Reading comprehension and listening comprehension engage different processes in the brain and must be taught separately. First, students need to comprehend what they read. The second kind of comprehension is listening and comprehending while someone reads aloud to the student. There is also a difference between listening to someone read a story out loud and simply listening to someone give oral directions. So, the third kind of comprehension comes into play when we listen to directions spoken orally. Each form of comprehension involves different brain cells and requires that different mental processes be engaged (Block, Schaller, Joy, & Gaine, 2002). Neuroimaging studies have shown that while the brain uses similar regions of the brain for reading comprehension and listening comprehension, the brain engages and uses these regions of the brain in diverse ways. The brain uses a unique set of processes for each aspect of comprehension: cognitive processing, executive functioning, and working memory (Baker, Zeliger-Kandasamy, & DeWyngaert, 2014).
The first problem is silent reading. In school, lessons often emphasize silent reading and answering multiple choice test questions after a story (Ness, 2011), but comprehension is too complex a process to be taught by simply previewing, reading a story, and answering a set of questions (Pardo, 2004). Research has shown that students need intrinsic motivation, decoding/encoding skills, vocabulary knowledge, and self-monitoring skills in order to be able to comprehend what they read (Block, Schaller, Joy, & Gaine, 2002). Self-monitoring skills are especially important because students must stop when they do not understand what they are reading. Many children just keep reading or skip over words that they do not know. If students are reading silently, how can you tell whether they have trouble processing what they are reading or are failing to comprehend because they do not understand the meaning of the words that they are reading? If students do not know the meaning of the words used in a test question, how can you determine whether they did not comprehend the meaning of the story or simply did not understand the meaning of the words in the test question? We cannot teach comprehension through silent reading and answering questions at the end of the story.
The second problem is that, too often, students are not taught vocabulary words or the meaning of words. Students will never be able to comprehend what they are reading if they do not understand the meaning of the words that they are reading.
A third mistake in teaching comprehension is that schools often do not teach oral listening comprehension. Too often, educators do not check to make sure that students in the classroom understand oral directions or understand when stories or passages are read out loud. We need to be teaching students to comprehend what they read as well as what they hear being read or spoken to them.
At the Reading Orienteering Club (ROC), we emphasize three different kinds of comprehension. The workers at the workstations READ the directions to the children rather than simply explaining what needs to be done. This helps the children understand what they are being asked to do, but also develops their listening comprehension skills. Oral explanations and clarifications are also used at the workstations—teaching comprehension from oral directions. Therefore, both types of listening comprehension must be taught. Students must listen and comprehend directions that are read orally by workstation helpers. Then, they ask questions when they do not understand. Oral explanations and clarifications from the workers at the workstations then allow children to engage their listening skills and comprehension while both listening to oral read directions and oral spoken directions.
Reading comprehension is also taught at the ROC. Read and Spell word lists and vowel-clustered stories are interspersed throughout the workstations to give children practice reading lists of words and also reading the words in the context of a story.
One workstation is totally devoted to reading. The children read out loud to a volunteer. The reading workstations employ the progressive step system (Steps 1, 2, 3) so that each child can read a beginning chapter book. We want children to practice decoding and encoding words contained in oral passages (stories), but we do not want the stories to be above the child’s ability level. Everyone starts at Step 1 and works their way up.
We do not use multiple-choice test questions for teaching comprehension. At the ROC, the children are asked: Who, What, When, Where, and Why? Who was the story about? What happened in the story? When did the story take place? Where did the story take place? And why is this a good or a bad story? Would you recommend for someone else to read this story? At the ROC reading clinic, we want the children to fully engage their thinking and analytical processes so that they truly understand and comprehend the stories that they read.
We also use the 4 steps (explained more completely in my 2/24/18 blog post). The 4 steps are to (1) break the word down letter-by-letter, sound-by-sound, learning to pronounce the word correctly; (2) practice spelling the word out loud and then write the word correctly on paper; (3) give a definition for the word by looking the word up correctly in the dictionary, and (4) write a sentence using the word, making sure the word is used correctly and that the sentence is grammatical. Children too young to write a sentence can give the sentences orally. All children write the words correctly on manuscript writing paper, making sure that they are shaping their letter correctly. Writing is one of the stages in learning to read (see 4/12/18 post).
The children are encouraged to read both fiction and nonfiction. They even pretend to have their own TV show and became TV reporters. They report on the books they read, or give factual information about a topic being studied, such as outer space or the ocean. The TV shows give an extra challenge to students who are ready to take on harder reading material. The progressive step system allows struggling students to be full participates in the TV show. They work with age/ability appropriate reading material or become puppeteers. All students can learn to read and comprehend what they read, but we must start at the beginning and teach the decoding and encoding of letter sounds. We must emphasize phonemic awareness. Then, we must take letter sounds one step further, we must pull the sounds together into words, sentences, and stories. Comprehension begins with letter sounds and ends with word meaning. Students cannot read and comprehend what they read if they cannot decode and encode letter sounds into words.
Teaching both reading and listening comprehension is essential for effective reading. Leading researchers in comprehension are stating that we need interventions that teach encoding, decoding, and comprehension (Cutting, Eason, Young, & Alberstadt, 2011). At the ROC reading clinic, we teach encoding, decoding, and comprehension at the same time.