Reading is perhaps one of the most valuable life skills taught in school. But the process of teaching children how to read is very different from the process of teaching them to understand what they’re reading. Just because a child can understand the meaning of individual words, or decode them, doesn’t mean that the child is actually grasping the meaning of what he or she is reading.
At BJU Press, we have crafted our reading program to develop reading comprehension skills, rather than just decoding, from Reading 2 through Reading 5. With the upcoming release of the Reading 4 and Reading 5 video courses, all of our elementary reading materials will use the Reading Process Approach to teaching reading comprehension.
So how does our approach work?
Before Reading: Preparation
Successful readers are readers who know how to prepare to read a complicated work of literature or advanced informational text. Not all readers will need to spend time before reading to be successful if they already know the principles they need. But young students who are still learning need to take time to prepare. They need help understanding the context of what they’ll be reading.
Before reading, BJU Press video courses and teaching guides cover important background details. Children may need to know certain details about an author’s life for a story to make sense, so we may go over the author’s biography. They may need to be told how to read certain poetry forms, so we’ll talk about literary genres and forms. They’ll also need to know the meaning of new vocabulary words, so we’ll teach any words that may be unfamiliar. Additionally, we teach literary terms that help children navigate and talk about what they’re reading.
In addition, we encourage the use of reading strategies throughout the reading process. Reading strategies are tools you can use to enhance, encourage, and support reading comprehension. Strategies we often use before reading include previewing and predicting. Previewing a story or selection will help children to better prepare for reading it, to know what they’ll need to do, and how difficult it might be. This step is designed to help reading seem less daunting or overwhelming. With fiction, the video course teacher (or you if you’re teaching) should have your kids look at the length, the genre, who’s telling the story, and other notable characteristics that help them better understand the story ahead of time. With nonfiction, you’ll focus on the visuals and charts, headings, and captions to get a feel for the selection.
When predicting, children use what they know about the background and genre to decide what might happen. This is a critical-thinking skill that might also help students to gain an interest in what they’re reading. If they want to know if they’re right about their prediction, they’ll be more eager to read.
During Reading: Maintain Focus
For confident readers who can already read with high comprehension, reading is usually a solitary endeavor. It’s often frustrating for them to be interrupted with questions and reminders when they’re immersed in reading. But remember that young children are usually still learning. To teach comprehension, teaching has to continue while they read.
In BJU Press video courses, the teachers direct children to use self-monitoring questions as they read. Self-monitoring questions help students to assess their own reading comprehension. While using these questions, they can determine if they actually understand what they’re reading or if they need to start using additional reading strategies to help themselves understand. Of course, initially, you may need to ask your children the questions to help them stay focused. Once they become used to using them, they will begin to ask themselves the questions automatically. Guiding questions in both video lessons and student texts help children look for and focus on a big theme or idea that they should take away from the selection.
The strategies we use during reading include reading to discover (or “reading to find out”), looking up words, slowing down, and reading aloud. When teaching students how to read to find out, we ask questions so children have to pay special attention as they’re reading. By looking for specific kinds of information, children process what they’re reading much more easily. You’ll find this strategy to be most helpful when reading informational texts, but it can also work well when looking for a theme or a central idea in a work of fiction.
How can looking up words be a reading strategy? We do teach vocabulary words before reading, but we can’t anticipate all the words in a story that will be unfamiliar to your children. They need to be used to and willing to look up unfamiliar words as they encounter them. If you can teach your children to look up unfamiliar words as they come up, they can expand their vocabulary and improve reading comprehension. But if they are unwilling to look up the meaning of a new word and they continue reading without knowing the meaning, they will hurt their reading comprehension.
Finally, if children know they’re not understanding what they’re reading, they may need to consciously slow down as they read or even start reading aloud. Reading aloud is usually a performance skill and should always be preceded by silent reading. However, it’s helpful for some children who need a tactile experience with information to read aloud when they’re not understanding by reading silently. Reading aloud is slower by nature and requires children to take time with each word. But remember that reading aloud for comprehension isn’t about performance. It does give you a chance to correct pronunciation, but that’s not the goal.
After Reading: Demonstration
The reading process doesn’t end when you finish reading. After reading is an opportunity for children to demonstrate how well they comprehended what they read.
In after reading sections of BJU Press video lessons and textbooks, we’ll ask basic reading comprehension questions and require children to analyze and evaluate what they read. The reading comprehension questions are a simple diagnostic tool. They tell you whether your children read the story or selection, and they tell you if they understood what they were reading on a surface level. They usually ask about events in a story or about simple kinds of information in the selection. But true comprehension should go deeper. Children need to also be able to think about what they read. That’s where analysis and evaluation come in.
Analysis requires children to connect what they’ve read to what they’re learning about in other areas. Evaluation requires them to ascribe value to what they read. This is their opportunity to connect different areas of learning and to talk about how they think about and perceive things. It’s also an opportunity to help them think biblically about the events of a story, the actions of the characters, and the morality being presented. Taking time to analyze and evaluate what they read allows children to respond to what something made them think or how something made them feel. Most academic studies don’t include space for giving an emotional response. However, it’s a very important part of emotional health and development.
The reading strategies we use after reading include rereading, retelling, summarizing, and making inferences. Analysis and evaluation aren’t usually things that children can do after a single reading. The reading strategies we encourage after reading get children to take a second look. Rereading, obviously, requires them to go back to a section of the story or selection and read it over again. Retelling or summarizing is another way for them to re-experience the reading. Children will need to use these strategies to accurately explain how the story or selection made them feel or to support their analysis. Finally, when working with a selection that may take multiple days, you may want to use inferences to help children anticipate what might happen next and to build interest and excitement in the lesson.
Want to learn more about our program and approach? Check out these posts!