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Comprehension

When a child is able to understand and obtain information from the text he is reading, it forms a part of what is known as comprehension. Essentially every child has to build meaning from the words that they encounter. There is no single best approach that can be used to build meaning from the written text and each child will eventually develop a best use strategy for his or her own use.

For a child to be able to have good comprehension, the child should first be able to reach a threshold of competence in words recognition, meaning, and factual recall of text. Once this is achieved, the reader will be able to engage in what is known as inferential or evaluative understanding of the written material that is in front of them.

What is the primary purpose of reaching a competent level of text comprehension for a child? The answer to this in the academic context would be the ability to represent information and understanding in writing in an intelligent and articulate manner so that a students understanding of the text read is expressed in a clear and concise way.

Text comprehension requires differing levels of cognitive processing as well as categorization in our minds so that when faced with a demand-based information-seeing question, the children can use their processing ability to explicitly state their understanding in a lucid and concise form.

When a child is required to provide information that was read and stated explicitly in his curriculum it forms the basis of what is known as literal questions. When the child is required to access his background information knowledge in conjunction with his understanding of the text he has read it is categorized as inferential questioning.

Evaluative questions expect the child to make critical judgments of the text, while requiring her to take into consideration her own ideas and values as well as experiences along with those of characters in the chapter when she has read the text and understood it.

Every child goes through a systematic and progressive methodology of reading for meaning and eventually develops the cognitive ability to assimilate written material for knowledge retention and expression.

The first level of comprehension, known as literal comprehension, occurs when while using text explicit information the child is able to extract meaning from what he is reading. Functioning at this stage the child can decode words and by using his knowledge of those words and their meanings, can understand what the writer of the text is trying to communicate.

This level or stage of comprehension is the easiest because it requires the child to access information that is directly stated in the text, and because of the minimal requirements imposed on the child; it is typically the first type of comprehension exercise introduced in the academic set up or in learning to read programme. Once a child has achieved control over this stage and is able to extract the meaning from text presented to him, he is required to move to more complex skills to continue to see growth in performance.

Subsequently as the child progresses in the school and moves up, she has to interact more with the text, and step up to next level of comprehension which is known as inferential comprehension ability. For inferential comprehension to be successful, the child is required to do more than simply recognize what has been written on the page by reading between the lines to infer what the intended meaning of the text is and to try to understand what the material actually means. How well developed is the ability to read with focus - is important here, as the child has to recognize and understand the relationships that exist among objects, events, or characters in the text.

This is crucial, as the child has to make appropriate inferences, in a situation where the relationships are often not specified and require the attention of the child to discover meaning. For a student to make inferences also requires her to engage in a greater manipulation of the text by examining the relationships among the structural elements of the text, such as the main ideas and details, so that she can draw conclusions about the intended meaning of the written text.

Evaluative comprehension evolves as we enter senior school and is an extension of the entire skill set and the process that are required for the previous two levels of reading comprehension – literal and inferential comprehension. When a student reaches this stage she can take into account a clear understanding of what the writer of the text is attempting to communicate and has written (literal comprehension) and what was meant by the content that the writer wrote (inferential comprehension) and applies those understandings of the text to her expertise in writing for her exams or to a theoretical expertise like penning down her impression of the text.

At the evaluative level, students examine some of the relationships produced at the inferential level and juxtapose them to their own previous knowledge, experiences, or understanding to represent their body of knowledge in the assessment and examination process. If a student or a child has progressed smoothly over the three levels then he or she can begin to make an explicit link between the text that they read and the larger world. New ideas are created and these can extend beyond those what a student may possess and incorporate the student’s own ideas and experiences.


This stage of comprehension involves divergent thinking (beyond that which appears in the text) and requires students to analyze, synthesize, apply, and evaluate the relevance of textual elements as they interpret the significance of what they are reading.

Students who have understand the nuances of reading comprehension are able to develop their reading for learning skills that explicitly help these students make connections from the literal stage to the evaluative stage.

A basic tenet of standards-based education is that providing schools with clear content and performance standards, broken out by grade level, will help improve learning for children in schools. Most schools have developed standards that students are expected to meet as they move through the grades and have implemented large-scale assessments aligned with their content standards as part of their accountability programs. In many ways, these content standards become concrete operationalizations of different levels of comprehension. Performance that meets a school’s criteria in each of the assessment objectives the tests are designed to measure is considered evidence that students are learning the content appropriately. Although there is variety in the specific language of reading standards from one state to another, most school content standards include specific goals around reading literature.

