Mastering Comprehension: a guide for parents

This post follows from last week – focusing more deeply on comprehension as one of the three aspects of reading. Once children have begun to get to grips with tricky words and phonics, as the first two vital aspects – comprehension is what draws reading together. Without a thorough understanding of what has been read, reading is reduced to mere decoding. So, let’s delve more deeply into the comprehension box. Imagine reading as a box of goodies – hidden treasure. What do we find? Are we satisfied with what is on the top layer – or do we want to rummage down and find something better – richer and more engaging for the mind? Mysterious? Read on.

At LITERAL level children read only the words themselves. The sentence ‘Mum grabbed her umbrella and hurried to the shop’ tells us only what Mum did. Questions such as – where did Mum go? What did she grab? – are easily answered from the words themselves.

At INFERENTIAL level, we might ask a child – What was the weather like? Why did she hurry? Such questions are not literally stated – but are inferred in the minds of readers. Thoughtful readers would link the umbrella with rain. So we need to encourage children to read not only the words and lines (literal) but between them (as inferential).

Let’s dig more deeply into the comprehension box. Imagine the various texts that children learn to read and examine, once reading becomes more secure. We might want children to REORGANISE a text that they have read. Can they change the person from third to first? Can they add a further paragraph? Can they insert their own sentences between? Without a firm grasp of the meaning within a text, such activities are impossible for children to do.

Let’s go deeper still. At EVALUATIVE level, children relate what they read to their own thoughts and feelings, depending on the type of text. Do I agree with this writer? What would I do in such a situation? Is there a moral or ethical issue here that I need to consider? These types of questions often come from the heart. They are personal and individual – hence, evaluative.

Let’s dig deeper still into our comprehension box. Think about fiction as drama – and poetry. AESTHETIC levels of comprehension happen when readers are touched and affected by what they read. They feel the writer’s sorrow. They feel the deep emotion of a poem. They are at one with the author.

So now, we have (briefly) looked at five levels of reading comprehension towards which children strive as they progress through their reading. Having rummaged down to the deepest level of the comprehension box – mastery is the end product – the treasure that lies at the bottom – waiting for us to find it. The richness of the comprehension – our response as readers – is itself the treasure. And what a valuable find it is! A find that gives infinite pleasure throughout life. This is why mastering comprehension is so important and why parents play such a valuable part.

My books for parents expand on all of these skills: Support for Children at the Early Years Foundation Stage, at Key Stage 1 and at Key Stage 2. Key Stage 3 is in process, out soon – all on Amazon.

It occurs to me now that I haven’t yet offered ideas as to HOW parents can help children to master reading- hence next week’s blog. Until then, remember: Reading is THINKING.

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