Debra Fenton: My name’s Debra Fenton. I’m a Speech Language Pathologist in Denver, Colorado. I own a pediatric therapy practice called Lowry Speech and Occupational Therapy. I am here today with our Clinical Director Erin Heighway to talk about reading comprehension difficulties.
Erin Heighway: Hi Deb. Reading comprehension is something that a lot of kiddos struggle with and it can be caused by two different things. Do you want to talk a little bit about how poor reading fluency can impact reading comprehension?
Debra Fenton: Sure. So sometimes we have students that read slower than their peers and while they may be reading pretty accurately, the slow speed does interfere with their reading comprehension. And it’s not because they don’t understand the language. They may have very high language skills but the slow rate really kind of impacts their working memory. Each student, well all of us, only have limited space in our working memory. When we’re reading at a much slower pace, we’re only allowed to keep information in short-term memory for a set period of time. So a slower reader tends to lose some of that information as they’re reading because they just can’t retain it. It’s time-sensitive information. So as they’re reading they start to lose meaning because their speed is not fast enough to keep up.
Erin Heighway: Absolutely. You know on the other hand there are times when a student does have weaker language skills. When it occurs in conversational language skills, that can get noticed more easily. But oftentimes it’s more on higher level language skills. So those are the kind of skills that become really academically relevant around 3rd grade. As students are being presented with longer texts and more complicated texts about things they don’t have background knowledge with, they’re really not able to understand what they’re reading.
Debra Fenton: That’s right Erin. A lot of the kids that we see for reading comprehension difficulties come to us a little bit later. As Erin mentioned, typically around 3rd or 4th grade they start to struggle more in their academic setting. While in just general settings and conversation they may have no difficulty at all but really when it gets to the higher level academic information, that’s when they start to break down. Some of these language skills we refer to as higher level language skills. That’s really the student’s ability to take information in, to make predictions, and make inferences and maybe interpret figurative language or ambiguous language. Some students just tend to be a little bit more concrete and literal and have a harder time interpreting some of those kinds of higher level language skills.
Erin Heighway: So when we have concerns about reading comprehension, we really have to look at both pieces of the puzzle. We look at those underlying higher level language skills and find out if those are an area of weakness or if it falls more into the reading/decoding /fluency area.
Debra Fenton: I guess some of the parents that call in might be wondering, “How would I know if my child is having difficulty with reading comprehension?” And sometimes that can be hard to tease out because it may appear that the child is really not enjoying the reading process or they’re avoiding reading. But some of the things to look for are avoidance behaviors, if they’re having difficulty being able to paraphrase or retell what they’ve read, if they’re having difficulty answering questions or providing details or the main idea. Those will be the kind of clues that the child is probably not getting enough meaning as they read and so it really becomes difficult for them to respond to those types of questions.
Erin Heighway: That’s really the ultimate goal of reading, comprehension. Without comprehension, what is reading?
Debra Fenton: So it’s not surprising that if a child is avoiding reading that sometimes that comprehension piece is just not where it needs to be. Reading is not enjoyable- they’re just not getting enough meaning and so it’s just not a pleasurable task for them. A lot of times these types of students have a lot of difficulty with homework, it takes a very long time and a lot of parents or teachers even may assume that it’s just related to lack of interest or lack of motivation or behavioral problems. But it’s a really good idea to take a look under the hood and see what’s going on and what’s causing some of those avoidance behaviors because targeted support can make a huge difference for that child academically and also for their self-esteem moving forward.
Erin Heighway: So if your child is having trouble with reading comprehension or starting to show a lack of interest in reading, please give us a call and we can help figure out the best plan. 303-360-0727.