Reading Problem or Comprehension Problem?

by | January 25, 2018

“Why can’t I get this?”

Sometimes there is confusion about the underlying cause of a student’s academic problems. These problems are often associated with reading. However, reading is not a simple process and so when we talk about reading, we could be referring to different things. Scientifically based reading research reveals that there are many parts to the reading process and they all have to fully develop and become connected for the child to read well. These include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and vocabulary. All of this leads to the ultimate goal of reading – comprehension.

But poor reading comprehension is not necessarily the result of a weakness in one’s language comprehension skills. When a reader is struggling or unable to decode words in a text, the result is that they have little energy left for understanding what the text is actually saying. Parents may believe that if a student cannot answer questions about what they have read that it must be due to a weakness in their basic comprehension skills. When, in fact, it is actually a problem with the mechanics of their reading.

Conversely, some students can sound out words effectively and read fluently. But they still may not understand what they are reading. In this instance, the false assumption is that if a student is a fluent reader they will be able to answer questions about a text. However, it may be that the incorrect responses are actually due to under-developed or inefficient language comprehension strategies.

The confusion around these areas is why we recommend a comprehensive evaluation of all areas of the reading process. This will give a family clarity on what their child’s strengths are, as well as those areas that need to be addressed for their child to become a strong reader.

So remember: Reading mechanics and reading comprehension are two different, but related, entities. Both areas should be evaluated and considered when looking into a student who has a “reading problem.”

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