While the importance of developing reading comprehension in students is clear, it’s an area that deserves increased attention and scrutiny in light of recent trends in student test scores.
While Canadian students routinely rank in the upper tier of all countries in The Programme for International Student Assessment (an international assessment of the skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds), scores have been falling over time. Canada’s score dropped by seven points from 2006 to 2018, while other countries, such as the U.K. and Italy, made gains. And that’s before the potential impacts of pandemic-related school shutdowns are considered.
There are indications that Canadian students’ reading scores have tumbled post-pandemic. One study, from the University of Alberta, found that second and third graders at Edmonton area elementary schools were scoring six to eight months below grade level on reading in September 2020.
Pandemic-related disruptions to learning continued well beyond that point, and other data show that young learners may have been profoundly impacted during this period.
Here are some tools educators can leverage to unlock the full potential of each student's reading comprehension.
4 tips for improving reading comprehension
1. Conduct universal screening.
One of the easiest and most equitable ways to ensure all students have the same chance at successfully achieving reading comprehension is by identifying those at risk for reading difficulties. Universal screening allows you to use the same standards on all students so you can quickly identify those who might be at risk. Once you know what each student needs, you can deploy an effective intervention and performance monitoring plan to start them on the path to success.
2. Let students choose some of their reading material to boost interest.
Most classroom syllabuses include some assigned reading, which can be a great way to spur healthy discussions with classmates. However, it might also be worthwhile to let students select their own materials at times. One study showed self-selection boosted reading pleasure. By building in time for students to explore self-chosen materials, especially in younger grades when students are just beginning to develop a love of reading, you can encourage them to read regularly and enthusiastically — whether it’s a book on construction or mythology.
3. Consider new ways to keep reading lessons engaging.
Being an avid reader isn’t necessarily an indicator that a student has mastered reading comprehension. Some students, such as those with ADHD, may fly through the pages and be engaged in the plot of a story but miss out on key takeaways due to a lack of focus or attention. To help students strengthen their comprehension skills, consider rotating the strategies you use to ensure reading lessons remain engaging. For example:
- Encourage students to look up words they don’t know and keep lists of new vocabulary words they can share with others.
- Ask them to write out or illustrate a lesson they learned while reading a book to encourage them to think about plot points creatively.
- Create opportunities for small, peer group sharing of interesting materials.
- Have them try their hand at creating character dialogue to help them interpret character motives.
- Request summaries of main themes to build their skills in understanding key plot points.
- Offer different options for reading time each day. For instance, you might do silent reading on some days and group read-alouds on other days.
4. Create support plans for students who need it.
Some students will need more focused intervention to help them improve their reading comprehension. An integrated team can help deliver that personalized attention.
- This team can include general and special educators, reading specialists, educational diagnosticians, speech-language pathologists and school psychologists — all of whom work together to identify and plan interventions. The tools leveraged by each team member vary depending on the role, but may include:
- Classroom-focused measures for assessment and instruction in the overall context of the curriculum.
- Assessments, intervention and progress monitoring for students with learning disabilities.
- Screening and assessment for mental health issues.
- High-quality reading instruction for students who struggle with reading comprehension.
Make a commitment to strengthening learning comprehension
Reading comprehension is a gateway to critical thinking, effective communication and lifelong learning — and educators are in a perfect position to support students on the journey to reading success. By helping students build skills early on and maintaining them throughout formal schooling and beyond, they can ensure their students unlock their potential. For more information on helping students with reading challenges, check out Pearson’s Reading Comprehension Toolkit.