Ask your kids' teachers, and they'd tell you that improving reading comprehension is all about teaching students how to think while they're reading. But it's highly likely that reading comprehension isn't actually one of the courses that you're teaching.
That being said perhaps school curriculums should include an exclusive sub-course within every course they teach.
Students who have heightened skills in reading comprehension are better prepared for college than those who just earn A's in content courses.
Reading comprehension is something you don't have to cram into one subject, and one subject only.
In English, you can teach your students about the world's greatest writers and maybe introduce them to books you've written. Even in a subject like Science, you can also teach reading comprehension. For instance, exploring the world's most important scientific theories, and why they're relevant to our lives.
At the bottom of understanding historical events, analyzing English literature, and even scientific concepts is reading comprehension. Understanding what you're reading is the foundation of true learning.
How to Improve Reading Comprehension in Students
So how do you start improving reading comprehension in your students' learning?
"To prepare students for college and careers, reading comprehension needs to be a part of all subject areas. Students cannot master complex scientific concepts, comprehend historical treaties, or follow complex logic problems without it."
~ Edudemic article 'Why Reading Comprehension in the Content Areas is So Important.'
But first things first, never tell your students to read about certain topics that they're clearly unfamiliar with. Telling them to read a single chapter over the weekend, or 20 pages through the night is not a very effective way to start teaching about a topic.
Think about it...
Had that been your teacher when you were growing up, would you have followed the instructions? Did you read every word in the assignment? Perhaps even memorized what you figured were key facts. Did you check the book's practice tests and try to answer questions related to the assignment given?
Chances are, you really didn't. And yet, when we're teachers, we somehow have this unrealistic expectation from our own students too.
Nobody is exempt from making reading comprehension mistakes. Every learner will need practical guidance before they read.
And with that in mind, here's an easy guide to help students improve their reading comprehension significantly. (Aside from enrolling in an excellent reading program, that is).
#1 Talk about reading comprehension
Take the initiative of writing one-page handouts, detailing your ideas about how reading comprehension is done and why it's important, and how it can be helpful. Here, you can include ideas about subjects; like setting goals, taking notes, and asking questions.
In addition, connect the importance of improving reading comprehension to events that are relevant and practical.
For instance, you can relate them to emails, texting, blogging, etc. Share written thoughts like these with your learners, and use the handouts as reminders throughout the school year.
#2 Doing what you're preaching
After telling students about the importance of reading comprehension, it's then crucial to give them tests that emphasize rote memorization as backward reasoning. You can give them essay tests, and ask them to write reports.
Afterward, it's your responsibility to detail what you're looking for in their written answers and reports. And of course, make it clear that you're preparing them for college education.
#3 Talk about every assignment
Before each reading assignment, it would be great to tell students what you want them to learn from a specific text.
Ask them some questions and let them know that you want to discuss answers during the next class.
Ask them to write down your questions as well and make use of them in group discussions of their own. And perhaps the best tip you can give your learners is that students must think while they're reading rather than just reading continuously.
#4 Encourage them to think before reading
Encourage and urge your students to read the book's questions or your questions before they begin reading.
This can help them know how to focus on text and when to skim over it. Thinking before reading can help them be selective instead of trying to comprehend each and every sentence. In doing so, you can also help them formulate their own questions before they begin reading.
#5 Urge them to set goals
Another practice you can encourage is to teach students to set goals before they read. Of course, it's initially meant to answer your questions. But eventually, they'll be able to set their own goals. Good readers tend to set goals for their reading. Just like, "I want to understand why World War II started."
Afterward, they are more likely to focus more of their attention on the parts of the text that are most closely tied to their respective reading goals.
#6 Teach them the value of note-taking
In high school, no one thinks much about note-taking. But in college, taking notes is paramount. The latter is something you should introduce to your students too.
Encourage note-taking in notebooks rather than textbooks…
Teach your students to pause reading after having read something important, so they can write down that fact, argument, or point. They should also write the answers to your pre-reading assignment questions.
#7 Tell them to plan ahead
Reading won't accomplish much in and of itself. Connect reading assignments to future class discussions, tests, oral presentations, or reports. Encourage them to write down their points. And emphasize that they can prepare for a test while reading.
#8 Recommend visualizations
Good readers can also create mental images, visualize settings, events, or characters. All of this helps them understand a passage in a text.
Do you think students can recall what happened to certain events in history if they could clearly visualize what had occurred? Some can. And some will.
It's a very good idea to mention to students that they can also learn better through the study of photos and captions.
Practice Reading Comprehension Regularly
Any of these tips can be compounded in one word: practice. Students can succeed at improving reading comprehension skills through constant practice.
How to ask and answer questions while reading, taking notes, making clear goals, writing summaries of what they've learned... All of this is learned through constant practice.
So don't hesitate to be open and honest to your students about the dedication needed if they want to improve their reading comprehension skills. Plus, it's a useful skill to have for school and life beyond your young years.