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Learning how to read with comprehension

Helen and Martin Weiss

Jim, a competent 15-year-old complained to us he had great trouble remembering what he read. Jim would read few pages, then his mind wandered elsewhere and he put down the book saying “Now that I read it what does it say?” Has this ever happened to you or your children? Of course it has. For most of us periodic distractions such as worry, illness, hunger and fatigue may cause the problem.Many of the youngsters and adults we evaluate may be reading at the appropriate level, but complain that they do not understand what they have read. Worst of all, advanced readers may know how to sound out difficult words and read them in the correct sequence, but do not understand the information that is being expressed by the author. These readers are victims of “fake reader syndrome.” The lucky ones may remember the information well enough to take an exam or write a paper, but that is where retention ends. Often the “fake” reader is quite adept at playing the school con game. He may read words correctly and may even recall the “teacher’s golden words” on a test but he or she doesn’t absorb the material. As Jim so aptly put it “I can tell the teacher the words I read but I really have no idea of the meaning of what I have read.” This problem is so widespread that Cris Tovani, a teacher at Smoky Hill High in Aurora, coined the phrase “fake reading” in her book, “I Read It But I Don’t Get It.” Delving deeperStudents have cornered the market on compensatory strategies. They write a book report by reading the dust jacket of an old book their teacher has probably not read or long forgotten. They memorize the teachers “golden words” and make sure that they use them on an exam or in a paper on the subject. They use Cliffs Notes to bypass having to read the book themselves. How can a parent or teacher help kids to avoid the pitfalls of fake reading? Non-traditional teaching methods seem to work best.Some of the following strategies may help a student understand what he or she has read. The parent or teacher can pull quotes from the book and have the students explain their meaning verbally or describe what they mean in a short essay. Listening to a passage from the reading after they have read it themselves makes comprehension easier. If the quote is one that is especially pertinent to the topic it can encourage thinking and analysis. Try to select passages that are open to interpretation, thereby encouraging the expression of different points of view. There should be no one right answer. This allows students to express the meaning in their own words.”Think time,” another lost art, also is essential to real reading. It is so easy to blurt out the word or phrase that seems to answer the question. Encouraging think time may give kids time to analyze and pull meaning from a phrase or chapter. Even relating the reading content to one’s own personal experience when possible is a way of making students delve deeper into their own cognition. Extra inputThe saddest part of the fake reading syndrome is that so many adults have fallen through the cracks through the years. If they never developed strategies to learn from what they read, the problem is compounded in adulthood. For some, verbalizing the meaning of the content is extremely helpful. As one young adult said, “If I don’t read the passage aloud, it goes in one head and out the other.”Reading while listening to a tape of the book simultaneously is extremely helpful for other students. This so-called “bypass method” allows them to receive the information through their ears and eyes, and reading aloud introduces a third channel of input. Don’t let fake reading become a bad habit for your child or for you. For further information contact Helen Ginandes Weiss, M.A and Martin S. Weiss. M.A., learning consultants at 719-486-5800 or at eduworks@realwest.com, or at P.O. Box 38, Twin Lakes, Co. 81251.


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