For any student reading comprehension can be said to be the application of a skill set that has evolved over time and within a time frame from K to XII that allows him to use conscious and deliberate intervention to apply his cognitive process to acquire knowledge from written text in a fluent and uninterrupted manner.

To comprehend in an uninterrupted manner the child has to have the ability to decode words correctly for skilled reading to happen; and if a student has poor decoding ability or a poor oral comprehension ability then she or he can turn out to be poor comprehender of what he is reading.

Decoding words that are present in our textbooks or word reading is often the bottleneck that prevents readers from attaining higher adequate text comprehension. There are two important factors beyond decoding and listening comprehension - fluency and strategies. Fluency (speed and expression) is not an issue in listening, as when a child speaks she controls the pace, but fluency, which is manifested by speed and expression, is needed for reading comprehension because of working memory constraints.

For the child to become a skilled reader he or she has to extract more from text than they would from speech, and some of that comes from more strategic, goal-directed, deliberate processing. Having a goal-oriented plan that can call on tactics, which can vary from underlining long words to creating a mental image of the text.

Whether a child uses a fruitful and purposeful strategy also depends to a large extent on her having learnt how to use content and strategies with clear intention.

Comprehension is so crucial in academics that it may be considered to be the core of verbal ability or intelligence. Comprehension involves relating of pieces of information so that meaning can be derived from it. Some specific chunks of information come from long-term memory (prior knowledge), since a child reads his textbook - at least one chunk of information has to come from the text that is being attended to. The chunks of information can be simple or quite complex ideas, ranging from ‘bat’ to ‘advanced’ as a chunk of information needed at that point of time to understand what is being read with clarity.

When trying to relate information - this concept of relating can express itself in a number of ways depending upon the subject that the child is reading and attempting to grasp. Such as ‘the sum of the factors is’ or ‘behaves in a certain way’ if she is reading for mathematics or chemistry. The information that is to be integrated is held in the working memory of the child

As a child progresses to read he updates his mental representation of the text’s meaning and creates a mental representations.

As a child processes information being read her cognitive process is integrating the lower-level units (words or parts of words) into higher-level units in the brain.

This is significant as being able to comprehend material accurately relies upon higher-level, more abstract or schematic information. We use our long-term memory to store abstract information and this stored memory functions like a generalized mental model for future purposes.

If a student has developed a store of rich knowledge a word such as ‘advanced’ evokes and brings to life many ideas without taking up additional working memory space; for a child who has not managed to accumulate enough relevant knowledge, the word itself may take up so much space that no additional information is being brought along for free.

Comprehension is enhanced when the contents of working memory are higher-level units; children struggling to identify words are unlikely to be able to attain even modest levels of comprehension. When lower-level units are recognized automatically, there is a greater chance of higher levels being attained. It is critical to build up the automaticity of the lower-level units (e.g., words).

Different types or levels of comprehension have to be appreciated and understood. A child can be involved in passive comprehension (what we do when we are following a text but not analyzing or assessing it deeply), comprehension for learning (what we do when we try to remember the details and/or deeper meanings of a text), and self-regulated comprehension (what we do when we are using text to achieve our own goals). Which of these a child employs will depend on ability, purpose, and instruction.

Good knowledge that has been built up relating to vocabulary and prior knowledge are thought to be contributors to listening comprehension. The reason is that if there are too many unknown words or concepts the child will find it difficult to read the text.

Therefore, a child right from the start of her academic life should have been taught correctly to accomplish factors that contribute to word reading, including phonological awareness, orthographic knowledge, morphological awareness and phonics knowledge.

Another factor that is crucial to reach the third level of comprehension ability is the fluency that has been developed. Fluency depends upon decoding efficiency, and if fluency is not well developed and drops, it becomes less and less likely that the needed information is still active in working memory, making comprehension less and less likely for the child.

A child who can understand and determine the importance of the information, summarize the information, draw correct inferences, generate thought provoking questions and monitor his comprehension will find it easier to glide over to the evaluative level of his comprehension ability.

The influence of motivation and interest should not be underestimated. Most children begin being interested in reading, but lose interest/motivation if their skills are not adequate or if the text content does not suit them. Hearing the words ‘I am bored’ or ‘I just do not understand’ may correlate to the text material not being understood as per the sequence described above.

