There is a great deal of emphasis these days on “decoding” development, but there is another side to the coin, often overlooked.   It is the side that involves the child’s understanding of what she has read.   “Comprehension” is very difficult to teach well and is often left to having a child read a story and answer some questions about it. The “corrective feedback” is either a check or an x with a score at the top of the page. (I know, because i get many of these worksheets brought to me.)

This is not teaching comprehension.

Good comprehension instruction/remediation involves a great deal of back and forth dialogue to help shape the child’s skill in managing text.  This instructional dialogue becomes particularly important in the middle to upper elementary grades where the text becomes dense, often overwhelming to the child and there is a greater emphasis on “higher-order reasoning.”

As an example, take a young girl I evaluated recently, Ada, age 9, in the fourth grade.   Ada showed a lot of difficulty with inferential thinking and answering questions that went beyond the basic factual information in the text.  If the question was not asking about something that  was not stated explicitly in the story, Ada was often at a loss as to how to respond.

To illustrate this difficulty, Ada read a story  that involved the narrator reflecting about a lake home that they used to go to as children that is no longer there.    Why the house is not there is not stated explicitly, but one can read between the lines that the house has been taken down.

When the comprehension question asked Ada whether the person telling the story still went to the house, she shrugged and said, “I don’t know.  It didn’t say.”

While Ada is technically correct that the story didn’t explicitly state that the narrator  didn’t go to the house anymore, with a little reading between the lines,  she would be able to use the clues and come up with a reasonable response.  Ada did not know how to use the clues.

Kids are either wired to do this type of  “clue seeking” thought process fairly intuitively or they are not and feel stuck with those questions.  For those in the latter category, they need much more guided, facilitated practice with similar style questions.

With good interactive instruction, emphasizing inferential questions, children need to be encouraged to be “detectives” and find the clues in the text even if something is not directly or factually stated. This process takes a lot of practice for a child to become more adept at the skill of inferences.

Takeaway Point

“Reading between the lines (inferences)” can be very difficult for many  kids.

When a kid looks blank and shrugs, ask,  “What clues are there that might give you the answer?”

Push the child to find the clues and she will be on the inference road.

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