Effective Comprehension Strategies For Struggling Readers

reading comprehension strategies for struggling readers

If you have a child or students who struggles with reading comprehension, there are a number of reasons why this is happening.

These include:

  • weak decoding due to poor phonological awareness skills that have compounded over the years and impacted a child’s ability to make meaning of text
  • weak fluency skills
  • poor vocabulary development due to a language-based reading disability 
  • learning English as a second language 
  • a student who may have memorized a large bank of words in the early years as a compensatory strategy, instead of actually learning to decode effectively, so when text complexity increases, old memorization tricks no longer work
  • a child who may decode beautifully, but cannot comprehend a word they just read or even give you a simple retelling. Admittedly, this has probably been the TOUGHEST scenario as a teacher for me to remediate. Not impossible, just tricky.
  • a student who may be a very literal thinker due to a lower IQ or ASD
Let me begin by making three points about remediating reading comprehension and reading interventions.
  1. This is NOT an impossible task. It just might take longer for some kids.
  2. Methods like Orton-Gillingham DO help reading comprehension because most of the time, a child who cannot decode is not going to be able to comprehend independently within a text when left to their own devices. O-G lessons explicitly teach phonological awareness, orthography, syntax, semantics, and morphology. These areas of critical literacy help a child build a foundation and gain traction when reading and comprehending. Comprehension is NOT forgotten when this reading intervention is put in place, contrary to what some educators may think. 
  3. Reading is SO much more than simply making meaning of the text on the page. If you want to dive deeper into the science of reading, here are two books I strongly suggest: Reading At The Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg and Reading In The Brain by Stanislas Dehaene. 

So the BIG questions here are…

  1. What are the reading comprehension strategies we as teachers should focus on the most?
  2. How can we address those strategies with readers who struggle to comprehend text?
Let’s address the first question. 
I tell my students that a strategy is a plan to do something well.  When we read, we need a plan to help us make sense of the text. Starting the school year by explicitly teaching the most effective comprehension strategies by modeling and practicing them will help children learn to employ them when they read independently all year long. Many children are not aware that good readers use reading strategies, so this is good teaching for everyone. 
Some effective comprehension strategies we should be explicitly teaching are:
  • Visualization
  • Asking Questions
  • Accessing Prior Knowledge 
  • Summarization
  • Self-Monitoring
  • Story/Text Structure Analysis
  • Synthesis
How can we address these comprehension strategies with our struggling readers? 
  • Small group teaching
  • Manageable text where they can practice decoding skills easily while working on comprehension in tandem with one another
  • Model and scaffold each strategy, but be sure to gradually release the responsibility onto the student or else they will not use them independently, which is the goal after all. Even struggling readers can do this. They just need appropriate text in front of them. 
  • Use graphic organizers. Let’s chat about the problem I see with using graphic organizers for just a minute. Guess what? There are A TON of graphic organizers out there. There are too many to choose from to be honest. The purpose of a G.O. is to create a visual map of the learning by taking notes. This visual serves as way to help children create, hopefully, that map in their brains to organize their learning. When a teacher uses TOO MANY different kinds of graphic organizers with his or her class, the students never truly take ownership over any the G.O.s they’ve been asked to use. They just become a mish mash and lose their value. SO! I am pleading with you, teachers. Choose a SMALL collection of the SAME graphic organizers that specifically match a skill or strategy to use all year. If you are teaching the comprehension skill, compare and contrast, you will use good old Venn diagram or T-chart. Choose them and teach your children to use them well. Less is more. Trust me.
If you are seeking a program which will address the reading comprehension needs of your struggling readers, while still giving them to opportunity to work on decoding using a multisensory approach, which if you know me by now is WHERE IT’S AT, people, I’d love to give a shout out to Connect to Comprehension. Lynn Givens, the author of this program is a friend and long time educator. Lynn is O-G trained and has worked with the Florida Center for Reading Research, which we all know is a virtual GOLDMINE for teachers of reading.
I do not endorse very many products on my blog, as you know. But this is a quality resource if you are seeking to support your struggling readers in a systematic and meaningful way either in the classroom, pull out intervention or tutoring sessions. 
Connect to Comprehension offers sets of leveled scripted lessons to use in conjunction with High Noon Chapter Books. You will need to purchase the High Noon Sound Out Chapter Books levels A-F (these are NOT Fountas and Pinnell levels, BTW) separately in order to use the program. Essential comprehension strategies and skills are taught to align with each book. This is a program to be used daily with students in small groups or a few times a week as time allows with small group or 1:1. 
Assessment tools are included to find out what skill level of High Noon Chapter books to use with your student. Then, follow the script for each chapter of the book. The nice thing about High Noon Readers is they do NOT look babyish. If you have older students who really need books with easy readability, but high interest text, this is a great match for them. 
You’ll find before, during and reading activities included in the script along with fluency strips, vocabulary cards, low-prep phonics games and writing opportunities for each chapter. 

Does this program seem like it will be a good match for your students?
If you are seeking a structured literacy program that will scaffold and support  truly believe it is. Lynn is generously offering my readers a fantastic DEAL.  

Are you ready for it?
When you purchase Connect to Comprehension, use code: LN2018 at checkout to receive 15% off your kit and an additional 15% off phonics games on the site! This offer is valid until June 30, 2018. In addition, Lynn offers training for all users and has a Facebook group for anyone who has questions or needs to discuss a certain aspect of the program. If you are interested in her Connect to Comprehension training course, here is the link.

reading comprehension strategies for struggling readers
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Let’s continue to work towards providing a structured literacy approach for all kinds of readers in our classrooms. Have you tried Connect to Comprehension? I’d love to hear how it’s working out for you and your students! 
1 reply
  1. Diane
    Diane says:

    When I have worked with 5-8 graders who struggle, I do make sure they know how to decode words, but I quickly make sure that they are listening to good literature at or above their reading level. We need to get them hooked on the story. The library is a good source. Reading for them is difficult so they don't care about the story, but get them hooked on a good book and they will want to wrestle through it. The new Read Loud Family is a great resource and her podcasts are amazing. Sarah MacKezie.

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