For special education learners, the difference between reading ability and reading comprehension can be stark. Many children who fall into the category of "different learners" struggle at various places in the reading comprehension process. Dyslexic students have trouble reading letters and words. Other students may find summarizing what they have read to be the hard part. And yet other students-including those with ADHD or autism-may read words fluently, but be unable to make sense of the arc of a story or even a sentence.
What Is Reading Comprehension?
Simply, reading comprehension is the ability to learn and process information from written sources. Its primary step is decoding, which is the act of assigning sounds and meaning to letters and words. But as simple as defining reading comprehension may be, it is notoriously difficult to teach. For many students, reading will give them their first glimpse into subjective understanding, as they realize that the information that they have gleaned from a text may differ from a fellow student's, or that the picture they have drawn in their minds after reading a text will be different from that of their peers.
How Is Reading Comprehension Assessed?
The most common kinds of reading comprehension tests are ones in which students read a short passage and are asked a series of questions about it. Yet, for special education students, this method is fraught with the pitfalls outlined above. Moving from the process of decoding text to answering questions about the text can present challenges for children who cannot jump from task to task with facility, even if they are great readers and have strong comprehension skills.
Sample Questions to Ask About Reading
For this reason, an oral exam may bear more fruit than a standard written reading comprehension test. Here's a checklist of questions to ask a child about a book she's read. Their answers will provide you with a glimpse of their ability to comprehend. Consider these questions:
1.____ Who are the main characters in your story?
2.____ Are any of the main characters like you or like somebody you know? What makes you think so?
3.____ Describe your favorite character in the story and tell me why the character is your favorite.
4.____ When do you think the story takes place? Where do you think the story takes place? Why do you think so?
5.____ What is the funniest/scariest/best part of the story?
6.____ Is there a problem in this story? If so, how does the problem get solved? How would you have solved the problem?
7.____ Would any of your friends/family enjoy this book? Why or why not?
8.____ Could you come up with another good title for this book? What would it be?
9.____ What if you could change the ending of this book, what would it be?
10.____ Do you think this book would make a good movie? Why or why not?
Questions like these are a great tool to incorporate into story time. If a parent volunteer or a student is reading to the class, have them ask one or more of them. Keep a folder with these questions and have your volunteers record what the students say about the book title they've just read.
The key to success in ensuring your struggling readers maintain a joy for reading is to ensure that the task following reading isn't unpleasant. Don't make answering a series of questions a chore that follows a fun or exciting story. Foster a love of reading by sharing your enthusiasm about what their book is all about.