Q: Our son Liam's teacher suggested we work on reading comprehension skills this summer. He starts third grade this fall. We're reading daily. Is that enough?
A: As you read together, you can do simple things to boost Liam's ability to understand ever-more complex texts.
Comprehension skills are "the essential tools that children need to actively engage with content, construct meaning and grow their understanding of big ideas in the world," says reading expert Debbie Miller, author of "Reading With Meaning" (Stenhouse, 2012).
Until recently, reading was taught as a progression of five skills: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Today, comprehension is front and center, especially within the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
"CCSS emphasizes higher-level comprehension work, even for our youngest readers," says Miller.
Kids with strong comprehension skills connect new information to what they already know. They determine and remember key points in a passage. They use text clues to guess new words. They synthesize information to gain new knowledge. They also distinguish fiction from nonfiction.
The academic nonprofit Urban Education Exchange lists 21 strategies in its Concepts of Comprehension framework. By reading with Liam, you have a perfect opportunity to teach some of these before school starts:
-- Find explicit information. After reading, ask Liam questions about information in the text. Have him show you where it's located.
-- Be able to tell fiction from nonfiction. Reading and discussing paired books on a common theme can help Liam learn the difference. For example, if you've read a "Star Wars" book, follow it up with Brian Floca's gripping true story of "Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11" (Atheneum, 2009). You can find paired books that match up Liam's interests at your library or online.
-- Make predictions. Discuss a story's title and ask Liam to guess what it might be about and to explain his reasons. Stop occasionally to ask him to predict what will happen next and why.
-- Describe the setting. In other words, have Liam tell you where and when the story takes place.
-- Determine the main idea. The "big idea" can be in a title, the opening passages or even the last sentence. Have Liam make note of words that are repeated. At the end of the story, have him summarize the main idea.
-- Determine the story's sequence. Most books for young readers have a clear beginning, middle and end. As you read, discuss its sequence. Use a graphic organizer if you find it helpful.
-- Find clues to new words. Help Liam look for context clues. For example, words such as is, are, was, were, like, including, known as, meaning, or called provide clues.
For example, in this sentence, "Several African nations, including Gabon, Uganda and Kenya, are on the Equator," the word "including" gives readers clues as to what are the three nations.
-- Learn how to read the different parts of text features. Especially important in nonfiction reading are headlines, graphic devices and pictures that help organize information. Find articles in magazines, newspapers or online news sites. Point out headlines, sidebars, photographs, captions, graphs and other features that would help a reader understand the story.
-- Finally, make it fun! Weave these strategies into your reading time in a conversational manner so that it never seems like a drill. Keeping Liam interested, curious and eager to read should be your main goals this summer.
(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.)