The reading specialist at one of my schools reached out to me and asked me some questions about a couple of my students who have just started decoding successfully and picking up some speed as they are moving along in a text. However, when she asks them questions about what they just read, they struggle to answer those questions.
I know that these kinds of students are a big part of my caseload. My students struggle to answer WH-questions when there isn’t the burden of a reading task, just an oral language activity or game. In fact, that’s what speech therapy is: learning how to express yourself orally. And many of my students present with low vocabulary skills so it makes it challenging for them to answer questions in speech therapy so answering reading comprehension questions? That would be even harder. In trying to answer her, I reached out to Speech Spotlight bloggers for their input.
Susan Berkowitz says, “The two biggest factors in reading problems are phonological awareness/foundation skills and vocabulary. So, I guess I’d ask where is the skill deficit? Does she know where the problem is? And then narrative skills come into play, too. If they don’t get what the critical elements are, they don’t know what to listen for or read for. So, yes, not enough cognitive energy for comprehension if the actual decoding is too consuming, but also other areas where they might have problems?”
Ashley Rossi says, “When a student has been behind in reading, they often have to focus on sounding out or just reading the words. We refer to them as ‘word callers.’ Vocabulary and comprehension is lower because of the extra work that is required just to read the text. You have to teach vocabulary and comprehension strategies. I do comprehension by having them stop and reflect/comment often. Little verbalizations such as ‘oh,’ ‘neat,’ ‘interesting,’ and ‘weird’ are helpful injecting as they read to give them time to reflect. They simply are not thinking about what they are reading.”
Alberta Speechie continued, “I would ask how fluent they are in reading. Are there any gaps in their phonological awareness? If they have to work so hard on decoding, that there isn’t a lot left to comprehend the message. If that is not the issue, I have used story grammar products to help.”
Ashley Bonkofsky agreed, “They must be fluent readers before they can comprehend. Treatment with WH-questions is sometimes helpful and like Alberta Speechie, I will use story elements to help them understand. Graphic organizers are often useful as well.”
Looks Like Language added, “Working on fluency in reading and working on comprehension in reading are two separate skills. To work on comprehension, students need to listen and discuss the passage. I use story grammar markers, matched up with the questions that correspond, have students highlight the information in the text to match the color of the SGM and retell the information. These students often don’t express information well because they need help either with formulating sentences to match the question or with producing a narrative. After they understand the story, they can work on reading fluency. Reading chorally is the strategy I’ve seen recommended the most for older students. I work with older kids- they don’t recommend continuing phonological work in middle/high in everything I’ve read recently. Younger is a different story!”
Speech Sprouts concluded, “I would want to know more about why the comprehension is low. Are the students able to answer WH-questions about a pictured story? About an oral story heard? If so, then I wouldn’t think question comprehension is the issue, reading comprehension is. I agree that they may be using all their resources to decode, therefore not comprehending. In that case, I would recommend multiple readings, with discussion after every 2-3 paragraphs. If answering oral questions is weak, pre-teach vocabulary and work on those WH-questions at the sentence and short paragraph level with picture support if possible.”
Two heads are WAY better than one, but how about six speech-language pathologists with many decades of combined experience? I feel like Speech Spotlight bloggers can handle almost anything that comes our way. Feel free to add your comments below and ask your own questions for us to solve!