Weak reading comprehension
I have a student who is in first grade and reads at a high grade 3.5 level . While his level is 3.5, the comprehension is next to nothing. Is there some way to still push his reading forward yet address his comprehension issue. My coworkers believe that I should not push him on in his reading level. They said the focus should be on comp. I believe it should be both. I would like to have him continue reading at the level he is challenged at, while addressing his comprehension with books he is familiar with, like Dr. Suess, and ask questions at that level. What do you think?
You and your coworkers both make good points. A student who can decode well but has little understanding of what he reads may become a good “word caller” but not a proficient reader. At the same time, you need to build on current strengths and what is for this child a success.
I think you’re on the right track, for several reasons. Everyone needs to feel that they are progressing and students often pay close attention to which level they are reading. So, he could continue to practice his good decoding skills at a challenging level. A key component of good comprehension is fluency; those children who struggle and stumble over decoding words often lose the meaning of what they are reading because it’s taken them so long to decipher the passage. If your student can decode with ease, that will help his fluency.
When he reads orally to you, does he pay attention to punctuation marks? Pointing out to him the purpose of commas, periods and question marks can help guide him towards getting more meaning out of what he reads.
Since people with Asperger’s and autism tend to be literal and concrete, many such children prefer nonfiction to fiction reading material. Nonfiction is more straight forward and doesn’t require understanding characters’ emotions or motivations. You might want to work on first building comprehension for nonfiction readings.
At what level of comprehension is he in other areas, such as when you are having class discussions? Is he at the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy (http://www.coun.uvic.ca/learn/program/hndouts/bloom.html), able to answer rote questions about who did what or is able to point out patterns, analyse, synthesize, predict and play with the information? It may be easier for this child to tackle such higher order thinking on subjects that keenly interest him rather on topics foreign or those with which he has little personal connection. You might want to increase his skills at responding to such material orally before you ask him to work independently in writing.
Does he like Dr. Suess? Although entertaining for most children, not all may be able to get past the playing with words and unusual language constructions the rhyming forces. He may not relate easily because people don’t speak the way many of Suess’ characters talk. If he enjoys Suess, then that would be a good place to begin building his comprehension skills, especially with the easier books. If the nonsense appeals to him, he might also enjoy Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1552633381/002- 1206790-9012042?v=glance) or the Amelia Bedelia series (http://www.harperchildrens.com/hch/fiction/featuresarchive/amelia /index.asp).
Most good readers make movies or pictures in their minds as they read. I wonder if your student does. Since most people with autism spectrum disorders are stronger visually, no matter how verbal they appear he may be better able to make connections to what he reads using visual strategies. A program that guides you in teaching this skill is Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking® by Nanci Bell. (http://www.ganderpublishing.com/vv.htm)
Some kids with Asperger’s appear highly verbal, especially in their areas of interest, yet can have weak language skills. Perhaps he’d be able to demonstrate his understanding to you if he didn’t have to use solely his oral or written language skills. Does he like to draw? Could he make a picture depicting what happened on that page of the story? Rather than printing answers to questions, could he fill out a concept map? The University of Kansas has a series of Strategic Instruction Modules that use visual methods for a teacher to present information and for students to record what they are learning (http://www.ku-crl.org/iei/sim/ceroutines.html).
Learning strategies that work is key for capable students with autism spectrum disorders. If your child could understand that all stories follow a pattern, he may find fiction less incomprehensible. He could with a story grammar approach, dividing his page into four boxes. One box would have the heading Setting and he’s print there where and when the story took place. A second box could be labeled Characters and there he’d identify the main character and one or a couple helper characters. The third box might be labeled Problem and here he’d either describe the problem of that story or chapter or draw a picture showing the problem. The fourth box could be titled, What Will Happen Next? Again, he could respond in words or with a picture. This could be a whole class or small group, rather than an independent exercise to begin with while he’s developing the skills.
If he enjoys using a computer, there are many sites with either free software downloads or 30 day trial downloads of programs that help you state and organize your ideas visually. Here are just a few: http://www.smartdraw.com/specials/mindmapping.asp?id=13054
Metacognition is a crucial part of successful reading. We often take it for granted that students are intuitively picking up these skills since they are so much apart of us as adult, good readers. Social skills and language pragmatics are things many kids with autism and Asperger’s do not learn automatically or with ease. (They share this weakness with many children with learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome and other such neurological disorders). Metacognition involves thinking about how we think. If you don’t stop to reflect while you’re reading, little of what you read sticks in your mind. If you’re not processing the material as you read, you tend to carry right on when you misread because the glaring discord of nonsensical words doesn’t penetrate. It’s harder to maintain interest and to store the material in your mind if you don’t make connections to what you’re reading. Here’s a metacognitive checklist that can help guide children in the reading process: http://www.gyrus.nu/Learning_Skills/Reading/Metacognition/Metac ognitive.html.
Metacognitive skills need to be modelled and practiced. It’s OK while reading aloud to a class to stop yourself and say, “That didn’t make sense. I’d better read that sentence again.” After rereading the passage, continue with, “Oh, yes. Now I get it. That’s talking about…. I remember when… That makes me think about…” It’s useful for kids to hear the kinds of self-talk we use inside our heads to help us make meaning of what we’re reading.
I hope these are a few ideas you can use with your student.
Sharon A. Mitchell