Reading, as defined by Noah Webster, includes both the process of decoding and understanding. Many programs stop once the child can decode fluently. While this is an important step, a child is not truly reading unless he also understands what he has read. I try to model my teaching in such a way as to promote the habits that good readers use. I define each skill, teach them explicitly and provide opportunity to practice each skill. From readingonline.org:
One of the most important habits of a good reader is that he monitors his own understanding. He continually asks himself the big questions…who, what, where, when, how and why. When comprehension breaks down, whether due to to the complexity of the text, misreading or some distraction, the good reader notices that he isn’t getting the story anymore. He stops, backs up and rereads the sentence or passage until he discovers what he missed.
Poor readers treat each word as an end in itself. They leap from word to word, like a man leaping across stepping stones. Once they finish a word, it is forgotten as they leap to the next one. There is little or no comprehension and they do not realize they are not comprehending the story because they are only trying to decode, not understand. Increasing decoding skills does not always solve the problem. In fact, without some level of comprehension, a child’s ability to decode is hampered.
Reciprocal reading is one instructional strategy which teaches the skills good readers use explicilty and provides opportunity for practice. Children are paired. Each has his own copy of the book. Modifcations to this can obviously be made. The book chosen should be one that the lower reader can read independently.
The less skilled reader typically begins and reads one page of the text. Any words or phrases that aren’t understood are discussed and the dictionary may be used to clarify meaning (if necessary…I never choose books that are going to cause that kind of difficulty for these exercises so we just skip to the next part. It might be more relavent for older students.) The more skilled reader then asks any question which can be answered by the text, beginning with simple comprehension questions but not forgetting those requiring higher order thinking. Asking the child what he thinks will happen next and why he thinks certain things happened are the two easiest. The purpose of the more skilled reader being first to ask questions is to give the less skilled reader a model of what kinds of questions to ask when it is his turn.
Then switch roles. Continue until the book has been read.
This gives a child direct practice forming and answering the kinds of questions that a good reader tracks in his own silent reading. And it is way more interesting and productive than filling out all those comprehension worksheets, which often seem designed to test weakness rather than strengthen skills. Such worksheet practice also does not develop the habit of questioning which is the skill being targeted. A worksheet only demonstrates that the child has not comprehended the text, it does not teach him to engage with it in such a way as to improve comprehension.