Do you have a student that struggles with reading comprehension? For some, this shows up as an inability to recall details. For others, it may mean not being able to read between the lines, to infer things that are unsaid from those that are said. Here are five reasons for reading struggles and some suggestions for overcoming them!
Lack of comprehension can be a real cause for concern, but it does not automatically mean that there must be something wrong with your child. In this brief space, I will give you five potential causes of poor reading comprehension that have little to do with reading.
Have you ever slogged through your day tired? Sleep-deprived? You know how fatigue seems to make everything harder. It robs you of your will, your enthusiasm, and your joy. You know you should care, and so you push forward.
This uphill effort throughout your day can be even more daunting if you have a headache. Stomach upset? Side effect from medicine? Arthritis really bad today? Twist your ankle? Spicy food? Allergies? Ingrown nail? Stomach growling from hunger? The possibilities are endless.
It is not hard to imagine how physical discomfort hurts your ability to concentrate, or even to care about what you are doing. Just as with adults, children are not immune to the same fatigue, aches and pains, and other physical distractions that compromise their ability to give their best.
2. Emotional wellbeing.
Brother and sister are fighting about something. As a parent, you are so exasperated with this all-too-familiar bickering. You shout and scold, which quickly stops the fighting. But what lingers in the aftermath is the sense of injustice the two siblings feel towards each other, not to mention your own fuming. Everyone plops down into their school position, and you announce that we are now going to read some delightful new story.
You get the picture. It is worth noting that the emotional environment can be positive as well as negative, but have the same distracting effect on reading comprehension.
Bowser is ready to have her puppies at any time. Johnny has a birthday in 3 days. Suzie has finally been told she can get her ears pierced. A best friend is coming over this afternoon.
As adults, we become preoccupied with the positive and negative things going on in our life, making it difficult to focus on the task at hand.
Our children are no different.
How comfortable is that chair? Fluorescent lighting? Too hot? Too cold? Dirty? Noise from the next room, or outside? Water dripping? Printer printing? Dishwasher being loaded? We know that people have their own unique tolerance levels for noise, visual distractions, and a host of sensory inputs. While you may be able to focus on the TV babbling in the background, others may be driven to distraction.
4. Personal motivation.
My high school son was once assigned the book House of Seven Gables. It is considered a classic and usually shows up on those lists of books that every high school student should read before he graduates.
Unfortunately, he detested the book.
He is a high-achieving, compliant young man, and so he made a valiant effort. But there was no way around the fact that he could not manufacture interest or motivation.
He reacted very differently to Treasure Island and the works of Mark Twain. As a result, he could talk to you with much greater recall and depth of understanding when reading the books he wanted to read.
It is also worth noting that there are perfectly capable readers that do not like to read. I’ve known them at all ages. They would simply rather be doing just about anything besides reading. Others are quite the opposite. It is not hard to see how this might impact comprehension.
Reading a high school biology text can be quite different from reading a Newbery-winning work of fiction. The very nature of the material usually makes one harder to read than the other.
Non-fiction can be quite compact, dense with information and unfamiliar vocabulary. We’ve all had the experience of reading a page in a book and realizing that we didn’t grasp half of what we had just read. We sometimes have to go back and re-read sections multiple times, slowing down and concentrating very intently. Difficult text becomes work.
Most of us can only sustain that level of work for brief periods of time, and then we need a break. The endurance threshold is different for each of us.
It would be tempting to think that these five barriers to reading comprehension feel too obvious to mention. And yet they are very real. None of us is immune to their impact. Rarely does one of the above issues occur by itself.
Try having a headache in an uncomfortable chair, with noise coming from the next room, being required to read non-fiction with its dense text, on a subject you are not interested in.
We can’t always fix every little thing that makes our reading moment less than perfect. But we also make a mistake to think that reading is reading and if you aren’t comprehending, well, there must be something wrong with you.
For those with known learning challenges, days are filled with teaching strategies and therapies unique to their child’s needs. Even so, sometimes those complex issues are made even more challenging by the conditions described above. Though there are real teaching strategies that can enhance comprehension, it would be a mistake to ignore the simple things that are more easily addressed.