Children with low levels of skill in the various contributing factors will struggle with reading comprehension, children with more areas of low skill will struggle more, and the more they struggle the more their interest will suffer, creating a vicious circle. Many children prefer other activities to reading and as a consequence and we find that as the child reaches class III or IV the inability to fluently, decode the meaning of the words, and the text content can turn a capable child and a potential good reader and student into an unenthusiastic reader very easily.

Children who have unidentified reading disabilities have difficulties in comprehension as the primary problem is word reading, and correct word reading is crucial for good comprehension of academic text which requires a child’s undivided attention.

Parents may find that some children are very persistent and though there may be a lingering of doubt about the possibility of a learning difficulty this child may develop adequate or even good levels of reading comprehension. But this is invariably achieved only when there is no time limit and it almost certainly involves a great deal of practice, re-reading, and strategy use on the part of the child.

A significant number of children can articulate well and speak language very nicely. These children can be considered to have normal word level processing, but there could be some language comprehension difficulties that interfere with reading comprehension. For such children who comprehend slowly and poorly, language difficulties can involve drawing inferences, understanding figurative language, and monitoring their own comprehension. This eventually prevents them reaching the second and third level of comprehension. Answers are just there but not lucid or written in a fluid manner that signifies clarity. This significant majority slip through the educational net and the targeted and intensive intervention, which they need to overcome their disability, is just outside their grasp.

With changes in the way academics is evolving students will be faced with a situation where they have an option of providing answers via multiple choice questions after short passages, fill-in-the-blanks cloze tests, short-answer constructed response tests, and much longer constructed responses such as text retelling and summarizing. Parents of such children will have to be cautious and appreciate that these different measures do not necessarily assess the same things. For example, multiple-choice questions are efficient to score, but may not do a good job of assessing higher-level comprehension skills. Essay questions are always better to appreciate if a student has developed the third level of comprehension, but here children with more extensive prior knowledge may be able to conceal their reading comprehension difficulties. How can we understand if our child is a poor comprehender and is not understanding the text he or she is reading? The first issue is that academic comprehension comprises two sets of skills, those concerned with decoding or recognizing printed words, and those involved in linguistic comprehension. The relationship between decoding and linguistic comprehension is considered to be multiplicative: there can be no reading comprehension without the ability to decipher or recognize words, and similarly, reading comprehension will fail if children lack the linguistic comprehension to understand what it is they have decoded. Put simply, both decoding and linguistic comprehension are necessary, and neither skill on its own is sufficient, if successful reading comprehension is to follow.

Therefore it may be that children with poor reading comprehension may have deficits either in decoding, linguistic comprehension, or both.

First of all decoding skill can place a constraint on reading comprehension as when decoding is slow and effortful, resources are dedicated to word-level
processing. By contrast, when decoding is automatic, resources are available for the task of comprehension. If there is well developed verbal accuracy then speed and reading comprehension correlate in child – otherwise poor reading comprehension will manifest itself.

The relationship between decoding efficiency and reading comprehension is maintained over time, and what we see in early childhood normally predicts later variations in reading comprehension that are seen in secondary school years.


Some children as we indicated above, have poor reading comprehension and do not understand the complexity of what they are reading, but at the same time show age-appropriate levels of text reading accuracy. What parents and teachers need to bear in mind is that the demonstration of adequate text reading
accuracy does not necessarily indicate efficient word-level reading accuracy and if word level reading is slow or inefficient, comprehension may be compromised.

For those children who are articulate, can read storybooks and watch television and understand what they are hearing. One possibility may also be that there is a deficit in linguistic comprehension.

Although there are important differences between spoken language and written language it may be that listening and reading comprehension depend on very similar underlying processes and that learning to read enables a child to comprehend written language to the same level that he or she comprehends spoken language.

Students who are poor comprehenders have comprehension impairment that are not specific to reading only. Rather, their difficulties with reading comprehension may need to be viewed in the context of difficulties with language comprehension more generally.

Poor comprehension may also be a consequence of inadequate processing, lack of knowledge, or some combination of both processing and knowledge-based weaknesses. Two sets of processes are considered essential to the comprehension process, and are described as these are lexical processes and working memory.

It is also possible that students who are poor comprehenders have oral language weaknesses. Low-language characterizes poor comprehenders as a group and poor comprehenders may show no difficulty with phonological processing. Instead, their oral language skills will be characterized by relative weaknesses in dealing with the nonphonological aspects of language, ranging from vocabulary weaknesses to difficulties with interpreting nonliteral language.

