line? Good readers ask themselves questions while they read and as they continue reading are able to locate the answers to their questions, or they form even more questions. In the beginning, children will need a lot of modeling on these technique and future blogs will help you with specific modeling strategies. But to begin with, just pose thought questions such as …. “I wonder why he did that?” Or, “I wonder if he is really frightened or just pretending?”
I hope this was helpful. See you next time!