Reading Comprehension: The Goal of Reading
Many people can read, but when they are done reading they have difficulty remembering what they just read about. This can happen for a variety of reasons. It might be the case that so much effort is placed into sounding out the words (aloud or to themselves) that the meaning is lost. Or, it could be the case that the words are read quickly without really paying attention to what the words are saying. Otherwise, the topic could just not be of interest so focusing on the message while reading becomes difficult. Regardless of why a person has difficulty understanding what they read, there are some general reading comprehension strategies that can help. If you struggle with reading, you can consciously try these ideas yourself. As a parent or teacher, using these teaching tools might help the ASD learner build comprehension skills.
Metacognition—thinking about what we think—regarding a reading helps to strengthen overall comprehension. In other words, we need to purposefully stop while reading to go over in our minds our opinions, beliefs, and thoughts about what we read. For example:
- Set a purpose for reading. Think about what you’re looking for in this reading.
- Look at the title and think about what the text might be about.
- Look through the reading—the headings, words in bold, and pictures and then think more about what the text might be about.
- Think about what you already know about the topic, author, or story.
- Think about what you read after each section or chapter.
- Critique ideas, characters, or facts.
- Write down what is unclear.
- Write down unknown words to look up after reading.
- Think about what you might have learned.
- Think about what you liked or did not like.
- Question the author.
- Think about how this relates to you.
- Think about what you read overall to summarize it.
- Look over your notes to then research the answers to your questions by re-reading, looking them up online, or by talking to someone.
Talk About Readings
Talking about what you read with someone else provides a different way to gain information, rather than having to do more reading. This can be especially helpful if reading is not your favorite thing to do. Having a conversation about what is read will answer some questions you might have, can teach you about other people’s opinions, and gives you an opportunity to verbalize what you read about.
Practice Reading Often
Practicing reading often is definitely a good way to get better at it. And, it doesn’t matter what a person reads. The more you read the better. It is like the “Matthew Effect” where “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Students that enjoy reading, read often, and become better readers. Those that don’t like reading, spend less time reading, and fall further and further behind. Therefore, we should try to get our children motivated to read. If they like reading graphic novels, articles about sports in the newspaper, magazines, or online, encourage them to read any of those often.
Take children to the library frequently and let them check out whatever they want. Don’t try to impose what you might think they really should be reading. We want them to read—a lot—period. If you know they liked a book by a certain author, find all the books written by that author for them to select from. Or, if you know they are interested in certain topics, find reading material about that.
For the unmotivated reader, find reading material about what they like to do when they are not reading. For example, if they like watching movies, they might be motivated to read movie reviews and the entertainment section on Google news. You might think this is not reading, but indeed it is. Many people are under the impression that true reading means reading a book. This is really not the case, now more than ever because of the Internet.
In addition, if they read often about things of interest, it will help them become a more proficient reader overall, especially if they work on reading comprehension strategies in the process. Once on the road to having reading motivation, practicing reading less interesting materials might be a good idea too. In particular, practicing reading using strategies that have been practiced with motivating readings might make it easier to use the strategies with more boring topics.
Reading Comprehension Strategies
Start by picking strategies that sound appealing, and try them out one at a time. Don’t worry about mastering all of the strategies, since less can be more. In other words, it is helpful to learn a few strategies well, rather than to try to learn many strategies and use none of them due to confusion regarding which to use when. Reading comprehension strategies include:
- Reciprocal reading: Question, summarize, clarify, and predict as you read.
- Sticky notes: Use sticky notes to write down unknown words, or for inserting exclamation points next to parts of interest or question marks next to confusing parts.
- Partner reading: With a partner, alternate reading sections of the text aloud. Discuss each section as you read together.
- Think alouds: While reading with a partner aloud, verbalize the thoughts, questions, and confusing parts that come to mind. For example, if a character or event reminds the reader of something, stop and talk about it making personal connections. This can help foster recall regarding what the reading was about.
- Re-read: Look back and re-read parts to answer questions.
- Text connections: Make text-to-self, text-to-world, and text-to-text connections. In text-to-self, you should think about how the text relates to you. In text-to-world, you can connect what you read to known information. And, in text-to-text you can relate what was just read to something read in the past.
- Goldilocks: When looking for a book at the library or bookstore, think about whether the book is too easy, too hard, or just right. Too easy means the reader can read all the words easily or has read the book many times already. Too hard might be where there are more than five words on a page that are unknown or the first page is confusing. Just right is when it is a new book, and while the reader might not know a few of the words on a page, they can read it without getting confused.
- Chunk the reading: Read the text a few paragraphs or a section at a time. Then think about what was just read before continuing to read.
- Visualize: While reading, imagine what characters or events look like.
- Blogging: Find out if there is a blog about the reading topic to have an online discussion with others about it.
- Journaling: Write down reflections about the reading.
- Graphic organizers: Use a chart that to write down information to monitor comprehension before, during, or after reading.
Gradual Release Model
If you are a parent or teacher, you can use the “gradual release model” to help the ASD learner discover reading comprehension strategies. First, model a strategy by doing it for the reader. Then provide guided practice where you do the strategy together. Next have the reader do the strategy again (on another occasion) on their own.
Make sure to talk about the reading and how the strategy worked or did not work. You might need to model multiple times or do it together multiple times before it becomes a natural part of the reading process where the reader can do it independently.
Readability of Books
If reading level is a concern, use Hi-Lo books. These are books that are of high interest but on a low reading level. You might find this helpful when trying to motivate the reader, since the topics are age-appropriate while the reading is not too difficult.
Other things to look for are:
- Books that have visuals or pictures that can help with comprehension.
- Books where the size of the letters are not too small.
- Books that have space on a page without writing, so the amount of writing on a page is not overwhelming.
- Books that have headings, vocabulary words clearly defined, and are in a format that seems appealing and easy to follow.
Reading and Writing Connections
You might wonder why writing has been included in the reading comprehension strategies. The reason is that it provides another way to understand and process reading material. So, if someone does not like verbalizing what they read about, using graphic organizers, blogs and journals might help them think about what they read, reflect on it, and flesh it out in a coherent manner aiding with their comprehension without having to verbally dialogue about it at length.
The goal of reading is comprehension, so I really hope that by trying some of these strategies and ideas you are better able to become a better reader, or to help your child or student achieve this goal. Remember that learning to read is a very individualized process and that specific support needs should be addressed in the Transition IEP.