To understand language, it is often necessary to make inferences – to go beyond what is stated explicitly in the text or discourse to infer the intended message. Even very straightforward texts require inferences to be drawn. It may be that the child who is a poor comprehenders has a difficulty drawing inferences when reading or listening, and it may be that that such difficulties are causally implicated in children’s poor reading comprehension

There is a growing interest in the domain of the memory system that subserves language processing and it is now being considered that this part of human memory system has properties that are (at least) functionally equivalent to those that serve other memory-dependent tasks.


It is hypothesized that the concept of interference may be a primary source of memory failure, affecting both the ability to maintain active information and to restore inactive information into the focus of attention.

Previously it was thought that only the concept of Decay affects those who cannot become evaluative comprehenders and exhibit certain accounts of forgetting when reading for learning.

Mostly when a student is not able to remember what she studied the previous day on the subsequent following day, it was thought that the strength of the memory trace faded with the passage of time, becoming increasingly difficult to retrieve. The only way to avoid this inability to retain what was read was to keep reading and to actively maintain the critical information in memory for the student to be able to perform well in her examinations.

Most students then were instructed that if they were to read a particular text and then reread it and continue to do so, at some point of time there would be a ‘click’ and the information that the child is reading and repeatedly reading would get ingrained in the brain of that child.

The unfortunate issue is that – first it is not possible to read the same text repetitively by all children at the same attentional level and – second, the performance of the student on memory declines as the delay between study and test increases. The apparent conclusion is that, in the absence of continuing rehearsal of the text being read, information will be almost completely lost within about a few minutes or hours- tops.

Parent’s worry that of the child does not study every day, repetitively and if the student does not actively rehearse his studies, information that is not rehearsed would be vulnerable to time-based decay. And the best way to avoid this decay of information was that the child should work upon his ‘working memory’ to do well in examinations.

Working memory and the ability to hold information in our brains as we read text do matter. It however is not the only reason that the child may not be able to reach the level of comprehension that is required to be able to do well in assessments and examinations that are so fundamental for grading our children and ranking them for their entire life based on the quantity of material they are able to read, retain and eventually process in the correct manner.

Tuition centers and a parallel tuition industry have been spawned on this premise by appealing to working memory capacity of children and working on the improvement or enhancement of the working memory system for each individual child. The common conclusion is that if a student does not practice the resulting inattention to necessary constituents leads to their loss from memory through decay and displacement.

Whether this is a valid measure of how the student should be improving their capacity to comprehend text they are reading is difficult to say, but it is important that regularity of reading and reading correctly for meaning is important.

Also when the child is reading it is important to ensure that the child can remember what he or she is doing. On many occasions, children with poor working memory simply forget what they have to do next, leading to failure to complete many of the learning activities. One-way of that a student’s memory for instructions can be improved is by using the instructions that are as brief and simple as possible. Instructions can be broken down into individual steps where possible. Frequent repetition of instructions can make a difference, but as explained above this has its limitations if the material cannot be brought up on demand as and when needed. . For tasks that take place over an extended period of time, reminding the child of crucial information for that particular phase of the task rather than repetition of the original instruction is likely to be most useful. It may help to ensure that the child has not forgotten crucial information by asking him to repeat it.

If somehow a parents or a teacher can teach a student to decrease her processing demands - task failure will be reduced If sentence writing is a source of particular difficulty for the children with low working memory, then, Sentence processing difficulty can be lessened by reducing the linguistic complexity of the sentence. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as simplifying the vocabulary, and using common rather than more unusual words. In addition, the syntax of the sentence can be simplified, by encouraging the child to use simple structures such as active subject-verb-object constructions rather than sentences with a complex clausal structure.

The sentences can also be reduced in length. A child with poor working memory skills working with short sentences, relatively unfamiliar words and easy syntactic forms is much more likely to hold in working memory the sentence form and to succeed in a reasonable attempt at writing the sentence.

Also the problem of the child losing his or her place in a complex activity can be reduced by breaking down the tasks into separate steps, and by providing memory support. External memory aids such as useful spellings displayed on the teacher’s board or the classroom walls and number lines should be used. These will not make a child weak and nor will they stop the child from learning, in fact they would only help the child visually see and remember what he sees.

