Striving Toward Comprehension

Originally posted on September 26, 2017, by Lana Stein, former LCA teacher

Our country faces a literacy crisis. In order to ensure that US students graduate high school equipped to find post-secondary and career success, it is essential that our students leave school seasoned readers, writers, speakers, and listeners. Expert educator and author Jim Burke cites a report by the Conference Board on ‘basic knowledge and applied skills’ for the twenty-first century workforce. Titled Are They Really Ready to Work?, the report discusses how students enter the US workplace and struggle to perform the critical thinking, collaborative, and communication tasks expected of them. Moreover, Burke shows evidence that in the decade ahead, “approximately 85 percent of newly created U.S. jobs will require education beyond high school” (Burke, 2013, pg. 3). This means that for students to prosper later, they must acquire the college-level oral and written proficiency.

Strong reading comprehension offers each of us independent access to new ideas and insight into how we might clearly and compellingly pass on our own ideas to others. At Louisville Classical Academy, teachers across subject areas support students as they learn to read and communicate effectively. In our classrooms, teachers practice active reading strategies with students so that they learn how to independently employ these strategies later on, further developing the higher-order thinking necessary to unpack complex information.

Research has shown that the strategies associated with the close-reading technique that we use at LCA are effective for dramatically improving reading comprehension. In our classrooms, before students read, they first make predictions about what they might encounter in their reading, discussing with classmates any connections they can draw between a topic and their past experiences. Teachers then show students how to monitor their own understanding of vocabulary as they read, employing fix-up strategies to infer meaning in context as necessary. Students also learn how to identify the most important information in a reading passage, observing how supporting details focus our attention back to main ideas. Finally, students are asked to generate questions and answers based on the information they encountered as they read.

There are many things that families can do to ensure their children's reading comprehension growth. Some key recommendations from literacy specialists include making reading a regular activity at home, perhaps setting aside a half-hour each night for quiet reading; asking questions about what your children are reading and also discussing what real-life connections they are drawing to the content; carving out time to listen to your children read aloud, oral reading having been shown to dramatically improve fluency; and writing together whenever possible, whether that means notes back and forth or letters to family members and friends. 

A positive attitude toward reading is shown to correlate directly with reading achievement: the more children read, the better readers they become. Spark your children's interest in reading by helping them find books that address topics of personal interest. Ask your local librarian, your children's teachers, and education communities for recommendations.