Q: My daughter, Darien, is finishing second grade. Her teacher wants her to work on reading comprehension this summer. We read together every night. Does that help?
A: All reading helps a child. But many need explicit instruction to boost their understanding, says Mary Rosenberg, a master teacher in the Fresno (Calif.) Unified School District. Parents can help a lot by doing just a little skill building every day.
In "Read and Succeed: Comprehension" (Shell Educational Publishing Inc.), a graded series she has contributed to, Rosenberg outlines comprehension-building strategies you can use with short texts that match Darien's reading level. Ask her teacher or librarian for recommendations, or find appropriate texts in children's magazines such as National Geographic Kids, Scholastic News, Ranger Rick and their websites. Although they are designed for classrooms, parents like Rosenberg's lessons because they come with selected content, saving you from hunting down the reading material.
What are key comprehension skills?
-- Previewing, predicting, making mental images and tapping prior knowledge orient a reader to what she already knows about the topic. Look at the title and pictures. Ask Darien what the topic is. Can she predict what will happen from the title or illustrations? If the story is about a starfish, can she relate something she already knows to it, such as a trip to the shore or a documentary on sea life? Good readers link new text to something they already know.
-- Ask questions and make connections. Discuss "who, what, when, where, why and how" to help Darien focus on important details. For example, if she reads an article about world holidays, ask her how celebrations are alike and different. Ask her to talk about her favorite holiday.
-- Setting, plot and characters are important comprehension tools to ask her about. Where does the story take place? What happens first? Next? What do the people say and do?
-- Look for comprehension clues in titles, headings, typeface, captions and graphics. Pictures, drawings and charts help kids remember what they've read, says Rosenberg. Show her how publications give content hints in graphic design and typography. Captions and call-outs often summarize a story.
-- Ask Darien to sum up the main idea and then give a couple of details after reading a short passage. Most texts have a time order: Can she relate the sequence of events? How-to texts such as recipes have a logical order. Have her point these out.
-- Discuss cause and effect, (why something happened) to explain the gist of a story. Have her compare and contrast story elements to remember what's the same and different. Ask her to retell a story in her own words to reinforce understanding. Can she guess the author's purpose? Is it to inform, entertain, persuade or make a reader feel a certain way? Don't overlook a nonfiction book's table of contents, index and glossary.
"If she masters some of these, she'll have a set of comprehension tools to use her whole life," says Rosenberg.
Tackle one or two at a time. Stop the minute it's no longer fun! Never destroy the joy of reading together.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)