A few observations about comprehension:
- It’s really hard to assess properly.
- What we accept as a “comprehension,” may well be a poorly written story or a test that the kid does not easily connect to or understand. In other words it’s the test or story construction that is the issue. (Try reading some of the worksheets or tests that get passed off as good stories.)
- Comprehension is not taught by worksheets.
- It takes a lot of work to teach comprehension.
Let’s take young Jeremy, a fifth grader who shows some signs of a “comprehension problem.”
When assessed Jeremy was given three reading formats that assessed comprehension under entirely different conditions.
On a multiple choice test where he read the passage and answered the questions, he bombed out on an easy second grade level selection, but scored adequately on a much harder sixth grade story. His struggling at the second grade level affected his overall score, but was that a comprehension problem?
With an informal reading inventory where Jeremy read the story both out loud and silently and was then asked questions of the stories, he missed many of the concepts at the third and fourth grade levels, but then was pretty capable at the sixth.
Again, that may not be a comprehension problem, but represent difficulty with certain passages.
Additionally, many children have not had sufficient practice or feedback on how to tackle reading selections. With comprehension there needs to be a back and forth dialogue that takes place between the teacher/tutor who acts a facilitator who can help guide kids to find answers or to respond when the information may not be all that explicit or clear.
A simple text example would be the following:
“When the people got on the train to go to work they had to make room for those carrying their coats and umbrellas.”
If a child was asked, something like “What do you think the weather was like in the story,” he might say something like, “I don’t know. It didn’t say anything about the weather.”
That is because the child who answers like that is not tuned into to making inferences.
A child more tuned in might say, “Well, it mentioned coats and umbrellas, so I am guessing it was chilly and rainy.”
Such a response would be a perfectly plausible inference based on the text.
My guess would be that about 50% of the population of fifth graders are pretty capable of managing the processes involved with comprehending.
That leaves a hefty 50% who show what I refer to as, “Swiss cheese holes” in their understanding of what they read, especially with forming inferences.
What is called “comprehension” is complex and multifaceted. It is very hard to make blanket statements about comprehension.
Ultimately, for kids struggling in this domain they need a lot of guided, back and forth practice conducted over time to help them become more “tuned in.”