National Literacy Month: Reading Comprehension

This guest post is written by Rachael Alexander, National Manager of Literacy Initiatives at City Year Headquarters

Reading Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading; if we can’t understand what we read, the functionality of reading is lost.  Of course, there are specific skills or tactics that good readers use that allow them to comprehend:

    • Preview a Text: Let me read this title and look for pictures, graphs, other visuals, or bold words to get clues about what I’m about to read.
    • Monitor their Understanding: I need to reread that sentence; I was distracted by someone talking and I don’t think I understood it entirely.
    • Make Connections to the Text: Oh, mountain lions…I remember seeing a mountain lion at the zoo when I was younger—they are related to other types of cats!
    • Make Inferences: I’m starting to realize that this character is optimistic—he is always looking for the positive in the situations he finds himself in.
    • Summarize Portions of Text: The entire first half of this article is basically the author explaining his views on postmodern art—he does NOT appreciate it!
    • Ask Questions: Why did the author choose this setting?  How would having this story take place in another city affect the plot?  What city would I want to visit if I were the main character?
    • Visualize: I can imagine that the apartment building had a really scuffed up floor, like the floors in my school, based on this description.

In late March, I had the opportunity to go to south Los Angeles to participate in and contribute to a Friday learning session for corps members.  There were student-made flags on one side of the stage and examples of student writing covering an entire wall…this space was clearly utilized frequently and treated with care.

The corps members were spread out amongst the auditorium seats, yellow jackets poring over periodic assessment data reports and intervention planners.  I istenined intently to a corps member who was graciously explaining the way that she approaches her literacy intervention time with her “focus list”—the students she supports through targeted tutoring time—and how she uses a sophisticated combination of school data, teacher input, state standards and her own observations and reflections of the individual students (their interests, their needs, their insecurities and their tendencies) to provide the most authentic literacy experience possible.

In this case, these things were multiple sources of information related to student literacy—not the least of which being periodic assessment data connected to discrete literacy skills (in this case, reading comprehension).  What this corps member understood, first and foremost, was that reading comprehension and working with students are processes that delve far deeper than discrete skills or checklists—rather, she was using information about areas of need and coupling that “data” with her deep knowledge of each student as a person first—to make informed decisions and to allow for the type of individualized or differentiated supports required, in real time.

People are complex. Our work with students is complex.  Reading Comprehension is assuredly complex.  The more asset-based and interconnected our approach to this work, the more apt we are to find and make positive connections—academically, personally, and socio-emotionally.

Tune into the blog next week for Rachael’s post on vocabulary

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