Reading Comprehension

Difficulties with reading comprehension are often a result of:

  1. Poor reading fluency: The mental effort required during the decoding process leaves very little room for understanding. Working memory is limited and time sensitive. Poor reading skills are often the main cause of difficulties with reading comprehension.
  2. Weak language skills: We often see students who demonstrate excellent reading skills, but continue to have poor comprehension of the material.

Without reading comprehension, reading loses its very purpose: to help us learn and acquire knowledge.

Facts about students with poor reading comprehension due to language weakness:

  • These students often go unrecognized in the classroom because their oral reading appears accurate and fluent and it is assumed that with these skills in place- they should be comprehending.
  • These students often show deficits in semantic processing and higher level language skills which often go unrecognized until they reach upper elementary school or middle school.
  • These students may not qualify for a diagnosis of language impairment and may go unnoticed until they begin to struggle academically.
  • Reading comprehension utilizes different areas of the brain. Students may process words well when reading, but MRI studies show that areas of the brain responsible for semantic processing are less activated in students with poor reading comprehension.
  • As students get older, the text they are reading becomes more complex and contains advanced syntactical and grammatical structures that are often not used in every day conversation. Students may understand conversational language very well but have difficulty with reading comprehension. Teachers and parents may assume difficulties are due to poor motivation or lack of effort.

Consequences of weak reading comprehension:

  • Reduced interest in reading results slowed vocabulary growth and knowledge deficits.
  • Oral and written language skills are impacted due to reduced exposure to higher level language present in text but not in conversational language.
  • Academic difficulties become more apparent as students progress though upper elementary, middle, and high school.
  • Homework takes longer and grades don’t match the effort expended
  • Self-esteem diminishes as students are criticized for “not trying hard enough”

How do speech language pathologists support students with reading comprehension difficulties?

  • The first step is an evaluation to determine the main cause of their underlying comprehension difficulty as this will determine the most effective intervention approach. Do they need support with decoding skills or language?
  • Students with weak language comprehension benefit from targeted language intervention that focuses on higher level language skills that are often not used in everyday language including: figurative language, inferencing, predicting, understanding ambiguous language and multiple meaning words, using contextual cues, and support for advanced vocabulary development.
  • Direct instruction in study skills and use of technology to support reading comprehension and homework completion

Benefits of supporting reading comprehension:

  • Improved interest in reading for both academics and pleasure which supports overall learning and language development.
  • Improved performance in academics
  • Improved oral and written language abilities
  • Improved self-esteem