Reading Comprehension—The Ultimate Goal

Among the fine reading comprehension studies and literature is information gathered by an initiative for the National Institute for Literacy. About reading comprehension, they state, “For most of us, silent reading comprehension is what we mean when we talk about a person's reading ability. It is the end result of the reading process and is what happens when all of the components interact successfully.” Here is a brief overview of some basic reading comprehension concepts.

Reading Comprehension Problems
The reading comprehension study speaks of reading problems that have not been corrected in childhood: “...Although [adults with reading comprehension challenges] may be able to perform simple comprehension tasks such as recalling ideas from simple stories and locating a single piece of information in a simple text, they are often unable to combine (integrate and synthesize) information from longer or more complex texts.”

Reading Comprehension Components Include:

  • word analysis (phonemic awareness, phonics)

  • word recognition

  • fluency

  • word meaning

  • background knowledge

A deficiency in any one of these areas will impede reading comprehension.

Begin Reading Comprehension at the Right Time
According to the study, explicit reading comprehension strategies (as opposed to “incidental” reading comprehension instruction) should begin when a learner has acquired sufficient word recognition mastery, usually no sooner than low intermediate level, GE 3. Beginning readers are focused on word analysis and recognition within simple text that does not require strategies for understanding. How to Improve Reading Comprehension To increase reading comprehension levels, the study suggests using challenging and adult-oriented words for sound-to-symbol word recognition instruction, [as well as for vocabulary enrichment]. Improving word recognition skill improves comprehension. Easy words are often sight words but challenging words require the reader to analyze a word. The study draws this conclusion: "The use of more challenging words appears to lead to a faster rate of growth in reading comprehension."

The Goal of Instruction--To Increase Reading Comprehension
Researchers have found high correlations between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension.

  • To understand the meaning of sentences and paragraphs, learners have to be fluent readers.

  • Hesitations caused by needing to “decode” unfamiliar words tends to interrupt the flow of the author's intended meaning.

  • Fluent reading requires that word recognition ability be “automatic” for the particular reading level being understood.

  • Those who have well-developed reading comprehension skills get information independently and accurately from text; they remember, evaluate, and adapt what they read.