We all know the feeling of reading something repeatedly and not understanding its meaning. Yet, for readers of all ages, reading comprehension is an essential skill that is not so obvious to develop. “For many years, reading instruction was based on a concept of reading as the application of a set of isolated skills such as identifying words, finding main ideas, identifying cause and effect relationships, comparing and contrasting and sequencing. Comprehension was viewed as the mastery of these skills,” notes the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for Reading Rockets.
Of course, teaching reading comprehension is challenging and can be particularly daunting for teachers with students with learning disabilities (such as dyslexia and some forms of autism), students whose first language is not English and really young pupils who are learning to read. Programs such as Eastern Washington University’s Master of Education – Literacy online program guide its graduates to better attend to the needs of their future students, teaching tactics and techniques to boost student literacy.
The Point of Reading Comprehension
However, cognitive scientists discovered that reading is incredibly complex and mutable. Good readers, as TEA notes, “connect the meaning of one sentence to the meaning of another.” They consider the meaning of singular words but can also deduce the meaning of those they don’t know by evaluating them in context. They often reflect on what they’ve read by interacting with the text and asking questions while they read. However, one of the most crucial aspects is goal setting, which helps the reader focus on what is essential in the text, retaining the information they need. This is the main point of teaching reading comprehension, and students can apply reading comprehension skills in every school subject and overall learning processes.
Therefore, literacy is arguably the most important competence to teach. A student who can master reading comprehension will not only have high chances of becoming an avid reader and cultured person but also be a higher-achieving professional in nearly all areas of knowledge.
As Elizabeth Escar notes in her article for Iris, “Reading comprehension is the foundation for all other academic skills. It helps children build vocabulary, learn about the world, and understand complex concepts. […] Adults who improve their reading comprehension skills understand work instructions better. They are more productive at work, communicate effectively, and lead a quality life.”
Building the Brain’s Bank
One of the primary strategies of reading comprehension is to visualize what one is reading. An image of the scene, the characters, the ideas or even the words may help put meaning into context. This is also an asset when trying to summarize the text, as the reader can translate the words from the page into their own imaginary world. The act of summarizing itself is beneficial and especially needed nowadays since most of our communication is passed on through short texts or captions on social media and must convey complex messages in a few words.
As students advance in their language learning skills, reading comprehension becomes easier. This is because each new word, idea or reference adds to the brain’s “bank.” “Connecting new knowledge with old knowledge makes it easy to understand and remember the text later,” points out Escar. “That’s because you are activating prior knowledge and linking a piece of writing to similar writings, cultural experiences, and the world, deepening the meaning of the text and making it relatable.”
Reading comprehension is essential for language and literature, as well as developing a student’s critical thinking and memory skills, focus and their ability to solve problems — all necessary for every kind of student or professional.
An advanced education degree in literacy can equip professionals with the necessary skills to help students of all ages and backgrounds build reading comprehension and literacy skills that will serve them in every area of life.
Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Education – Literacy program.