Poor Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension skillsIs Reading Comprehension a Problem?

Sometimes kids think they can read. After all, they know all the words. But that doesn’t mean they understand what they read.

Disinterest, struggling with decoding individual words, text is too difficult for a child’s reading level, deficit in working memory which is common with kids with ADHD, visual processing disorder, and limited vocabulary cancause poor reading comprehension.

Poor Reading Comprehension Skills Lead to Poor Grades

When kids don’t understand what they read, it affects their ability to succeed in school.  All subjects, including science and math, require reading comprehension. Even Tests and exams require good reading comprehension which results in low grades and poor test scores if a student has poor reading comprehension.

 Signs of Poor Reading Comprehension

  • Can’t answer questions about what they just read
  • Don’t understand the logical sequence of a story
  • Unable to tell the story after reading it
  • Can’t connect individual sentences or paragraphs of text together to make sense of what they’ve read.
  • Doesn’t know the meaning of individual words
  • Loses interest in reading or give up quickly

What Causes Poor Reading Comprehension

Bored girl with poor reading comprehensionDisinterest and boredom causes children not to pay attention to what they’re reading. Some bright children find the story or material they’re reading so simple that they’re bored. Others are disinterested in what they’re reading because it doesn’t relate to anything they care or know about.

Decoding individual words slows down or prevents reading comprehension. If the assigned material includes too many words a child doesn’t know, they’ll focus on decoding rather than understanding. Many will simply give up trying to read what’s assigned. ESL children and kids from families who don’t engage their children in conversation and have few books will often not understand words that other kids in their class know.

Difficult text challenges some students. For others, it’s so frustrating they give up. A story may be appropriate for the grade level of the child but too hard for an individual children. In addition to not knowing the vocabulary, the context can be unfamiliar or the story too complex.

Oral language deficit is often associated with poor reading comprehension. Children with limited vocabulary and oral reading fluency will have difficulties understanding written text. Recent research has shown that “spoken language training seems to have resulted in a generalized improvement in the kids’ ability to understand language.”

Working memory deficit occurs with kids who can’t remember what they’ve read long enough to talk about it or explain the story immediately after reading. It’s common with kids with ADHD,

Visual processing disorder affects students’ reading comprehension if they skip words or lines. They may also be unable to judge depth and distance and reverse letters and numbers. Children with visual perception problems usually have poor eye-hand coordination. Visual processing disorder can affect not only reading comprehension but math and motor skills.

Poor memory skills affect all of learning including reading comprehension. Researchers at Vanderbilt University have recently been investigating Specific Reading Comprehension Deficits or S-RCD.  They’ve discovered from brain scans that kids with dyslexia have abnormalities in a different part of the brain than kids who have poor reading comprehension.

Executive Function Disorder (EFD) involves being able to plan, organize, makes changes, and complete a task. ADHD kids often have poor executive functioning. Kids with EFD will have trouble figuring out the organization of a story and the time line. They often give up and don’t complete a reading assignment if they think it’s too hard. Since their self-monitoring skills are poor, they have trouble figuring out strategies to help with reading comprehension. These include sounding out a  word they don’t know, asking the teacher for help,  looking the word up in a dictionary, and reading a little bit more to see if they can figure out the word from the context.

Limited vocabulary can cause poor reading comprehension. If children don’t know the meaning of the words they’re reading, they’ll miss the meaning of the story or chapter. Many won’t bother trying to decode the unknown words, especially Boy with poor reading comprehensionif they find lots of words they don’t know.

Aphasia and dysphasia, which are caused by  brain injury, tumor, or a virus, can cause difficulties in reading comprehension. These children will also have speech problems. If common strategies used by a teacher or reading specialist don’t help, testing by a neurologist and speech therapist is recommended.

ADHD kids have difficulty concentrating on a task including reading. When they can’t focus, they won’t understand what they read. The problem isn’t as much a reading challenge as an inability to sit still and focus long enough to finish a story.

Strategies to Improve Poor Reading Comprehension

Fun and interesting stories keep kids with poor comprehension engaged. Research has shown that kids (and adults too) learn faster and remember more when they’re enjoying what they’re doing and having fun. Children often understand a story they find interesting even if the vocabulary is more difficult.

Subvocalizing can help kids who lack skill in reading silently.  Children begin reading by reading aloud. Eventually they read to themselves, but many of them haven’t learned how to visualize what they’re reading. Suggest to kids who have difficulty understanding what they read to subvocalize. In other words, to move their lips as if they’re reading aloud.

Decoding Difficulties get in the way of kids understanding the story. Make sure that children have sufficient decoding skills. If they can’t decode the words, they won’t know what they’re reading.

Appropriate Materials for child’s reading level is essential. If a child is in 3rd grade but still reading at a 2nd grade level, this child will need stories at a 2nd grade level.

Scanning involves look at the title, summary, review, end-of-chapter questions, key words, headings, diagrams & captions, graphs, maps, back cover, and pictures for non-fiction.  Or the front and back cover, table of contents, and pictures for fiction.

Encourage children to think what the story or chapter will be about after scanning. These clues pint to what’s ahead. Discuss whether the reading material will relate to something the children already know about or something they may be interested in.

After the students have finished the assigned reading, see if they were right or wrong about who the important characters were, where and when it takes place, what happens and why.

Since we learn by connecting new information with stored information in the long term memory, it doesn’t really matter whether the children were right or wrong. What matters is that kids can relate what they’re reading with something they already know or have thought about.

Reading is purposeful now. They’re looking to see if they figured out what the story or chapter was about by scanning the clues.

B0y with poor reading comprehensionThe Five Ws help kids organize the story they’re reading and keep track of the important points of a storyline. Five Ws include 1. Who do you think are the important characters? 2. When do you think the event takes place? 3. Where do you think it takes place? 4. What do you think it’s about? 5. Why do you think it happens? Now children can now relate what they read to something in their memory.

TEACH Method

TEACH stands for think, explain, ask, clues, and handwrite.

  • Think about the topic of the reading assignment. Have students tell you what they’re thinking about.
  • Explain further. Ask kids what they already knows about the topic. They’ll be more engaged in the reading if they can relate it to something they already know about, something in their memory and experience.
  • Ask kids to explain what they think the reading will be about. Even if they say that they don’t know as they read they’ll say, “I’m right” or “That’s who it’s about!”
  • Clues about the reading helps kids to focus on when they read, and what’s important to Girl reading book with poor reading comprehensionremember. Clues are found throughout the book and the back cover as described above under “Scanning.”
  • Handwrite or draw everything they think is important as they read. by organizing the reading material into an outline, picture-story, mind map, or any other graphic organizer. By writing and drawing while they read, students will understand and remember much more. For older children,  this method is more effective than highlighting or typing notes into the computer. Organize the reading material into an outline, picture story, or any other graphic organizer.  Handwriting and drawing help kids understand and remember.
  • Vocabulary building and preview: Before reading, a teacher or parent goes over possible new words, pronouncing them and explaining what they mean. To help the kids understand the new words, ask the students to use the new word in a sentence.

Before a student’s poor reading comprehension can improve, teachers and parents must figure out exactly what is causing the problem. Once the cause of comprehension difficulties is discovered, the appropriate remediation strategies can be used.

Multisensory approaches to reading comprehension are the most effective.  You’ll find these in the Tiger Tuesday Multisensory, Interactive Reading Program. Kids find the program fun and interesting. Tiger has everything from stories to games, from plays to fun worksheets, even a doll. Click here to see if Tiger is right for you.


Purposeful Playful Practice!
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