Reading comprehension instructional practices in the US public education system emphasize skills needed to master testing standards. Practices include testing interactions before, during, and after teaching. Oftentimes the emphasis on testing and data collection overtakes teaching time.
Working with homeschoolers has allowed me to shift toward a child-centered approach to reading comprehension.
Child-centered instruction aims to support academic growth while honoring the child’s preferences and autonomy. It priorities an authentic learning process rather than the mastery of assessment-based standards.
The foundation of reading comprehension is child engagement. A significant amount of learning research supports that children comprehend more when they are reading something they are interested in. Student engagement and choice are critical to effective comprehension instruction. In practice, this looks like offering children articles, videos, books, and material on topics that interest them. When students have reading material they genuinely want to read, they tend to grapple longer and more readily with more complex text. They make gains in fluency and comprehension and can more confidently navigate the written word in their everyday encounters. When teaching reading comprehension, the following 4 practices optimize this child-centered approach.
Read aloud, be read to, or read silently?: Children are given this choice when reading material is presented. Learning research shows that when children are read to they gain skills in all areas of language comprehension (background knowledge, vocabulary, language structure, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge).
Encourage children to make connections and inquiries: It is common for children to want to make connections when presented with new materials. Children often want to tell stories about background knowledge and experience they can connect to their initial impressions of the text. Taking the time and unpacking the child's background knowledge with them primes their brain for new connections before they even interact with the text.
Honor Neurodiversity: Autistic children may stim on words or phrases from the text that excites them or repeat a particular piece of information that interests them. While a traditional behavioral modification approach, will disregard the value of stimming in academic instruction, a child-centered approach encourages the child to explore and seek out what comforts and interests them.
Allow children to opt-out: A child’s stamina can vary even when they are grappling with the text they are highly interested in. It’s not uncommon for a student to become suddenly fatigued in the middle of the text. Building reading stamina comes from frequent interaction with text, not from pushing past fatigue. During my tutoring sessions, if a child loses interest or requests to stop reading they are offered something else to do that better meets their learning needs. When children’s request to stop is honored they are more likely to be excited about their next encounter with the next text. This is especially important for children who experience resistance to demands.
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