In order for students to comprehend material, a variety of factors must be intact. First and foremost, students need to be able to read and understand 90-95% of the material on any given page for that information to make sense. Considering this factor, vocabulary knowledge is an essential component of comprehension. Also, background knowledge is crucial for students to be able to engage with the text. For accurate comprehension, students need to be able to connect new information with prior knowledge. Furthermore, students must also understand the structure of language, including syntax, which is the rules that guide word order, and figures of speech. Finally, metacognition is an important aspect of improving reading comprehension skills because students need to reflect on and engage with their reading in a way that allows them to make meaningful adjustments to support their understanding.
In addition to asking students a variety of different types of questions to determine how well they understood an independent reading assignment, educators can also observe several skills in action to assess student comprehension. Visualizing, or making a movie in the brain, is a key component of comprehension. If a student cannot visualize what they are reading, they will likely not understand it. With visualization intact, students should be able to identify topics, main ideas, and details. These skills indicate an ability to isolate the most relevant information. Using these main ideas and details, students should be able to write accurate summaries that include all relevant main points of what they read. If students have difficulty summarizing, it is possible that they are having difficulty comprehending the material. An underlying skill in identifying main ideas and summarizing is the ability to paraphrase, or put information into their own words. Students who have strong paraphrasing skills likely have strong comprehension because they have understood the material well enough to explain it in their own words.
Students build comprehension and demonstrate skills associated with comprehension when they are provided with accurate and appropriate models, which is Landmark’s fifth Teaching Principle™. During reading activities, it is essential that educators model the thought process of engaging with the text. These “Think Alouds” will allow students to observe the comprehension process, reflect on the strategies, and then attempt to apply those same skills independently. For the full text of the Landmark Teaching Principles™, including “Provide Models,” click here.