Recently, a parent asked me why her 7-year-old son was having problems with reading comprehension though he did have excellent reading fluency, a high ability to read orally with speed, accuracy, and expression. It is assumed that high reading fluency and reading comprehension should go hand in hand. Reading comprehension is a skill of complex combinations – far beyond merely the pronunciation of a word, which many parents tend to focus on. Most reading comprehension is actually based on silent reading. High fluency in reading can become a detriment due to the fact that many children, when they must read silently, have a tendency to skip words, which could obviously affect reading comprehension. I believed this might be the case with this child and so offered some basic strategies.
Parents need to realize that reading is a very complicated task for the reading brain, especially for boys, who are about nine months delayed as compared to girls. For example, one reason why girls have an advantage over boys with reading in general is that the girl’s corpus callosum, the strip that runs along the center of the brain that separates the right side from the left side of the brain, is larger in girls. This is an asset for beginning readers because it allows for cross communication or cross-talking between the two sides of the brain. Further, another part of the reading brain is called the visual cortex and is responsible for deciphering images such as letters, words, etc. Let’s not forget about the brain’s auditory cortex which focuses on sounds or long and short vowels. The Bronco and Wernicke brain regions are crucial for processing language and/or communication such as oral reading and listening comprehension. (Broca’s area is associated with the production of speech. It controls the flow of words from brain to mouth. Wernicke’s area is associated with the interpretation and understanding of speech).
The real work begins for the child when he is now required to develop the skills that must integrate all these brain processes to read. This includes phonology or phonemic awareness, alphabet principles, vocabulary, text comprehension and of course, fluency.
One basic strategy for facilitating better reading comprehension is the use of a paper slider. A slider is an index card with a center slit that allows the child to isolate each sentence read. By isolating the word or sentence the reader can actively stimulate the brain area or visual cortex, which could then support better reading comprehension.
Choral reading or echo reading is another strategy that stimulates the auditory cortex. With choral reading the parent and child read simultaneously. With echo reading, the parent reads a sentence aloud and the child repeats the sentence. Both stratgies offer advantages that allow the child to hear correct syntax, rhythm etc. Furthermore, the strategy allows for the parent or adult to hear the child’s reading fluency and ask questions, checking on reading comprehension, under the guise of a structured reading lesson. Also, both strategies reinforce Broca’s and Wernicke’s regions of the brain, causing the child to listen and then speak of the material he has just heard. Moreover, this strategy stimulates the brain’s hippocampus (consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory and spatial navigation), attaching a positive personal experience to reading, which could induce greater memory consolidation.
Even, the cerebellum, our most primitive part of the brain and the seat of sensory motor area of the brain (kinesthetic) can be stimulated by having the child drag his finger over the words he is reading. Montessori used this approach with sand paper letters to teach the alphabet to beginning readers.
If reading does not come naturally for many children, especially boys, the wise parent must use stratgies to stimulate reading proficiency. Bottom line — reading comprehension is more than just an acquired skill. It is an essential part of acquiring a successful reading identity that can be embraced for years to come.