How You Can Increase Reading Comprehension
Oct 19, 2010 Reading 2979 Views
Reading is about engaging. Reading is about meaning. It's about symbols. In order to interpret those symbols and engage in the material at hand, we have to understand what we are reading, and this is where some students find difficulty. Comprehension, true awareness of the written word and all of its implications, is the goal, not just watching the words go by on the page.
To increase our comprehension we have to remember that words, at their very core, are symbolic. Every written word is actually a symbol of something else. Yet, when we read, we think only about the sounds and the letters, not the meanings. Students feel accomplished when the complete the reading assignment, but if they have failed to interact on the symbolic level with those words, then they have done nothing more than exercise the movement of their eye muscles.
Comprehension is increased when we look at the symbols and evaluate their impact. To do this, we have to experience the words. There are several ways to do this, but it begins at the sensory level. When we read, we need to reflect on what the reading makes us feel or hear. We need to imagine the sounds of what we are reading about, the colors of what we see in our mind's eye. Some subjects will lend themselves more easily to this method of reading, but if students can get into the regular habit of assessing their reading from their senses first, they will be well on their way to increasing their comprehension. The more they practice this technique in the "obvious" subject areas such as science and history, the easier it will be to adapt this to things like math.
This is because we remember what we have experienced. Those things that connect to our vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell will be identifiable in our memory banks for a long time. Wherever you are while you are reading this, I want to illustrate what I mean. Right where you are, imagine the sound of a lawnmower, the smell of the freshly cut grass, and the feel of walking barefoot across the cool blades of grass in the shade. Each of those word-symbols can easily be understood because you have experienced them. Reading is no different. Comprehension increases when we begin from the experiential, or sensory level, and attempt to connect to the symbols on the page from that perspective.
In subject areas where this does not seem as clearly possible, imagine the sensory experiences around you while you are reading the material. Or, tap into the experiential and sensory experiences of the book itself, the classroom, etc. By acknowledging what we are sensing while doing the reading, we can connect the more abstract subjects to our senses, thus creating the input we need to remember and understand what we are reading.
This skill takes practice doing. It isn't difficult to regularly ask, "What do I hear? What do I see in my mind? What can I touch? What would this taste like? Does this smell a certain way?" However, we don't often think to do this while we are reading. If students can get into this regular habit, believe it or not, their comprehension will increase because they will be engaging with the words in a symbolic way, not just as letters and sounds. This type of attention to their reading will form lasting impressions of any topic in the same way that freshly baked, oozy-gooey chocolate chip cookies, right out of the oven, will do.