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“Now I Get It!” Teaching Struggling Readers to Make Sense of What They Read


Almost all struggling readers understand the language they speak every day well enough to make more sense of what they are reading.  They must simply overcome a few obstacles to comprehension.  The first is their own lack of belief in their ability to understand.


Here are five obstacles to comprehension that all teachers will recognize and some simple tools to help teachers guide students in overcoming them:

  1. Students can say all the words, but don’t understand what they have just “read.”  Teachers know that if the words had been read to the students, they would have understood the meaning.  What is the disconnect? The students may believe that reading is saying words, rather than assuming responsibility for trying to understand every sentence they read.  Teaching such students how to paraphrase is a good way to help them see that they have the ability to understand what they are reading.
  2. Students often admit they are racing to get to the end of what they are reading, more than focusing on the meaning.  Teachers know that, on the contrary, reading is a slow and careful process, not a race at all.  Because struggling readers hear adults pronouncing words without hesitation as they read, they develop the idea that this is the goal of reading for them, too.  The fact is that helping readers slow down and focus on squeezing every bit of meaning they can from everything they read is the way to increase their understanding.  Reading the same section of text several times and trying to say what it is about, can help.
  3. Struggling readers often stop dead at proper nouns and become fixated and unable to move on. Teachers may observe that students can become obsessed with trying to pronounce proper nouns.  Of course, even when students do decide upon a pronunciation, they often don’t know who or what or where the proper noun represents.  Therefore, their comprehension is usually not enhanced.  Just telling students to give the unfamiliar word a nickname often doesn’t work.  However, Nicknaming Reading Strategy Lessons, highlighting the way that proficient readers handle unfamiliar names, can help students learn to nickname effectively to achieve a much higher level of comprehension.
  4. Often struggling readers miss the negative words (none, never, however, etc.) and qualifying words (some, most, a few, always, etc.) that are so essential to understanding.  Teachers are often frustrated because students miss such words when reading—words that that they would easily pick up on in conversation.  By helping students find clues to meaning one at a time, and reconsidering the possible meaning of the text with each new clue, teachers can help struggling readers learn to notice these types of words.
  5. If kids can’t understand more than half the words, can they make any sense of what they are trying to read?  Teachers observe that struggling readers often give up in the face of a lot of unfamiliar words.  However, if students learn to become clue-hunters and trust their knowledge of the English language, they begin to notice how unfamiliar words are related to one another and thereby extract a greater measure of meaning .

In our book, “Now I Get It!” Teaching Struggling Readers to Make Sense of What They Read, we share approaches and lessons of increasing difficulty that address these and other obstacles to comprehension that teachers encounter every day.  The surprising thing is that students using our reading strategy lessons often forget that they are “working on their reading” and enjoy the process of trying to solve riddles to arrive at the meaning intended by the author.  It is a joy to see that former struggling readers who have internalized our nine reading strategies do "Get It!" and can make more sense of what they read.