Reading for Understanding

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

You did it! You taught your child (or student) how to read. Hours and hours of painstaking work on both your part and the child’s. Your finally done…...right? Wait….now they need to understand what they read??? Here we go again...

Reading Comprehension is ALWAYS the goal

When young readers are first decoding, it can be hard to pull any sort of real meaning from the text. But even with very simple text where kids are really still learning sight words and phonics rules, reading for understanding should be the goal. Help the child make a connection to something in the picture. Make a comment that helps the student see you are connecting to the text. Ask the student to connect the text they just read to the picture (for example ask the student to point to where they see ___ happening in the text.

Understanding the text should also be the goal for every teacher in elementary school. When a book is opened, we should teach kids to understand what they are reading by using a skill or strategy….not teaching a skill or strategy by using a book. It may seem like a subtle difference, but it can significantly change a child’s ability to apply the strategies and skills we teach. Teachers and curriculum often focus on teaching a common skill (sequencing for example) through a text. Instead focus on understanding a text and then help students see how they can use several different skills and strategies to help them understand. Then when they read on their own, they can fall back on some of those skills to better comprehend the text. For example if you are reading Charlotte’s Web and wanting to teach summarizing. You should be teaching Charlotte's Web and using summarizing as a vehicle to understand the story...You should not be teaching summarizing and using Charlotte's Web as a vehicle to understand how to summarize.

Explicitly teach visualizing

Visualizing is the act of picturing the story in your mind as you read. I explain it to students as making the movie of the book in your head as you read. This is so important because it is how kids take the words in a story and make meaning to them. When I read a book to students, I will often model visualizing to the kids. I will stop and say, “In my brain I am picturing …. Because the story says that ….” This is a skill that we hope kids just start doing as they become readers, but when we model it, students can recognize and pinpoint HOW to go from written text, to a picture in your mind. I also ask kids questions to prompt them to share their visualizations. For example, “When we read ____ what did the movie in your brain look like?” I also very quickly begin modeling making connections as a way to visualize.

Building Connections: before and after you read

Visualizing begins and ends with connections. We make pictures of what we read based on things we’ve seen before. Help you student or child visualize by giving them schema of what you are going to read. Let them experience aspects of the story you’re reading. Then remind them of experiences that they can use to relate to the text. Model visualizing the scenery of a specific hike you’ve been on when you are reading about a hike. Show the kids pictures of hikes in the area. Then as you read, give examples of how to add in details from the text to change the picture in your brain.

Use experiences to empathize with the character’s in the story. Have the kids relate what they read to other things they’ve read. After the story is finished, don’t let it stop there. Then relate the story to things you see in life. Help them use the story to increase their understanding of the world. And then not only will they understand what they read, but they will also be motivated to read over and over again.

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