My oldest son has difficulty understanding what he reads.
Early in school he wowed his teachers by his ability to read out loud, pronouncing the words and flowing smoothly. As he got farther into Elementary and Middle School his smoothness began suffering, mostly due to the increasingly complex sentence structures. But he still seemed quite capable as a reader.
It was only when it came to book reports, verbal summaries, or tests that a huge disparity was seen.
He could read well, but he didn’t understand what he read. Narratives in particular were a nightmare for him. He would get so frustrated over being asked what it all meant.
Word for word he was okay, because each word was a goal in and of itself, to be faced and conquered. Following the sentences and paragraphs was hard however, and he was unable to summarize them, because he didn’t understand how each word or phrase related to anything else.
I had to get creative in helping him comprehend what he was reading.
So we watched TV.
No, we didn’t abandon reading in favor of the tube. We merged the two, thanks to the Closed Captioning feature.
We would sit together on the couch and watch a favorite DVD or cartoon, with the captions on and my finger on the Pause button.
At important points, we would pause and he would read the lines to me. Then I would ask him questions: what did he mean by that? How did she say it – was she happy, angry, sad, bored? Why did he say that? What do you think will happen next?
I geared my questions towards helping him grasp context, a vital part of learning reading comprehension. Context is all about how one thing relates to another, whether it’s single words or entire paragraphs.
He could see on the screen how the words related to the action. This moved the words from self-contained items with individual meanings to words that were part of a sentence or paragraph which meant something more within the context of the scene. As the scene developed, he could then use the words to anticipate what has going to happen next.
After seeing the relationship between words and actions play out in front of him, he began to use these connections when reading books. “He went to the cellar” stopped being 5 words with their individual meanings and became a sentence that related to an action by someone, because now he could picture the words play out in his mind. His teachers appreciated his improvement.
As reading became a multimedia experience, my son learned how to relate words to actions and ideas, picturing them as parts of a whole. It was enjoyable to learn, and it gave us bonding time. When the TV was switched off and a book opened, he was better prepared to comprehend what he read.
TV isn’t always the enemy of reading.