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Teaching Reading Comprehension Skills at Home

Submitted by on January 20, 2013 – 9:36 pmNo Comment

Reading Comprehension

How to Promote Reading Comprehension for the Struggling Reader at Home

By Kumar Sathy

Your child is struggling with reading comprehension, reading like a robot, or just unwilling to voluntarily pick up a book and read. You’ve tried everything and exhausted every reward you could possibly dangle in front of your child, and still, you can’t get your child to voluntarily pick up a book and read.  What’s the answer? It’s strikingly simple, ridiculously rewarding and equally controversial.

As an experienced educator, former school administrator, tutor, and author of educational materials, I am going to catch a lot of flak for this, but I firmly believe that the best thing a parent can do is resist the temptation to intervene, interrupt, and interrogate while a child is reading.

We’ve lost sight of what actually turned us into lifelong readers when we were young: reading, not reading comprehension or dry passages from a workbook, but just plain old reading. Even I have to suppress my instinct to ask my 3- and 6-year old nephews comprehension questions when reading to them at night.

I’m not saying we should abandon reading comprehension questions entirely. I’m just saying that kids need a break. They need opportunities to read what they want, when they want, and without interruption or evaluation. Here’s how to make that happen while boosting comprehension skills:

  • Turn on the closed captioning or subtitles and mute the sound when the TV is on. You can Google your TV’s model number or play with the menu button on your remote to enable this. Go to the TV Guide channel or tvguide.com to see programs for the day, then look for the (cc) symbol next to a show to see if closed captioning is available. This just runs text along the screen at the speed of oral communication, which is the rate your child needs to learn to read as a step toward fluency. You might get some resistance at first, but if used as a reward, it won’t be an uphill battle. I’m not advocating plopping a child in front of a TV and allowing it to become your child’s new parent. Remember, it’s still TV, and it is no match for actual books (or actual parenting).
  • Know the standards your child should master, but focus on statements, not questions. When a child masters a concept, there is a boost in self-esteem and positive feelings about learning. It would be great if there were more engaging educational children’s fiction books out there that empower parents by referencing educational standards a child must master in a particular grade, but publishers haven’t stepped up to the plate on that one.  Until then, you can visit www.BeyondTestPrep.com to see a list of standards and keep them in mind while reading with your child. Focus on statements instead of questions (i.e., “there are a lot of figurative statements on this page” instead of “can you find three figurative statements on this page?”). If the child wants to probe your statement further, he or she will. This is a process; let it unfold at your child’s pace. Don’t force it, and don’t interrupt your child while reading. Wait until he or she has finished a page or a chapter to correct pronunciation or make statements.
  • Teach reading skills when you’re nowhere near a book. Comprehension questions are not evil; they just tend to interfere with the reading process and reduce a child’s enjoyment during reading. To fix this, just ask comprehension questions about things happening around you while you’re out and about. You can ask early readers who the main character would be or what the setting or plot would be if someone wrote a story about what is happening in the parking lot right now. Second graders can name something they see that has two syllables or a long “a” in it. Third and fourth graders can describe what they see at the bank in detail (character’s thoughts, words, actions, settings, and events) while only using the word “and” once.  Ask for responses in complete sentences (or at times, ask for a fragment or run-on response, just so the child learns the difference). Teach your child to summarize his or her day by telling you the main idea of what happened at school today. This is just one complete sentence that names the character(s), setting, and problem or interesting event.

Teaching reading skills at home doesn’t have to be a painful kitchen table exercise where parents are exhausted and kids feel like disappointments. As you can see, there are simple steps for creating a safe and effective learning environment at home. Try using the television to your advantage instead of trying to compete with it. Start familiarizing yourself with the standards your child needs to master and incorporate them into statements, not questions. Turn idle time into opportunities to teach reading skills in the car, in line at the grocery store, or any time you are out on the town. Until people realize the inherent flaws of dry, dull, test prep materials, and until publishers create entertaining educational materials for students, parents need to be creative when trying to reinforce reading instruction after school. Parents who use the above-mentioned steps can help make great strides in nurturing lifelong readers at home.

Kumar Sathy is an educator and author of Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A National Test Prep Adventure. See www.KumarSathy.com.

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