A lot of children who are not able to achieve a good level of comprehension gravitate towards lower-level strategies with lower processing requirements resulting in reduced general efficiency. For example, instead of using number aids such as blocks, rings or number lines that are designed to reduce processing demands, these children relied on more error-prone strategies like simple counting instead. Encourage the child to use memory aids, it may be necessary to give the child regular periods of practice in the use of the aids in the context of simple activities with few working memory demands. Difficulties in keeping place in complex task structure may also be eased by increasing access to useful spellings. This will also help prevent them losing their places in writing activities. Reducing the processing load and opportunity for error in spelling individual words will increase the child’s success in completing the sentence as a whole.


Sometimes, reading of information from spellings - on key words - on the teachers’ board is itself a source of error in low memory children if the child is commonly losing her place within the word. Making available spellings of key words on the child’s own desk rather than a distant class board may reduce these errors by making the task of locating key information easier and reducing opportunities for distraction. It may also be beneficial to mark the child’s place in word spellings as a means of reducing place-keeping errors during copying.

Encourage your child to ask for forgotten information where necessary, training in the use of memory aids, and encouragement to continue with complex tasks rather than abandoning them even if some of the steps are not completed due to memory failure. Arming the child with such self-help strategies will promote their development as independent learners who are able to identify and support their own learning needs.

Poor comprehension of material can also happen if a student faces with the concept of interference. This issue of a child’s cognition is concerned with the attention devoted to processing the seemingly irrelevant items in memory, which cause the specific text or the target text to become unavailable to her, despite reading continuously.

The emphasis is on the specific content of information that a student reads, and the question of whether it can be retrieved accurately on demand.

While capacity to retain matters, ability to retrieve also makes a big difference. With this concept the reliability of retrieval cues for discriminating target material that is required at the moment from among distracting information in memory is considered to be an important parameter that determines successful memory access.

As children who are identified as not being able to study or achieve a good level of comprehension of academic text form a heterogeneous group as the problem itself is complex and quite multifaceted it would be worthwhile consider novel ways to consider improving memory and eventually comprehension;

Create a mental linkage - Use grouping – which is defined as “classifying or reclassifying what is heard or read into meaningful groups to reduce the number of unrelated elements”

Associate new language information with familiar concepts already in memory

Think of relationships between what you already know and new things you learn

Use newly learned words in context. Using newly encountered and learned words or structures in the context is reported as being the second highest used strategy by students with the newly learned words being used in structures in their written and spoken interactions.

Quick and accurate feedback - This is difficult when writing in ordinary classroom situations, in which feedback is either absent or delayed. During speaking words may go unnoticed or be ignored due to a mispronunciation, accent, or use of jargons, therefore causing the speaker to quit trying to track the word, and he or she receives no feedback from the interlocutor.

Visualizing -Visualization strategy is defined as relating new language information to concepts in memory by means of meaningful visual imagery, either in mind or in an actual drawing.

Using rhyme for learning and remembering new English words -The strategy is defined as using rhyme to make a kind of sound grouping between new words for learning.

Semantic mapping -Drawing a diagram with the key concept (word) linked to related concepts via arrows or lines (grouping, using imagery, and associating), as a memory aid.

Using keywords -This strategy combines a sound with an image in the second language to enable learners to remember that word.

Reviewing -Reviewing the material in a systematic manner - Reviewing written materials requires flipping pages of notes and scanning the whole document to find specific information, and obviously is different from reviewing saved materials.

Employing action - Employing action as a memory strategy tends to provide a kind of immersive environment in which children are totally absorbed as participants or observers.

Using mechanical techniques - Using flash cards for learning new words or new combinations in later stages as a memory strategy for language learning

Today’s children have mind’s that are digitally wired and are immersed under large amount of secondary information. It is up to today’s students that they have to develop a kind of filter to manage incoming information. Maybe they need to reconceptualize the notion of how to read for learning and meaning and develop memory and metacognitive strategies that are specific to their mind process.

The place, speed, amount, and manner of storing material as well as their retrieval system seem to have undergone changes that consequently affects today’s students learning methods and styles in general and language learning in particular. They feel no actual memorizing of long pieces of information is necessary, as the result of technology and wide access to online information in nano-seconds and the possibility of saving the interesting materials by just a few clicks

The saved information magnitude also seems to have increased to larger chunks, as students do not try to store material in their mind, rather use electronic memory.

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