Reading without understanding

iStock_000014442615XSmallChildren who read well orally and appear to decode words easily can still have poor comprehension of what they read. In the past, researchers have suggested that these children may focus on decoding to the exclusion of meaning. However, Susan Dymock, University of Auckland, reports that a recent study in New Zealand indicates that poor language may be the reason for poor comprehension in children who are good decoders.

Thirty-two students with an average age of 12 years were selected for the study. All of these students had good decoding skill and good fluency with grade-level material. Half of these students, however, did poorly on a reading comprehension test. No difference in background knowledge was found between the groups. The listening comprehension of students in both groups was tested by having them answer questions about passages that were read to them. The students who did poorly on reading comprehension also did poorly on the listening comprehension test.

After testing, students in both groups were questioned about their reading habits and attitudes toward reading. This survey revealed distinct differences between those students who had good comprehension and those whose comprehension was poor.

Seventy-three percent of the students with good comprehension said they would rather read than watch television, while only twenty-seven percent of those with poor comprehension said they would choose to read. Both groups, however, believed they understood what they read.

Dymock concluded that a general language deficit probably exists in those children who did not comprehend either what they read or what was read to them at their oral-reading level. Remediation in language and vocabulary development, as well as practice in listening comprehension is needed to close the gap between oral reading and comprehension levels. In addition, she says, reading should be encouraged at their current comprehension level rather than at their oral reading level. At this level, students should begin to find reading more rewarding, leading them to read more, further improving their vocabulary and comprehension.

“Reading But Not Understanding”, Journal of Reading, Volume 37, Number 2, pp. 86-90.

Published in ERN, November/December 1993, Volume 6, Number 5

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